Late Nights and Road Trips… and Other Experiences That Leave You With a Bad Taste in Your Mouth

I have an unusual talent.  It’s not completely fail safe, and it’s unlikely to win any prizes, but in the privacy of my home it has been recognized with wonder and gratitude.  In my sleep, I can distinguish “that particular tone” of cough, dash into the bedroom of a sleeping child, and have him over the toilet before the mess hits!



With seven children, I can fairly claim to be a survivor of more than a normal share of midnight messes and motion sickness pull-overs.  Trusting that the vivid details of thousand-mile “Nightmare Vacations” would neither be necessary nor appreciated, I will instead share some ideas that have saved our family’s collective memory (and our carpeting) from lasting unpleasantness.



Clearly define expectations in advance. A sleepy Sickee is unlikely to be thinking clearly about the best place for his mess, so talk in a relaxed family council about his options.  Acting out various scenarios or playing a humorous “What If…?” game demonstrates for everyone that (when hitting the toilet is not possible) a garbage can, a sink, or a pillowcase can be a better option than the carpet, and (where patience is concerned) just about any good effort is better than lying in bed and moaning or complaining tangibly onto Someone Else’s bed!  Our children have been encouraged to discuss when they feel unwell at bedtime, and they know they may be given a “barf bucket” as a bedside buddy; many times a “nap cot” on the bathroom floor has minimized the need for adult assistance — or eliminated it altogether.



Be prepared. Extra bedding, located within easy access, means fresh warmth and comfort is only moments away.  Fleece throws or old baby quilts are excellent for this; ailing children generally curl up and/or rapidly remove their covers, and several changes may be easily stored and washed.  Clear Gatorade or powdered Pedialyte in the pantry eliminates midnight trips to the store, when dehydration becomes a concern.



Pre-moistened antiseptic wipes and sprays, kept in the bathroom, make nighttime de-germing a snap.  Paper cups, also kept in bathroom cupboards, allow for personal rinsing without sharing bugs with others.  We keep some buckets and a small, designated-use, wet/dry vacuum in the hall closet, to aid with emergency carpet cleanup.  After scraping into a bucket all that may be effectively cleared away, warm water is poured over the mess and vacuumed up until the water returns clear.  Keeping things handy allows helpers to work from Autopilot Mode and return the house to peace as quickly as possible.



Travel armed. Being stuck for hours in a contaminated car is no picnic, yet it is not always possible to pull over to accommodate complaints at a moment’s notice.  Planning to just “Open The Window!” is Not A Plan, and it’s generally more trouble than it’s worth.  For long trips, we take a lidded ice cream bucket, loaded with supplies.  Gallon-sized zipping bags keep messes (and their used cleanup supplies) contained and disposable.  Pre-moistened wipes, small bottles of water, and an old towel or two may serve to blot, clean, or cover problem areas, though it also usually helps to allow passengers to stretch and air out at a rest stop. Deodorizers (for car and breath) make the rest of the trip bearable.



And yes, we have had the courage to have chosen (and enjoyed memories of) Vacation At Home over yet another episode of Trip To the Pit, when one or more of our number was queasy at the outset.  Those loved ones we have missed seeing at such times doubtless appreciate missing out on what we have had to share!



Remain calm. A sobbing, half-asleep child with a stomachache is not Generally Regarded As Rational; as such, he is unlikely to take angrily-shouted instructions well — and anyway, he is already upset in every sense of the word.  Eventually, no matter how well (or how much) I care for it, we shall replace the carpet!



When I am sleep-deprived and cleaning up after someone I’ve just settled in the bathroom, it helps to recall that these experiences are part of the Normal Human Existence, not events distinct from the sweet conglomeration of our family’s life together:  soon even this will become part of our collection of family memories that begin with, “Do you remember the time when…?” or “Remember how we always used to…?”  Planning ahead and choosing to handle these minor upsets with kindness and gentle humor assures our children, in times of sickness and in health, of our love for and acceptance of them.



©2011 Daunell Clarke/



Photos from  Used with permission of Ben Earwicker, Garrison Photography

Leave a Reply