Five-year old, Maggie, woke from her nap glossy eyed and red in the cheeks. “Oh, baby, you’re burning up,” I kissed her forehead (the mom thermometer). The alarm went off in my mind. She had come home with a note from preschool letting parents know that there were a few cases of chicken pox among her little schoolmates. I lifted her shirt, and sure enough, the telltale blisters were forming on her tummy and back. “Oh boy. Here we go.” I settled her into our room with children’s Tylenol, juice, and movies. Dr. Esh advised me to gear up with Benadryl, Caladryl, and plenty of liquids. Quarantine would most likely be to no avail, but for now, Maggie was tucked away from the other kids, comfortable and uncharacteristically quiet. Lyle kissed her forehead, “What’s going on, princess? You want daddy to snuggle you?” She looked up at him pathetically, “I got chicken pox from school.” “I’m going to get you some medicine and white grape juice. We need to get you all better.” “Popsicles, too Daddy,” she stated flatly. “Popsicles can make me all better.”
The other four kids were under observation in the living room. We waited for the outbreak, as three-year old Serrah attempted to take charge. “Emily, lay down. You’re getting sick. Mom, we need to watch Beauty and a Beast. Emily isn’t listening to me. I’m making her better.” Emily seemed to feel fine, at the moment, and wasn’t willing to be a patient in Serrah’s sick ward. “Well, she isn’t sick, Serrah. Only Maggie is sick. Emily MIGHT get chicken pox. You could get them, too. But you guys aren’t sick right now.” She seemed excited about the prospect of getting sick. “What’s it going to look like?” What fun this was going to be!
Meanwhile, two-year old Emily had gotten ahold of a Nintendo game controller. She sat pushing buttons and staring at the blank TV screen, waiting for something to happen. Soon Serrah turned the TV and the game on, joining Emily. Each had a controller, although Emily’s was of no consequence because Serrah was playing a one-person game, so the second controller had absolutely nothing to do with what was happening on the screen. It was a pretty good ruse, especially for a three-year old to come up with and perpetuate. “Huh,” I shook my head. “Whatever works.” Emily was none the wiser and was content at the idea of causing things to happen on that screen because she was pushing buttons and moving the controller around just like her sister. For a little girl with Down’s, it was a boon for Emily to have two older sisters to watch and mimic. And she did watch every move they made, working hard at doing as they did. So, as Mario and Louigi ran across the screen chasing giant mushrooms and perilously working through obstacle courses that could potentially lead to their demise, Emily was enwrapped, believing that she was part of all of that action!
I stared at the blister above Ben’s eye as I fed him in the early morning. It doubled in size by the time he was done eating. I made a face at it, “Oooh. That’s going to leave a nice little scar.” He was listless and feverish. The rest of the kids woke in similar condition. Serrah wasn’t thrilled about the chicken pox today. Maggie was allowed to join her ailing siblings in the living room. I stared out over the sea of sheets that covered the furniture and floor. Our four-month old twins, Ben and Max lay, clad only in diapers, on one of the sheets on the floor. Maggie and Serrah each took an end of the couch. Emily was in the recliner, her toy phone sitting quiet beside her. We were living in four-hour increments, oatmeal baths, Benadryl, Tylenol for anyone with a fever, Caladryl on every itchy little blister, sippy cups of juice for the older threee, and bottles for the babies. If it weren’t for the TV noise, it would have played out like a silent movie to someone watching the scene in our home. It was manageable. They were all quiet and motionless. “Thank God for goodnight juice,” Lyle affectionately referred to the Benadryl. I suppose this went on for a few days before everyone was on the mend. My new mantra became, “Stop scratching. You’re making it worse. Do you want scars?” We had survived what I had feared would be a nightmare Five kids, age five and under, including two infants, having the chicken pox all at once wasn’t horrible. We got it all over with in one fell swoop and lived to tell the tale.
Other illnesses wouldn’t be this easy, like the strep throat debacle. Four times a day for two days, I coaxed, begged, pleaded, and threatened, to get a scooper full of medicine into each child’s mouth, only to have it spit right back at me. All five of them wound up back in the doctor’s office. Dr. Esh took Maggie aside, “If you promise to take your medicine without any trouble for your mom, you won’t have to have a shot. Can you do that?” A very serious five-year old Maggie nodded, took my hand and sat obediently beside me in the waiting room while the others were dealt the hand she had eluded. We were silent. No, I did not sit by and comfort my little darlings as they each took their turn getting a shot in the butt. We were out of options, and my absence was necessary for the doctor and nurses to succeed at treating our sick brood. I was waiting with open arms when each one came out, giving them the TLC I had longed to, rather than chasing them around like a robot armed with a medicine scoop.
Everyone recovered nicely, including Maggie who took her medicine faithfully without a peep, probably thanking Jesus for every mouthful. I don’t think anyone ever argued about taking medicine again. Even though the littlest ones were too young to remember the incident, the older ones were there to perpetuate the story every time someone got sick and needed medicine to make them well. “It’s bubble-gum medicine. Better take it, or you’ll get a shot in the but with a needle THIS long!”