kristin nilsen piecd

At 6:30pm on Sunday night, our car service would arrive to escort the three of us—me, my husband and my son—to Logan Airport, where we would board a flight to Stockholm, Sweden via Reykjavik, Iceland.

Earlier that day, at 1:30pm on Sunday, we stood in a parking lot, while my son, Liam, barfed into a recycling bin. I yanked the lid off the recycling bin and steered his face over the opening – but not before asking myself if it was recyclable. I actually hesitated before pulling the lid and urgently looked for its garbage counterpart (because I am nothing if not a rule follower.) But no garbage, not even a compost bin, which would have been perfect. So I yanked and steered and reminded myself that barfing is an emergency. You’re not supposed to worry about rules in an emergency.

All of this yanking and pondering and steering, by the way, took place in about 1/4 of a second.

Instead of saying “Oh no! What are we going to do? Should we ditch our flight?” we say “It’s ok. He’s ok. He just needs rest and he’ll be fine.” We say this without looking each other in the eye.

We set him up in front of the TV and give him sips of Sprite for the next 4 hours, willing him to be done. “His system is so small, this bug will move through him at breakneck speed. Perhaps it’s just a 5 hour virus.” Although we never utter a word, Liam knows our trip is in jeopardy – he opens his eyes wide in an attempt to look perky. When we look concerned, he says, “This will be my first time on another continent.”

A plea. Or a reminder. As in “please don’t take this away from me.”

He watches TV without incident for the next 4 1/2 hours.

At 6:30pm, a giant disco prom van with chaser lights around the ceiling pulls into our driveway to take us to the airport. There has been no discussion of not going. At the same time, we are silently aware that we are making the first of many commitments. Baby steps to the airport.

Liam is jacked when he sees the disco prom van and jumps around playing musical chairs, flitting like a manic flea from one spot to another, grabbing free snacks and handheld electronics for what he hopes will be a totally slammin’ ride to the airport.

And I’m all “No! No van snacks! No free Cheez-its! Not even free water! No iPhone! Face front, sit still and look at the horizon!”

Except for stopping at a Dunkin Donuts so mama can pee, the trip is blissfully uneventful (except for the scene we caused by maneuvering the disco prom van into the tiny Dunkin Donuts parking lot where the disco prom van driver very officiously opened the door and I bolted like a racehorse. Like WE NEED DONUTS FOR PROM!!!).

(Note to mother-in-law: I DID pee before we left home. I swear.)

Hourlong car ride to airport: cleared.

Check-in, security: cleared.

We’re gonna make it after all!

We have extra time before boarding so we get a super crappy dinner at the airport TGI O’Benniganbee’s. Liam begs for food the whole time and we sternly dole out soda crackers. One at a time. Every 10 minutes. It’s so sad. It reminds me of the Christmas he was 4 months old and sick with Christmas barfing flu. He cried and cried and stretched his tiny hands for the bottle of Pedialyte that he couldn’t have for another 10 minutes. Have you ever pulled a bottle out of a hungry baby’s mouth? It’ll break your heart. It’ll freakin’ rip it right out of your chest.

But he’s perky and hungry so we are cautiously optimistic. Let’s get on this goddamn plane!

As we wait in the gate area we are ever more aware of the minutes ticking by and the commitment we make when we walk down that jet way. Sealed in a tube for hours and hours where we will share 2 bathrooms with hundreds of passengers. Only to arrive in a foreign land where we don’t know the word for “vomit.” Or even “Oops. Sorry about that.”

Our row is called. Here we go.

We place Liam on the aisle for easy exit – should it be necessary. He’s not happy about it. But we read Pippi Longstocking and try to distract ourselves from the commotion that is so irritating because I just want to get this effing plane off the ground! We just need to GO.

The pilot makes the announcement, we are closing the doors, getting ready for takeoff, stay in your seats with your seatbelts fastened, blah, blah, blah……

………and Liam’s face turns white. His eyes get glassy and unfocused and start to close a little bit. Mike’s face is a combination of stern and panic-stricken. “Take him!” he says. “Now!”  But I’ve spent all day in denial and it’s really been working for me. I can’t transition that fast! “You’re freaking out!” I say.  “ He’s fine!”

And then he says, “Kristin, I need you to handle this.”

Oh…….. I get it. Mike is honestly saying that he can’t do it. It is now imminent at this inopportune time and he can’t do it. That wakes me up—and turns me into a superhero.

I put on my cape and say “Let’s go!”

But Liam won’t move. The fasten seatbelt light is on! We’ve been instructed to stay in our seats! He holds one hand over his mouth and points to the lighted icons with the other. He shakes his head no. I recall my vomit-isn’t-recyclable hesitation in the parking lot and scoop him up and into the aisle.

And suddenly we are those people.

The mom half carrying, half pushing the child as they run down the airplane aisle toward the bathroom, the child’s mouth in a strained “o,” the mom’s hand cupped in front of the child’s mouth as they run. Like my hand could ever be anything but a strainer for child barf. Or maybe a surface off which the barf could ricochet and splatter onto fellow airplane passengers.

I look at no one as we speed down the aisle. Not the passengers who, I assume, are horrified and not the chilly Icelandair flight attendants with their silly hats and fancy up-do’s. They look like bridesmaids from a courthouse wedding in the sixties. And I assume they will tell me to return to my seat for takeoff.

I don’t look at the sign on the bathroom door just in case it says “occupied.” And in one fluid motion, I yank the door, push Liam inside, lift the lid and direct the vomit as it flies out of his mouth.

Only post-vomit do I realize that the one fluid motion also included finding a way to straddle his body and fold myself into this bathroom built for a pygmy. I look behind me and see that I also closed the door. That is some serious choreography.

Just like the barfer, I am relieved when it’s over. Happy even. Now we can cross that off our list and the vacation can begin. Done. All better.

There’s a useful purpose for denial. Floating in a sea of “It’ll be fine……it’ll be fine.” Because it really was fine—even though he yakked on an airplane while we were preparing for takeoff. Denial kept us functioning and guarded us from the anxiety that can ravage your body and ruin your vacation.

We cleaned him up, made him comfy enough to sleep and he woke up in another continent.

For the very first time.

For more from Kristin, read her blog, Clam Chowder for Lunch


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One Comment


  1. Posted by: Julie

    wow, this was riveting! I wondered is she going to make it?? Oh no! Go Supermom go! and phew, you guys made it to the bathroom in time. exhale! glad to hear the rest of the journey was drama and puke free!

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