Lead stomach in Leadville

The inevitable happened in Leadville, Colorado earlier this year. I was walking along the main street in the city with the highest elevation above sea level in North America when I heard a gurgling noise, a distinct splat and a startled yelp from Bernadette.

Penelope had succumbed to altitude sickness: The orange, Grape Nuts, egg, and granola bar our daughter had eaten for breakfast beat a hasty retreat from the bottomless pit of her belly. During the drive to Leadville, Penelope fussed and screamed in the car, but we took this as a sign of her being tired, not a warning that it was Sayonara cereal time.

To make matters worse,  Bern was carrying Penelope in the back pack, which meant she was now wearing Penelope’s breakfast like a bad hat.

The episode was remarkable to me for two reasons. First, we had recently celebrated our sixth-month anniversary with our daughter and except for a minor incident involving  too many blueberries on an empty stomach, she hadn’t vomited yet. So far, she has endured a 15-hour plane ride from Beijing to Newark, and exposure to other young children carrying unfamiliar germs, and devoured vast quantities of offerings from the seven seas, an organic farm and nearby restaurants with barely a belch.

The second surprise was this: Penelope’s vomiting failed to set off a bizarre chain reaction. I can visualize it in slow motion: Bernadette diving her head into the nearest trash can while Penelope holds on to the backpack for dear life; me reeling before collapsing to my knees and retching in the gutter; my college friend Dina  looking down on the whole mess, puzzled and wondering why she ever invited us out to Denver.

One of the many things that terrify me as a parent is knowing little kids can do some really disgusting things. They jam their fingers inside their nostrils and pull out green goo the size of  a marble. They crap three times their weight in one sitting. They find a week-old hunk of cheese mashed between the couch cushions and think it’s a perfectly appropriate mid-afternoon snack.

I know little kids can do disgusting things because I used to do them all the time. When I felt sick as a child, I would climb the stairs, walk into my parents’ room, announce my illness and then proceed to throw up all over the throw rug. Never mind that my bedroom was next door to the bathroom. Maybe I thought the odds I’d get to stay home from school improved if my Mom had to scrub the floor that night. Regardless, the problem was that seeing myself sick only made me more sick.

If I could barely stomach my own illness, I sure as well couldn’t handle someone else’s. And that meant college would prove challenging  because I would witness classmates overindulging on Saturday night and paying for it Sunday morning. At times I hear the prayers of those who didn’t make it to church bouncing off the ceramic tiles in the men’s room, and pause for a moment wondering whether I could stomach what would surely be an ugly scene.*

So I always figured I was the wrong person to ask for help if you got sick. The few times Bern has been ill since our marriage, I’ve done the concerned husband thing: planted myself firmly about two feet from the partially closed bathroom door and asked if she wants a glass of water. I thought when Penelope gets sick, I’d say to Bern, “Why don’t you go clean her up and I’ll . . . ah . . . who’s thirsty?” But when Penelope foiled my strategy by not only getting sick but also using Bern as a target, I had to think fast.

I volunteered to run into the nearest luncheonette to grab some napkins. Hey, at least I was standing on my own two feet and not rolling around in the gutter.

I always knew I had it in me . I just never suspected I could keep it there.

*Just for the record, I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy one or two or 10 adult beverages on a given night while in college. But somehow I was pretty good about not crossing that point of no return between just feeling fuzzy headed the next morning and wanting to cut my head off and tossing it down the trash chute.

{This blog entry has been sitting around for a while collecting cyber-mold. Maybe I just didn’t have the stomach to publish it!}

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