One day, as I was feeding my infant son Gardner his bottle and simultaneously reading the latest news on the internet, he suddenly stared at me wide-eyed, heaved, and blew lunch all over my face, shirt, and arms. I managed to have the presence of mind to get between him and the computer, but little else. I sat there stupefied, amazed at how much had actually come out of such a little body.
But Gardner? He was smiling—a huge, gums-showing, cheek-cracking smile. I was about to give him a piece of my mind when he threw up again. Now I could barely see through my glasses, and my nose and eyes burned. Gardner giggled—like this was fun!
I sighed and began to clean myself up. Gardner kept giggling until it turned to laughing. I mumbled in different languages, trying to think of what I might say to a three-month-old by way of censure that he could possibly understand.
"No. No. No."
Face up against his nose, right in the goo. "You better not ever do this again or else!"
Gales of laughter.
Or else what? Send him somewhere by UPS?
Finally, I simply laid him down on the bed, on my side, where he promptly threw some more up through his laughter. "Ha—gurgle gurgle—ha ha—glub lub."
Now I not only had to clean me up, him up, but the bed up.
I stared at the pile of goo sinking through to the mattress. We'd just paid fifty dollars for the thing from a friend since we couldn't afford the one down at the Salvation Army Thrift Store. So here's what seemed logical to me: I wiped up the goo and threw it in the toilet. Then I got a towel and covered the wet spot. I reasoned that, surely by night time, it would have dried and I could sleep on it so long as I wore nose plugs.
So I did it. I covered it with a towel and set him on top of the towel.
Whereupon he purged once more. How many bottles had he had that afternoon?
As I stood there watching cautiously, not about to make another move until I was sure Monsoon Gardner had died out, the little one gave me another lip-stretching smile. A corker of a grin. I stepped over to him, picked him up, and held him out at arm's length to make sure this wasn't the precursor to another explosion.
He was fine, though, quite happy with the handiwork of the morning.
I tried to tell myself that, for the smile, somehow the throwing up was worth it. But I couldn't. Not yet. I was still too close...to the odor.
Needless to say, I had to reclothe Gardner, and thus I began the search for a new shirt. It was then I remembered the system we had for classifying shirts in our house:
First Tier, Blue Ribbon: Never been vomited on, totally new. Only use when you're going out with your political friends to eat at the White House.
Second Tier, Red Ribbon: Been vomited on, but got the stain out. Can still use most of the time. Just don't let your mother smell it.
Third Tier, Yellow Ribbon: Been vomited on, couldn't get out the stain. Only wear in the house, at the playground, or when you're with other fathers, who will compare yours with theirs and yours will be declared, "No one can touch this."
Fourth Tier, Toxic Waste: Been vomited on, couldn't remove the stain, smells, looks grungy, glows in the dark, and should be used as something you throw at enemy combatants. Otherwise, call the army engineers to remove it from your house to be taken to Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
Over those first few years, Gardner never learned to give me a warning that a gush was coming. Not at all like the dog, who would stand there, her whole body flexing, going "hoop-hoop-hoop" for a few seconds before she blew, giving me time to get her out of the house and into the back yard.
Not so with Gardner. He just stared at you intensely, as if he were savoring the prospect of sending a little gas out into the ether, then smiled and burst forth...usually all over something precious.
Soon we began classifying not only clothing, but actual instances of throwing up.
Hurricane Andrew. (Today, it would be Katrina.)
Sometimes there were chunks. "How can he have chunks?" I asked Jeanette one day. "All he drinks is formula."
"I've been trying to figure that out myself. I guess in his stomach, he turns it into pre-cheese like they make at the Wisconsin Cheese Works."
We'd also compare it to other explosions: "This one looks like when the dog ate the carpet and snorked all over my office."
"Hey, look at this. It has all the colors of the rainbow in it."
Then it all stopped. One day I said, "He hasn't thrown up in a long time."
"His stomach has caught up to the rest of his body," Jeanette explained. "Everything wasn't fully developed when he came out of the womb. Now it is."
Boy, was that a revelation. "He wasn't fully developed yet." I had begun to see other things that weren't fully developed—like his hearing. He did not respond to the clearest signals.
Me: "Stop that."
Him: "I didn't do anything."
Me: "If you keep this up, I'm going to count to three. One..."
Him: "Two, three, four, five."
Me: "If you do that one more time, you will die a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad death by fire coming out of my eyes at you."
Him: "Daddy, swing me around by my thumbs!"
I was glad that the vomiting stopped until I experienced the first episode of shotgun diarrhea. He lay on his side as I changed him. He smiled. He gurgled. And then it blasted out like grape shot at the Confederates in Pickett's Charge.
"What's this?" I asked Jeanette.
"Some new thing that God is punishing us with," she said when I found her hiding in the basement so she wouldn't have to help me clean it up.
I found out over the years that God punishes new parents with a lot of things. Why? He's trying to toughen us up for what we will later encounter as the teen years.
Now, though, I look back on those moments as good memories, and great stories to tell when I can get anyone to listen.
Mark Littleton, the author of My Impossible Year (OakTara), has written 90 best-selling books, with more than a million in print, and has written for Reader's Digest, The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Evening Sun, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Moody Monthly, Leadership, Sunday Digest, Power for Living, and Zelos. A graduate of Colgate University and Dallas Theological Seminary, Mark is a former pastor and youth pastor, and speaks frequently at churches, retreats, conferences and other gatherings. http://www.marklittleton.com/