By Topher Paul
A couple of days ago, as I was navigating the interchange on the last leg of our 2 hour car ride, I heard a noise from the backseat. It was an unmistakable sound that only a concerned college roommate and a parent driving a relatively new family vehicle would know. It starts with a gasp and is quickly replaced by a gurgle. This is followed by a light slapping sound as the child (or burgeoning drunk) tries to cover their mouth in a move that has quite simply NEVER WORKED. I looked in my review in horror as my child’s agonized face came to the realization that it was time. FIRE IN THE HOLE!
I quickly reached for the reserve napkins stashed in my center console (thank you excessive fast-food napkin guy) and handed a stack to my child in the hopes he would be able to properly make use of the 127 napkins and clean up the mess. He promptly took the entire stack, rubbed his leg once, which of course was enough to sully the whole supply, and then dropped them on the ground.
As I was out of napkins with nowhere to stop, going 85 mph, I calmly told him that I was sorry, but he would have to suck it up for the remainder of the car ride. He bleakly asked me how long that would be. Oh, just 30 minutes. I then proceeded to put my window down as the vomit fumes made their way towards me.
As we drove in silence, I contemplated the best strategy for cleaning up whatever abomination had occurred in the back of my vehicle. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to have this professionally done, I would have to attack this problem immediately upon our arrival. Ok, maybe I could help my kid get cleaned up first. But after that, this problem must be dealt with.
I believe I came up with the best steps for cleaning up this very tricky mess, and I’d like to share them with you so if you ever find yourself in this unfortunate situation, you’ll know just what to do.
Step 1: Remove all extra items from the car. This includes clothing, blankets, scraps of paper, kid’s meal toys that were used for roughly 20 minutes and then discarded on the ground. Whatever isn’t nailed down, get it out.
Step 2: Open all possible areas of entry. Put down windows, open doors, lift the hatch, pop the hood. The goal is to start the airing out process. Trust me, the smell does NOT come out easily. This will also allow you to access the mess from multiple angles, which is nice.
Step 3: Fill a bucket with warm, soapy water. I prefer a leading dish soap, because if it can clean oil spills off of ducks, it can surely handle a little regurgitation. I also suggest using a large storage bin that is just waiting to get filled when you get around to organizing your basement. These are best because they’re empty, unlike your actual buckets which are filled with all sorts of miscellaneous items that will not help you on this journey.
Step 4: Get all the rags. If you think you have enough, get more. The first part of this process is the “sopping up” step, in which you will gingerly attempt to collect as many chunks of undigested PB&J sandwich as possible without getting any of it on yourself. As this is an impossible task, you’ll go through rags quickly.
Step 5: After collecting the chunks, you have to address the membranous liquid. Because this is a child, and not the aforementioned college roommate (who would most certainly puke 3 gallons worth of Natty Light, which is basically water) this part will be composed of 98% mucus, which the child has been snorting back into their body rather than blowing their nose. There’s not much you can do except swirl it around and sop it up. DO NOT use a wet/dry vac, as the mucus will dry and your hose will forever be encrusted with this scent. Trust me.
Step 6: Now it’s time to put that soapy water to good use. Take your last remaining rag, dip it in the storage bin and start scrubbing. Don’t worry, you’ll still see the stains while you’re scrubbing, but really work the soap into that material. This part is probably the easiest because you’ve already done the dirty work, and you’ve come to terms that this is a forever situation with your car.
Step 7: The details. You’ll need a keen eye for this one. Check in all the crevices, especially in the seat belt areas. I suggest using a cotton swab to get the puke in those hard to reach places. Again, you’ve abandoned all hope of properly restoring your vehicle to it’s pre-vomit state, so if you don’t find any chunks larger than a dime, you’re probably ok with letting it slide.
Step 8: Air-freshen. I suggest using the cheapest, bottom-of-the-barrel air freshener you can find. I know this may sound like a surprising recommendation, but my reasoning is simple. Nothing will ever get that smell fully out of your car, and you’re going to want to save money for the next step.
Step 9: Go to the nearest parking lot, open your trunk, take out that reserve 1-gallon gas can that had been sitting in your garage for the last 10 years, and completely douse the inside of the vehicle- don’t worry, the gas fumes will not be strong enough to overpower the puke. Light a match and watch it burn.
Step 10: Now if you’re lucky, you’ll see a passerby who can not only give you a ride home, but also be a witness for you when you call the police to report your car was stolen and a “friend” reportedly witnessed a group of low-lifes setting fire to it in an abandoned parking lot.
Step 11: Accept the insurance check. Sure, it’s fraud, but think about how much money you pay a month, and you’ve never even been in an accident. They kind of owe you, if you think about it. Yeah, you deserve this.
Step 12: Emotionally resolve the fact that you were so easily able to justify your crimes.
Step 13: Use the insurance money to replace your vehicle so you can resume your family trips and get back to life as normal.
Step 14: Use the seatback pocket, previously occupied in your deceased vehicle with restaurant crayons, one sandal, and that pacifier you could never find from 3 years ago, to store a couple of plastic grocery bags (that you were never going to recycle anyway) so the next time your child makes that telltale gurgling sound, you can hopefully avoid going through this process all over again (step 11 is trickier the second time ’round).
Well, hopefully this helped you get through one of the most traumatizing times in a parent’s life. I know that I would probably rather lose a pinky toe than clean up puke. But when you can’t find the scissors (why can I never find the goddamned scissors?!), sometimes you gotta do the dirty work.
About the Author
Topher Paul is not now, nor has he ever been a mom. However, he does empathize with the struggles of being a mom without trying to take away their empowerment…my God, it’s SOOOO tough being a man while having to navigate the landscape of this PC world…ok forget the above. How about: He likes people to laugh with (not at) him. So, laugh. Please? You can find his lack of social media presence on Twitter @topherpaul11