To stop toddlers (and maybe a few teenagers) from intentionally barfing on themselves, some parents have taken to dunking their toddlers’ hands in vinegar, a variation of a technique Mike Todd once used to keep his ferret from chewing on his electrical cords.

by Mike Todd

“I’m losing my mind,” my wife Kara said last week as we drove home from a weekend visit at her parents’ house.

“Hwwwwargh!” our son Evan replied from the backseat, his fingers crammed down his throat.

“No, Evan!” Kara said, whipping around in her seat and grabbing his hands out of his mouth. He giggled and kicked his feet, excited that Mommy was still playing the new game he’d invented earlier in the weekend.

While parenthood holds many joys, there’s not really a great way to prepare yourself for some of its horrors. A potential parent surely knows to dread the changing of diapers, though the reality of that chore has only rarely reached the level of cataclysm that my pre-parenting imagination had once conjured. But if you’ve never had kids, how could you possibly imagine a future that involved lunging into the backseat to keep your child from intentionally vomiting on himself? You couldn’t, unless you had the kind of twisted, deranged mind that might be better put to use writing Stephen King horror novels.

As soon as Kara settled back into her seat, Evan started playing again. “Hwwwwargh!” he said, his eyes watering. He’d invented this game on the drive up two days earlier, which is when we discovered how the game ends if we choose not to take our turn: with a stop at the next exit to change all of Evan’s clothes and a search for some kerosene to torch his old ones.

“If you pay me attention, I’ll never stop. But if you don’t, I’ll barf all over myself. It’s quite the Catch-22, isn’t it?” Evan said from the backseat, with his eyes.

“We’re never going anywhere again,” Kara said, her head between her hands. “If it’s farther than the grocery store, forget it.”

“Can you tie his sleeves together?” I asked, immediately mortified that I was dead serious. Every parenting expert will tell you: when you can’t get your toddler to behave, you should attempt to fashion a crude straightjacket out of his clothing.

“Hwwwwargh!” Evan said.

“Stop it!” Kara yelled, unbuckling her seat belt and diving for Evan’s hands, to his great delight. The dog jumped up from the other seat to lick Kara’s face.

I stared straight ahead, trying to keep focus on the road as pandemonium ensued throughout the vehicle. Before you have kids, you should really have to take the driver’s test again. But this time, the tester should sit in your backseat, gag himself, scream, throw sippy cups at your head and dump full bags of Goldfish on the floorboard.

“I think I’m having a breakdown,” Kara replied, buckling back in.

“Hwwwwargh!” Evan said.

To keep the proper perspective, you have to remember that children are not urinal dividers. You won’t always be glad that they’re there.

Once we got home, the Internet told us that we didn’t have anything to worry about. Pediatricians have advised that gagging “is a new sensation for the toddlers! It feels weird and strange to them, and wow, what a reaction they get from their own bodies and their parents!”

Still, some parents have taken to dunking their toddlers’ hands in vinegar, which is a variation of a technique we once used to keep our ferret from chewing on our electrical cords. Perhaps, with some time and patience, we could also train Evan to roll over in exchange for raisins.

Already in the past week, just as the Internet promised it would, this phase shows signs of ending. Which is good, because we’ll need to leave the house again at some point; the cupboards have been bare for days. Fortunately, we’ve been able to survive on the Goldfish from the floorboard.

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