The Bucket Initiative

I sat there in the dark corner of my son’s bedroom, oblivious to how alone I was, but it would become all too clear by daybreak. Since dinner, we’d washed up, done all our homework, donned PJ’s, picked up bedrooms and hallways, flossed brushed and rinsed, and I’ll selfishly offer that I’d single-handedly cleaned the kitchen, performed a double-piggyback feat of superhuman strength carrying 150+ pounds of boys up two flights of stairs, and entertained a myriad of last minute stall-tactic requests including bedtime stories, drinks of water and back-scratches before calling “lights out” all on my own since Mommy left for another week’s business trip to somewhere that is “not here”. This time it’s Malta. “Where the fuck is Malta?” It’s an island off the heel of Italy’s ‘boot’ in the center of the Mediterranean. Sounds like a world away, but the reality is that whether 50 miles or 5,000 she can’t help me against these three stooges that continually challenge my grown-up intellect, patience and temper under normal circumstances…

…I stirred at the sound of something unclear coming from the doorway and settled back into the pillow before it came again –  “Dad?” said an uncomfortable voice in the darkness.

“…hhhmmghhh….”

“Uh, Dad??”

“Huhhh?”

“Dad?” again.

“Yah, hhmmm … what’s up buddy?” I asked in a seemingly compassionate yet gently exasperated tone at the interruption to my rest as I slowly gained consciousness.

“Umm, Dad.., my stomach doesn’t feel right. Can I stay in here with you?”

“Oh, uhh…yah, ok… sure. Hop in bed and I’ll go get a bucket for you just in case”, I offered as I squinted to see 12:30 on the clock. In the last 24 hours, his first younger brother had a rough bought with a stomach bug complete with moans and teary-eyed distress as he transitioned through positions hunched over the toilet, reclined on the couch and writhing on the floor in apparent gastrointestinal distress. “Awww crap” I thought to myself as I set the bucket at his bedside and proceeded to give very simple yet explicit instructions… which he obviously ignored:

“Here ya go, sweetie. Here. is. your. bucket. If you need to throw up, use it, OK?”

“Yah”

“Ok, try to get some rest. Goodnight.”

“ ‘night Dad”

..
.

At 3:00 the first last mouthful of dinner was lobbed onto the floor – ‘Last one in, first one out,’ you might say though it wasn’t quite so funny at the time. I was suddenly jolted out of bed by what sounded like handfuls of marbles being tossed onto the carpet. “What the..??!!” As my bleary eyes adjusted to the dim light and my foot found a warm wetness where I stood, I realized the failure of the bucket initiative which I’m now certain we’d agreed on earlier. “Where’s your bucket?! Use the buck…! Oh come ON! What the FUUUUUHHHHCK?! Well don’t just stand there! Go in the bathroom!” As he disappeared around the corner I heard one last grand splattering against the bathroom tile. “Ahhhhhhhhhrrrghhh!!!” My trail of tears lead all the way around the bed and splayed across the entire bathroom, the concentration beginning 2 feet from the security of his bedside bucket and ending just short of the toilet. The Grand Finale splattered the side of the tub, sink and walls.

“……… Ok… ” …incredulous disbelief …. ….silence……followed by a submissive whimper of “.. okay then…” I surveyed the damage. Rancid dinner now polluted the room with an odor that wafted up from the floor like brown flames from the circle of a pentagram that he had inscribed around my bed. There was no way to sleep in that atmosphere. I resigned myself to begin cleaning.
Crouched awkwardly, still naked in the dim light and dumbfounded by what had transpired in the last 3 minutes, I was oddly reminded of an image I’d seen in a Museum.  Degas, famous for his candid depictions of ‘the nude form’ in sketches and pastels, captured his models in awkward and unflattering poses. Criticized by many for what some deemed “crude and torturous” works of art, I doubt that even he could have made anything admirable out of this scene as I fumbled around on hands and knees sopping up the mess with old beach towels and bathed in this noxious odor. There was nothing sensual in the awkwardness. The only solace I could imagine in their mother’s absence was that she was not here to bear witness to the sight of their father clumsily mopping and scouring the crime scene in unflattering birthday-suit poses, sweating, swearing, disoriented and aghast.
“Uh, dad?“Yah, bud?” I said sitting back on my heels.

“I’m feeling better now, so ummm, I was thinking that it would probably be OK if I went back to bed in my room?”

Seriously? Now he’s gonna go to his own room??  “Oh, alright. You sure?”

“Yah I’m good now.”

“Great, I’m glad you’re OK”, I said as he turned down the hall “But hey? Where is your bucket?” I call after him loud and clear. “Here. Keep this with you. Do. not. go. anywhere. without. it. OK? PLEASE.”

“Got it, Dad”

“A’right. Goodnight. Try to get some sleep. I’ll see you in the morning”

I would have to hose down the bathroom and drag the carpet cleaner out to neutralize the smell before going back to bed. I still don’t understand who designs those goddamn things to be so ineffective. This one’s got Dual Dirtlifter Power Brushes, a built in heater for “maximum cleaning power”, some kind of heavy duty antimicrobial spot cleaning technology, power something-or-other and sounds like a jet turbine preparing to launch from the deck of an aircraft carrier when you turn it on.  In other words, we paid too much money for a machine that does a fantastic job at smearing everything so deep into the carpet pile that you can’t see it any more. So after 2 hours of Greco-Roman wrestling this thing in my boxers which I stopped to find when I realized all my, um, shall we say ‘worldly possessions’ had been on dangling in the bedroom window for the last hour, I found small consolation when I reached to turn out the lights and noticed my son’s smeared handprint in vomit on the wall around the switch and deduced that he’d at least tried to ‘catch’ the slurry as it poured out of his gut. As I lay back down and finally closed my eyes, the alarm went off: Time to wake up.

Epilogue: Later that day

I’m starting to feel like a doctor on the Mayflower, moored in the harbor that first hard winter when it found service as a hospital ship:

“Three men have fallen victim to this pestilence. The third child is coughing all over his homework and me. The first two of my ‘settlers’ remain suffering in their beds with fevers. This 24 hour virus has confused itself with a 48 hour affliction and they’ve been throwing up since 3 this morning while I’ve been washing carpets, mopping floors, and tending laundry. I’ve just informed the crew that they are not allowed to eat until further notice. Why on earth do they feel the need to run while throwing up???…

 
…I was overtaken by malady about an hour ago. Afraid to eat anything, I planned to stay hydrated on a steady stream of Mt Dew until supper. Alas, I’ll add its mild regurgitated flavor to the list of reasons it appeals to me. I can’t recall whence I’ve felt this irritable. I’d rather be out stealing land and horses from the Indians, but I shall conserve my energy and continue to drink this soothing tonic for medicinal purposes instead. As the only qualified nurse on this infected ship I have not choice but to stay the course until reinforcements arrive a fortnight hence. I’ve lost 10 lbs. in 2 days without breaking a sweat. Still, I must carry on for the sake of my charges despite exhaustion, chills, stomach cramps, joint aches. …. Am I menstruating? …



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