Girl in car

By Leanne Shirtliffe

I wiped my hands on my pants, climbed back into the rental car, and took attendance.

“Will?” I asked. I craned my neck in the direction of the vomit smell and saw an empty booster seat. “Where’s Will?”

Chris looked in the backseat, questioning my ability to conduct a search and rescue operation in a sedan.

“He’s not in here,” Chris said.

I comforted Vivy, who was not upset about her MIA brother as much as she was her soggy stuffed dog. Holding her hand did little to console her.

Chris exited the vehicle to expand his search field.

Through the car window, I heard him address Will in loud muffled tones. I made out the words “disgusting” and “germs,” two terms that cover 95 percent of childrearing topics.

I let go of Vivy’s hand.

“What happened?” I asked as testosterone reentered the vomit sphere.

“Will was licking the tire,” Chris said, reaching for the collection of antibacterial products he’d already unpacked in the glove compartment.

I twisted my neck to look at Will, who was struggling with the seatbelt.

“Did you actually lick the tire?”

“Yes,” he said. He had not yet learned the art of lying, blaming his sister, or farting to draw attention away from the real issue at hand.

“Why?” It was my favorite question to ask rhetorically, in a half-prayer, half-swear manner.

“I don’t know.”

“Did you pee on it, too?” Chris asked.


I heard the seatbelt click.

“Let’s go before we have to deal with another bodily fluid,” I said.

Chris put the car in gear and merged back onto the interstate.

We arrived at the RV park none too soon. Vivy’s stomach was churning, Will was bored with my count-the-cacti game, and Chris was tired of driving with his head stuck out the window to avoid the smell of puke.

We stopped at the security gate. A septuagenarian with a clipboard limped to Chris’s window. I was pretty sure we’d just arrived at Springfield’s Nuclear Plant and were being greeted by Mr. Burns himself. Homer was nowhere to be seen.

“Where are ye headed?” he asked.

We handled this question like we handled every customs line up and security checkpoint since we’d started dating a decade ago. Chris stayed silent; I talked.

“We’re visiting my parents,” I said.

Mr. Burns raised his eyebrows. I volunteered more infor­mation, too much as was my habit. I told him the names of my parents, where they were from, how we were not staying with them but my mom’s cousin who’d gone back to Canada for Christmas. I offered to sketch our family tree on his clip­board, but retches from the back seat distracted me. It was Will, who was either imitating his sister or coughing up a fur ball from licking the upholstered seats. Vivy slept.

Mr. Burns unleashed his weapon from a holster. He was packing a walkie-talkie.

He peppered us with more questions than we had at pass­port control.

Finally, he let us through with instructions to return to the office the next morning and fill out some IRS-looking forms in triplicate.

Mom and Dad’s pre-lit palm tree leaned against their RV. We had arrived. We unloaded and I asked for the three things college students request after a night out: a bathroom, a bucket, and a beer.

Mom grabbed a pail and then cradled a gray-looking Vivy in a lawn chair.

Dad handed me a beer.

“I’m hungry,” Will whined.

“I bought cheese sticks and yogurt,” said Mom. “They’re in the fridge.”

I walked into their movie star RV, used some of my bur­glary skills to open the locked fridge, and brought Will a snack he’d eventually vomit up.

I sat down next to my dad, tossed Chris a Coke, and took the first sip of the beer I’d been cradling for the past five minutes.

We recounted the vomit fest and the negotiations that took place at the front gate. Vivy stirred, groaned, bolted upright. While still talking, I grabbed the pail and caught her puke.

I was on my way to dump the pail when I saw Will once again exploring his environment with his senses, something encouraged by his kindergarten class.

“Will you stop licking yogurt off your glasses?” I asked.

Somehow, we survived the Arizona puke-a-thon. We were all healthy for the flight home, but as good guests do, we left a gift for our hosts. My enduring memory of saying goodbye to my parents in their RV was of my mom hugging me as my dad speed-walked to the bathroom, leaned over the mini-toilet, and hurled his breakfast into the sewer. We shared everything.

Hours later, after enjoying a puke-free flight, we arrived home. The week progressed, and the few cardboard dinners I prepared reminded my family that it was a blessing that Chris cooked most of the time. It wasn’t long, though, until we had another food escapade.

When healthy, Vivy—a.k.a. Princess Squirm-a-Lot—was incapable of remaining still for anything as mundane as a meal. She didn’t sit on her dining room chair as much as use it as a pommel horse, a move she’d perfected in utero. On the chair, she squatted, stood, pivoted in a series of practiced moves, plopping down onto her chair for a rest.

“Tie yourself to the chair, Princess Squirm-a-Lot,” I said, as Chris doled out our favorite meal: mystery-meat-on-a-stick fresh from the barbecue. Chris is one of those men who enjoy barbecuing in all weather. The snowier, the better.

Vivian ignored my request. Soon, she wriggled from side to side and front to back over the surface of the chair like she was a gymnast whose score depended upon covering all four corners of the mat. And like the best gymnasts, she sometimes stumbled out of bounds. She was in the midst of informing us which of her kindergarten classmates had been naughty. Dishing out the dirt on other five year olds was a practice we encouraged as it reminded us that other people’s children misbehaved too.

“If Toby pushes one more student,” she said, “the teacher’s going—”

And poof, she was gone. She’d fallen out of bounds, off the chair. Picture the scene from Looney Tunes where Wile E. Coyote sends an anvil hurtling off the cliff heading for the Road Runner, and you have a sense of the speed at which she fell. The sound of skull meeting ceramic tile gave way to a pregnant moment of silence; then a scream was born.

On cue, Will was off, a sprinter out of the blocks. Before she could crawl back onto the chair and reach for another cube of meat, he presented a stuffed animal. “Don’t worry, Vivy,” he said. “I fall off chairs all the time.” It was a lie, the kind I liked. Maybe there was hope, at least for the children.

Excerpted with permission from Don’t Lick the Minivan: And Other Things I Never Thought I’d Say to My Kids by Leanne Shirtliffe. Copyright 2015, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

Photograph via & Creative Commons


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