Okay, fine. We knew it was going to happen, eventually. But did it have to descend on us the very day I was packing for a big trip with my daughter? Did it have to be so bad that my experienced babysitter bailed out? Did my husband have to come crashing down with it along with our toddler?
But, I get ahead of myself. The chicken pox vaccine was still in its early stages when our children were young. As a consequence, most people in that era contracted the virus, whereas today it’s a rarity. It began on a Wednesday with a few red specks on 7-year-old Meredith, who desperately wanted to join the other second graders as an official member of the Chicken Pox Club.
"It can’t be chicken pox," I stated, dashing my kid’s hopes. "You don’t have a fever. Chicken pox always starts with a fever."
Hoping for a better diagnosis, Meredith showed the dots to my husband, who grunted his assessment: bug bites.
Two hours later, I returned from a delightful evening out with girlfriends – my last such taste of freedom for what seemed like a long while. Peter didn’t even look up when I walked through the door. He simply grumbled, "A hundred and two."
"A hundred and two what?" I asked naively.
Mr. Minimalist shot back, "Degrees. Meredith. Chicken pox."
The next 10 days were a blur of chicken pox remedies: oatmeal baths, special lotions and antihistamines. Mind you, I could not go out to a store to purchase any of these items because I would have had to bring chicken pox victims or potential victims into public places. I called in favors from everyone with a pulse. I was desperate.
As Meredith languished in oatmeal, we had to break the news to my in-laws that their upcoming trip to Florida with 9-year-old Skip was in jeopardy. Chicken pox has a 10- to 21-day incubation period; by my calculation, Skip would break out in pox somewhere between Fort Lauderdale and the Everglades. Since my mother-in-law had never had chicken pox, this presented a legitimate problem.
Ultimately, Skip did spend April vacation with his grandparents, carefully exposing his grandmother to the virus as they flew home, not to mention the entire airplane full of passengers. It was an honest mistake since Skip’s symptoms didn’t become obvious until the following day, when he complained of bug bites on his back. Sure enough, he already had 50 pox and a temperature of 102. It was Day 12 since the epidemic began. Meredith had just recovered.
That was Monday. On Tuesday morning, 5-year-old Tierney found three little spots on her belly, quickly followed by a fever. On Tuesday evening, my mother arrived so that on Wednesday morning, she, Meredith and I could depart for a visit to my sister in Houston. Six months earlier, we had planned this special three-generation trip. Meredith had never flown on a plane and was so excited that she’d kept a countdown chart on the refrigerator for 117 days.
I scrambled to hire an experienced babysitter to cover the two days when Peter would be hiding away at the office, trying to avoid infection. The sitter had had chicken pox. Peter had not.
Amidst great moaning and many spots, Mom, Meredith and I departed as planned. That evening, Peter called me in Houston to announce that our toddler, Victoria, had come down with chicken pox.
The next day, Peter left work early because he didn’t feel well. When his doctor heard about our mini-epidemic, he wouldn’t even allow Peter in the waiting room. Peter had to sneak through the back door in case he was infected. Sure enough, Peter had chicken pox.
When Peter arrived home an hour later, the babysitter announced that she was quitting. So there Peter was, caring for three sick kids while battling chicken pox himself. Poor Skip had a whopper case with over 2,500 spots. (I know; I had counted them.) Meanwhile I was 1,800 miles away, fielding phone calls from miserable children begging me to come home. One math-minded kid announced that the family’s combined pox count was 3,400. That’s an average of 1.36 spots per mile for any of you statisticians out there.
The family limped along for four days until Meredith and I returned home. That’s when I discovered a scientifically based fact: chicken pox causes men to temporarily lose their sense of humor. I confirmed this when I did a wicked imitation of Peter moaning, "Ohhhhh, Reg. I’m dyyyyyying," while mocking the fact that he had a grand total of 17 spots. Yes, 17.
Peter did not find my charade amusing. Not even a little. He complained that adult chicken pox is far worse than the childhood version. I agreed, but c’mon . . . 17 spots?
Eventually, everyone healed. Nevertheless, to this day, Peter will tell you that when the chips were down and the family was socked in with chicken pox, I ran away to Texas.
Now, be honest. If you were going to bail on your family, would you really go to Texas? I’m thinking that Bermuda sounds like a much better plan.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.