The “Tilt and Pour” An Essay on Fatherhood and Vomit

 

My youngest son threw up in my face today. I’m used to spit up. I live in spit up. My first child spent the first six months of life spewing milk every which way: up, down, sideways, and sometimes, defying physics, in all directions at once. Our house was perpetually littered with soaked burp clothes, and our shoulders were permanently stained with dry, half-digested breast milk. In my dreams, I would find myself standing knee deep in baby vomit, helpless as it slowly crept up and overtook my head.

Back in reality, I soon discovered that cleaning the floor was easier than keeping up with the laundry, so in desperation, I developed a tried and true method. At the first sign of an eruption, usually a seemingly innocent burp, I would tilt his mouth and thrust him out over the hardwood floor, as if I was pouring a 40oz for my fallen homies. Then I would calmly put him down, clean up the mess, and move on about my day. I call it the “Tilt and Pour.” For some reason, my wife found this practice to be insensitive, at least at first. Like all parents, you learn to survive and some “insensitive” practices become commonplace. She eventually came around and would laugh at the “Tilt and Pour,” and even admit to its effectiveness. But, sadly, never utilized it herself.

Fast forward three years, and number two decides to take after his big brother. I asked my mother if I was the same way, but she couldn’t remember. I guess she’s mentally blocked that time of her life. So once again, our house is festooned with damp burp cloths and shirts with wet shoulders. And once again, I have resorted to the “Tilt and Pour” method.

A few weeks ago, I had to be reminded that most people find baby spit up a bit gross. My sister and her boyfriend were kind enough to visit the zoo with my kids and me. The boys had a great time, as kids often do looking at exotic animals and running into the backs of adult’s knees, while parents smile and apologize to each other with understanding looks. My sister’s boyfriend is great with children. He’s patient, and goes out of his way to explain important details about life to my three year old son, which is something I greatly appreciate. He even sat in the back of the car by the baby, cooing and trying to make him laugh.

It wasn’t long before I heard a familiar noise, something like a mix between a cough and a mountain spring running over rocks. Nothing new. Like any experienced father, I calmly asked my sisters boyfriend to wipe it up before the milk soaked in too deeply. He responded with something like a squeal of amazement and disgust. He couldn’t believe it; why was I so calm? Even weirder still, why was the baby so calm? We often forget as parents how strange our lives appear to those without kids. We forget that spit up is, in fact, a little disgusting.

I guess that’s why my experience this morning paints a nice little snapshot of the early stages of parenthood. In the midst of somewhat organized chaos, I sat feeding the little one before frantically loading everyone up, rushing them off to daycare, and begrudgingly heading to work, always a little late. Keep in mind, Usually my senses are keen during a feeding, always ready to “Tilt and Poor.” Yet for some reason, this morning I was a bit off. I think I was distracted by his infectious smiles as I kissed all over his chubby cheeks. When the small, innocuous burp came, I hesitated. Out it came, like an angry geyser flowing silently out of an innocent smiling mouth. Some of it ended up on the floor, some on my arm. The rest desperately clung to my beard like a climber hanging on a cliff. It was the kind of image you would see in a hyperbolic scene about young parents who are in over their heads. The audience feels bad for them, but laughs at the same time because there’s enough truth to make it relatable.

I feel like most real-life parents would react in the same manner I did: calmly place the baby in his pack-n-play, laugh hysterically, and clean up the mess. That’s what parents are supposed to do. We get shit on and puked on, both literally and metaphorically, and just keep plugging through the day. We adapt to a new way of life. We learn to “Tilt and Pour.” Otherwise, the throw up will literally, and metaphorically, drown us where we stand.

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