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Parent trap: A pox on childhood illnesses

The only good thing about the chicken pox is that you can refer to your children as "my poxy kids" and not feel guilty.

Mike, who's four, woke up last week covered in unmistakeable red spots. That's okay. You have to get it, you're better off getting it while you're young and, as it turns out, he got a light dose. In any case, his tenuous relationship with reality means he's a good patient and doesn't really notice when he's sick.

As far as he's concerned, he's Batman. Because there are no stories in which the caped crusader spends the day lying on the couch in the bat cave, neither does Mike. But his mild dose lulled us into a false sense of security. The other two came down with it and no one has slept since.

Part of the problem is that Annie, who's six, has a different approach to illness. Even when perfectly healthy, she will wake you in the middle of the night complaining that her fingernails are too dry or her earlobes feel funny. So for about 48 hours, she needed the same level of care as a newborn baby.

The good thing about them being sick is that you can indulge them. You can suspend all the usual stuff about not watching too much TV and eating the right food and saying please and thank you and, instead, give in to every whim.

So Annie sits inside on the couch wrapped in a duvet, watching TV, complaining and issuing orders like a medieval warlord. "I've seen this Dora before, get me more bread and honey, I'm siiiiiick, my nose is snotty, my knees hurt, it's too bright in here, now it's too dark, my hair is at me, read me a story, not that one, I hate that one, I want more Calpol, Mike is too near me . . ." And so on.

At least with the pox you can believe her. She's a divil for phantom stomach/ear/elbow aches. She gets bored in bed and fancies a bit of distraction, so she'll call out, you come up and she's clutching her sides as if about to explode. But there's no faking the pox. Getting her to stop itching is, of course, a challenge. We've been making all kinds of impossible promises to encourage her to resist. My only hope is she'll be too delirious to remember that we're all going to Disneyland in a pink helicopter next week.

Thus far, we've remained puke free, which is a blessing, if only because when kids puke, they tend to do so spontaneously and without any effort to contain it. No matter where you place the basin, they still mange to get some on you, the other children and various heirlooms.

It's hardest on Conor, because he's only one-and-a-half years old and has no real notion of what's going on, other than that he feels like crap. Myself and my wife have taken turns to carry him around, trying to distract him. We mainly do this by giving him all the stuff we refuse him when he's healthy -- the video camera, various heirlooms . . .

Problem

Trying to distract him is the reason the laptop no longer has a W or a F6 button. Dealing with the itching has been a particular problem. He's not a fan of the bath anyway, so trying to bathe him in icing sugar or whatever was a complete non-runner. Even cutting his nails to minimise the damage was impossible.

Also, because his little backside is so riddled with pox, we've left his nappy off, so you have to be very vigilant if you don't want to go skidding across the floor in a pool of wee . . . or worse.

At least we were healthy enough to be able to deal with it. After Christmas, the whole house came down with the vomiting bug. When your kids are sick, you're not allowed to be sick. I had to pull over on the hard shoulder to throw up on the way to the chemist for more Calpol.

At times like this, you look back on pre-children sickness as holidays in the sun. You could just lie on the couch all day moaning, and get all kinds of sympathy and drugs and hot broth. You could watch daytime TV and read books and nip back to bed for a little snooze.

Anyway, there seems to be a bit of an improvement this morning. The paper went missing off the printer. I went looking for it and found about half a ream thrown in the toilet along with some toast and one of Annie's Polly Pockets.

He must be on the mend.


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