That Time my Three Year Old Ate A Bottle of Aspirin


“Eli ate a whole bottle of chewable aspirin, we’ve gotta go.”

I’m sitting at my computer on Memorial Day and the words hit me like a ton of bricks. My heart about stops beating, it drops down into my stomach somewhere and flops around like a dying fish. I grab the diaper bag, a sweatshirt, and the baby and run to the car. He’s holding the topless, empty bottle of aspirin in his hands, sitting in the passenger seat of my car.

“Mom, I ate dem all!” He says proudly. We scramble to get both kids strapped into their seats, keenly aware that we live 30 minutes from the nearest ER. I call 911.

“Ma’am, is the baby conscious and breathing?” My blood ices as I look at his face and think about him being unconscious or not breathing. Worry is sketched in his brow as he reads our emotions. He looks pale, he looks tired, he has dark circles under his eyes… oh, he didn’t nap. That’s why.

They connect me to poison control. We are flying down the road now, rain pooling on the windshield, my three year old in the back seat asking, “where we goin’, Dad?” Adrenaline is making me feel jumpy and racy and sick.

The nurse at poison control does a quick calculation based on his weight and the amount of aspirin he’s consumed.

“Ma’am, based on his size and the amount of aspirin he ate, he’s still well below toxic levels and you don’t need to go to the hospital.”

“Charlie. She says we don’t need to go to the hospital.” We’re on the highway now. Big gray thunderheads loom above us. The baby goes “Ddddah. Dah dah dah!” My heart starts to slow down.

We talk it through for ten minutes, this nurse from poison control and I. She assures me that they get calls like this all the time, that she’s specially trained for this, she gives me a number so that I can call back if I want.  I ask her what warning signs to look for. “What if she’s wrong?” Charlie asks me in a low, quiet voice. I don’t have an answer. There’s a lump in my throat. The kid is singing Wheels on the Bus to the baby in the backseat.

What if she’s wrong?

We are sitting in a parking lot now, rain pounding on the windshield, hoping to avoid a life-or-death decision based on a voice from the other end of the receiver.

We disconnect from poison control and the 911 operator, most likely a grandfather to young kids, can sense my hesitation. “These people from poison control, they really know their stuff.” he says. “We deal with them a lot and they are really smart, educated, top notch people.”

“Ok. Thank you.” I say.

“We are here 24 hours a day so you just call back if you need anything.” He says. I’m chewing on the inside of my cheek, holding that little aspirin bottle tightly in my hands. “Thank you, I appreciate that.”


* *

At Panera the other day, I overheard a young woman with a sweet little six month bump talking with a friend. You now, the six month bump of your very first pregnancy where your skin is still glorious and stretch mark free and your bladder isn’t constantly being leaned on and you want to go into a field bathed in golden light with a daisy chain around your head and take maternity pictures? Yeah. That’s where she was.

“Are you ready? Are you scared?” Her friend asked.
“Yeah, yeah… I think I’m ready.”

Part of me wanted to turn around, laugh, and say, “honey, you’re never going to be ready for the sh*tstorm that’s about to hit.” But, I think that blissful ignorance is part of the journey to parenthood. Part of why humans procreate at all, part of why we keep having kids after the first. Or maybe the unpreparedness is a byproduct of the culture we live in – regardless, comments like that, I’ve found, are neither helpful nor invited.


One of the things I didn’t expect before having kids was the lack of control that I would have over my own life. The most mundane things become huge productions – grabbing coffee with a friend, going to the bathroom, picking up groceries, getting a restful night’s sleep.

Kids don’t prepare us for what’s to come. They don’t say, “hey, I’m going to eat a bottle of aspirin this afternoon so please clear your schedule” or “hey, I just dipped my hand in the toilet bowl and now I’m touching your face” or “hey, you just gave birth to me five seconds ago and I’ve already entangled myself in your heart and you’ll never, ever be separated from my joys or my pain”. Instead we are dragged along on this wild ride of parenthood, faced with the task of choosing to go with the flow or choosing to try (in vain) to fight it.

Some days I feel like I’m one-purple-playdoh-smear-in-the-cracks-of-my-wood-floor away from losing it. Some days I feel like the best mom on earth. I suppose that’s just motherhood.

Oh, and my three year old is fine. Turns out one can eat an entire bottle of baby aspirin and have zero side effects – who knew?


  1. Thank you so much for posting this. My 3 year old just ate I don’t know how many baby aspirin and this made me calm down.


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