A pox be upon us

As a second-timer, I should have really have known what the suspicious looking red spots on The Baby’s back were. Truth be told, when I first noticed them on Monday evening, I did have a hunch that it was the pox. But several things made me doubt myself. Firstly, they were only on her back. Secondly, I thought chicken pox usually struck in the spring. And thirdly, as far as I was aware, we’d had no contact with other pox-ridden children whatsoever.

A swift trip to the doctor’s later, and my suspicions were confirmed. The Baby had chicken pox.

I wasn’t too concerned at first. I spent The Boy’s early childhood absolutely dreading him getting chicken pox, scared that he’d suffer unbearably, and/or that we’d go stir crazy confined to the house. But when he succumbed at three and a half, it was nowhere near as bad as I’d anticipated. Yes, he was itchy, but the real discomfort only lasted for a day or so. He had a mild dose, managed to keep eating and sleeping despite the spots, and was old enough to understand the importance of not scratching. In fact, I think I did rather too good a job of describing how they’d bleed and go septic if scratched, because he ended up so neurotic that he wouldn’t even look at his spots, let alone touch them.

So when The Baby broke out in spots, I was expecting a similar experience – a day of mild discomfort, and a week stuck at home, but no major trauma. After all, everyone says that babies usually get it mildly, don’t they?

Well, I’d like it to be known that everyone is wrong. My poor little girl, just nine months old, has spent the week in absolute agony. Fortunately she only got two or three spots on her face:

But that belies what was underneath:

This was taken before it got really bad. By Thursday, her back alone must have had 200 spots on it, and she even had spots in her bits and her mouth.¬†Between Monday and Friday, she ate nothing but a few mouthfuls of yoghurt and fruit puree, and sleep? Forget it. As a back sleeper, she was too uncomfortable to lie on her back, but isn’t used to settling on her front; we had two consecutive nights where she wailed all night long, finally crashing out in my arms at 5.45am.

We tried all sorts of lotions and potions, kept her dosed with Calpol at six-hourly intervals, and even got the doctor to authorise giving her Piriton, even though it’s not recommended for under-ones, but nothing helped. For four days running, I don’t think I saw her smile once. And nothing is worse than seeing your baby in pain, and not being able to do anything about it, or even explain that it won’t last forever.

It’s not just The Baby who has suffered; so, too, has The Boy. For the first time since she was born, I’ve experienced what it’s like to be torn between your children, and not be able to divide yourself fairly. The Baby has been unputdownable all week, and The Boy has pined for me terribly. He understood why I had to give all my attention to his little sister, but he really didn’t like it, and followed me round the house wanly, telling me he loved me every three minutes. Guilty doesn’t begin to cover it.

Of course, all this has coincided with a mega-busy work week, where I was trying to source case studies for a real life shoot (never an easy task), interview them and write up the copy in record time. In the brief intervals where The Baby nodded off, I had to race to my laptop the second her eyelids dropped, and work frantically until she woke howling. On Wednesday, all I managed to eat between waking up and 4pm were two Bourbon biscuits; I simply didn’t have the time, or the free hands, to make lunch. I even resorted to buying ready-made mashed potato from the Co-op for The Boy to have with his fish fingers, figured it would be completely impossible to make mash one-handed.

Thankfully, the worst is now over. Today, 99 per cent of The Baby’s spots have scabbed over, meaning that we should be able to leave quarantine tomorrow, provided the last couple of blisters dry out overnight. She’s eating more or less normally again, has had proper naps today (although who knows what the night will bring; I’ve a nasty feeling she’s become quite accustomed to being in my bed) and, best of all, her smile is back. But it has been a horrendous week for everyone.

I’ll admit that now we’re heading back to normality, it’s nice to know that our family is (in theory) finished with chicken pox. We’ll never have to go through this again, and we’ll never have to worry about Christmas/birthdays/holidays being ruined by an untimely outbreak. But while it might be a generally harmless illness, it’s absolutely miserable for everyone involved, and I have no idea why anyone would want to deliberately infect their child, even if it does get it over with.

I still have no idea where The Baby picked up her pox, and the nature of the beast means that it’s highly likely that she infected several unwitting victims before we even knew she was incubating it. And having seen how much my poor poppet has suffered, I feel awful that we might have inflicted the same suffering on someone else. So if, in 10 days’ time, your child breaks out in spots, you’ll know who to blame – and I will be only too happy to pass on our leftover Piriton, PoxClin and calamine lotion.

Eating humble pie

Not last weekend, but the one before, the other half offered to get up with The Baby. This doesn’t happen often. My husband is not a morning person. Neither am I, but someone has to feed the kids, and 99 per cent of the time, that someone is me. But after a particularly awful night, when he made his usual half-hearted offer to get up, I grabbed it with both hands.

Half an hour later, he came back upstairs.

‘Did The Baby eat breakfast?’ I asked him from beneath the quilt.

‘Ye-es,’ he ventured, ‘but she got halfway through and then I realised I’d made her porridge with milk.’

I didn’t know whether to cry or scream. Because The Baby has reflux. And reflux often goes hand in hand with milk allergy. And so, since she was a couple of months old, I’ve eliminated all dairy from my diet to avoid it passing through my breastmilk, and have kept her solid foods strictly milk-free.

I’ve slipped up over the past six months, sometimes by accident, sometimes because I just really, really wanted a lump of cheese. Every time I’ve transgressed, The Baby has had two to three days where she’s been plagued by wind, bloating and tummy pain, and so it became easier just to avoid dairy altogether.

I have been so, so careful. I’ve scrutinised food labels. I’ve endured tea with oat milk (revolting). I’ve survived six months without chocolate, for goodness sake. Given that I’m vegetarian, giving up dairy has meant that essentially, I’ve turned vegan, and I’ve really felt it. Not only have I been unable to eat anything remotely interesting, but I’ve also felt thoroughly ill at times. Not surprising, really, as I’ve been subsisting on little more than fruit and veg.

Once I started The Baby on solids, I was equally careful with her diet, again studying food labels and labouring for literally an hour at a time to express a paltry 2oz of breastmilk for her breakfast cereal. The husband knows how careful I’ve been. And yet in one moment of thoughtlessness, he undid all my good work.

Only he didn’t.

Even as he was telling me that he’d given The Baby milk on her porridge, I was in conflict. The emotional (and hormonal, and sleep deprived) part of me wanted to burst into hysterical tears and tear him to shreds for potentially poisoning my baby. Instantly, I foresaw a week of anguished screaming and no sleep. But my rational side told me to take a deep breath, hold my tongue and WAIT. Because if, by some chance, The Baby didn’t react, and I’d gone off on one, I was going to look very silly.

And three weeks on, how glad I am that I didn’t hit the roof. I barely breathed for two days, waiting for the milk to kick in and The Baby to start screaming, but she didn’t. So on day three, I tentatively gave her a little fromage frais. Still nothing. Day five, I grated a bit of cheese onto her veggies – nothing. A week on, I went the whole hog and made her cereal with milk – and she was totally fine.

The husband, to give him his dues, has been unusually quiet about the turnaround. He knew he’d messed up, and he felt awful about it. He also knows that reworking his moment of mindlessness into a parenting triumph probably wouldn’t go down all that well. But I’ll admit that his temporary lapse has done me a huge favour. Okay, so my waistline won’t thank him for giving me the green light to eat cheese and chocolate again, but my tastebuds are in ecstasy. And more to the point, it is so much easier to feed a baby when you can give her milk. Now I can just pour blue-top on The Baby’s cereal instead of expressing for hours. I can grate cheese all over any food that she shuns, and she devours it. I can give her a yoghurt for pudding. It’s bliss.

I still maintain that The Baby was milk intolerant at some point. The screaming and wind every time I ate dairy can’t just have been coincidence. But it seems that as she has outgrown her reflux, she has also outgrown her problems with milk, and life is so much easier as a result.

So, for one night only, I’m going to eat humble pie and say thank you to my husband. He may not have meant to feed The Baby milk, but in doing so, he performed an experiment that I’d have been much too scared to attempt myself. And every time I grab the bottle of milk from the fridge at breakfast time, instead of sitting down with the blasted breast pump, I feel entirely grateful that he did.

Now we are six

As of 7.35 this morning, I am now the (mostly) proud owner of a six-year-old. It seems somewhat inconceivable, not just that six years have passed in the blink of an eye, but also that I’m grown up enough to have a child of six, when a lot of the time, I still feel like I’m playing at being an adult. But the calendar doesn’t lie; The Boy is most definitely six.

This year’s birthday has, without a doubt, been The Boy’s most exciting yet. He’s been ticking off the days on a homemade calendar since October 1st, and I don’t think anyone was remotely surprised to hear him creeping downstairs at a very apt 6am this morning, on the pretext of letting the cat in, so that he could have a sneaky peek at his present pile.

This year, The Boy knew exactly what he wanted (a new bike and the Lego space range) and he wasn’t disappointed. Nope, the disappointment was all mine when I realised that he’d unwrapped the majority of his presents while I was in the loo. The other half apparently ‘couldn’t stop him,’ which in reality probably means was too busy playing with his iPhone to notice, but there you go.

Anyway, I’m not one to hold a grudge (much), and The Boy’s all-day-long excitement made up for me missing the great present unveiling. He rode his new bike to school and was very proud when some older boys pronounced it ‘sick.’ I believe that’s a compliment… He came home and, mercifully, eased my guilt at not having baked him a cake for the first time ever by pronouncing the Tesco-bought effort bedecked with Lego minifigures ‘fabulous.’ He spent the whole afternoon assembling a small-scale version of NASA on the lounge floor, and nearly combusted when he added up his birthday money and realised he’d accrued a whopping ¬£70.

To me, this has been the year when The Boy has morphed from tiny tot to a proper young man. Physically, he looks so much bigger and older than he did this time last year; the change in him in the past 12 months has been more pronounced than in any other year. And developmentally, well, he’s not a baby any more, that’s for sure. Okay, so he’s still prone to moments of indescribable stupidity, and only yesterday I discovered that he’d eaten the nose pads on his glasses yet again, but he bowls me over on a regular basis with his knowledge, his vocabulary and his learning. It’s amazing to think that just a year ago, he was only beginning to read and write. Now he can read pretty much anything you put in front of him, writes with increasing accuracy and looks set to overtake me in the numeracy stakes by his seventh birthday.

He’s also becoming increasingly wily. In the past 24 hours, he’s negotiated the right to receive pocket money and the right to stay up later at weekends, on the strength of being six. And as a special birthday treat, he was allowed to stay up later this evening to finish building his Lego. It may be a school night, but I was happy to oblige, especially when he said that he wanted to spend some time with us after The Baby had gone to bed. He has taken the arrival of his little sister in such good grace, and does a sterling job at keeping his jealousy under wraps; the least he deserves is a bit of uninterrupted mummy and daddy time.

So, all in all, it has been a successful birthday. The bike has been ridden, the Lego has been built, and the one-to-one time has been enjoyed, by both of us. It’s been lovely to see his excitement and enthusiasm, and to see him really enjoying his presents rather than just losing himself in a frenzy of wrapping paper and greed. But for me, the highlight of the day was when he was snuggled up on my lap in his pyjamas, and told me that I was the best mummy he’d ever had.

‘But I’m the only mummy you’ve ever had,’ I told him.

‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘but when I was just a seed and needed a tummy to grow in, I wished that I could be in yours, and my wish came true.’

I think that means he’s had a good birthday, don’t you?