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How to survive your kid’s first public barf

Amber nasrulla and son - how to survive your kid's first public barfI’ll never forget my first time. It was unexpected, hot and wet. And smelly. I’m talking about something I’ve dubbed my son’s FPB, or First Public Barf. As parents we’re used to pee and poo of every hue and boogers of numerous textures and colours. But your child’s FPB, well, nothing prepares you for that. There’s no top 10 list in magazines, no A to Z directory in parenting books, no special chat with the pediatrician.

My story begins on a boat and ends on an island. (It has the makings of a disaster à la Gilligan’s Island, no?) Technically, it begins in the doctor’s offi ce, the day before the incident. At a routine visit, his pediatrician, who has been in the medical biz for some 30 years said, “I’ve never known a toddler to get seasick.” With that endorsement, I left the Gravol on the kitchen counter as my husband and I headed out for a day trip with friends. We took the ferry from Long Beach, Calif., to Catalina Island. We paid extra to sit indoors.

In the Commodore Class Lounge, my son, then two, sat in my lap and stuffed a chocolate chip cookie into his mouth. I absent-mindedly wiped crumbs from his face and my collar as the ferry left the harbour. He began to squirm in my arms. He moaned. And suddenly, violently, there were blobs of wet chocolate cookie on my neck, in my hair, on my chin, brown liquid dribbling on my silk blouse, even dripping down to my pretty gold sandals. People gasped. Some held their noses.

I checked his forehead. He didn’t have a fever. I looked around for my husband. Danial was returning from the bar with a Diet Coke and apple juice. As our eyes met he stopped walking. Then my son puked on me again. Another hot and heavy jet stream of damp food gurgled straight from his stomach. I thought it physiologically impossible that such a huge plume of fl uid could be evacuated from this small child, but he did it. He looked at me and started wailing, whereupon I had several suprising realizations:

  • As a first-time parent I was surprised I didn’t feel ashamed during this up-chuck incident. When my son was crying, no one else mattered. He was uncomfortable and it was my job to make it better. If he’s misbehaving, that’s one thing, but if he’s sick, I go into Red Cross mode. (Please know that I did clean up the ferry’s seats thoroughly.)
  • Pride. I survived a parental rite of passage – a projectile stream of puke directly in the face. OK, yes, I gagged a little while I scrubbed my son down in the washroom’s stainless steel sink.
  • Danial has a weak stomach. Who knew? He proved useful in following specific instructions and sprinted off with the pretense of fi nding towels. He returned 15 minutes later with cocktail napkins.
  • It’s not weird to carry around a small amount of Tide. And bags for dirty clothes. Quite the contrary.
  • On a boat trip, it’s GOOD to sit outside in the fresh air. Where your child can throw up into the ocean.
  • We carry around multiple changes of clothes for our wee ones, so why not clothes for us, too? An extra blouse, and, peut-être, a bra? And perfume. And shampoo.
  • Emergency clothes – even something purchased in trendsetting Southern California – can make you look dorky. When we got to Catalina Island 45 minutes later, I bolted into the closest shop. The tourist outfits looked like they were made for Malibu Beach Barbie. The T-shirts had glitter, or were bedazzled (a fashion must-have in the ’90s), and the shirts were exceedingly tight. In the men’s section I found a black tracksuit with Catalina Island emblazoned on it. It wasn’t too tacky so I bought it. After rinsing the vomit from my bra, I changed and emerged feeling like a tour guide dressed for Quebec City’s Carnival. It was 32°C.
  • Toddlers live in the immediate future. Clean and dry, my son ran to me, then recoiled saying, “Sometink smells yucky.” Yeah, it’s the smell of memories. The memory of your FPB. But not your last, my boy. Alas, not your last.


Canadian writer Amber Nasrulla, above with her son, divides her time between Southern California and Southern Ontario. A mother of one, she is comfortable with public displays of barfing.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, May/June 2012.

a man carrying two children

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