A survival guide to chickenpox

Owls, Craft, Loo Rolls

Keeping boredom at bay with Pinterest ideas while recovering from chickenpox

Our daughter, now 2, developed some unusual spots which I didn’t recognise. So we jumped into the car for a quick trip to the docs. However, even the doctor was stumped and merely took a swab, talking vaguely about hand, foot and mouth disease and asking us to call back in a week. Not very helpful.

Our daughter has not experienced much illness so far, except a few minor bouts of the usual nursery related mucus-fest, so it was unusual to see her slowly declining into lethargy and to see the march of undiagnosed spots appear rapidly across her little body.

I know Doctors get all snitchy when it comes to Google but I confess to some furtive searching so that I could work out what the spots were, as the Doctor clearly hadn’t a clue. It became very obvious quickly that it was just a bout of chickenpox. I came across a good description of the blister being ‘like a drop of water on a red base’.

I say ‘just’ with some caution, as chickenpox is certainly a mild and common disease in childhood. But, as it progresses there are two aspects that are worth being prepared for. One in alleviating the illness itself (we had a night of heart-stopping screams), and secondly, ways to deal with being housebound for over a week, until the very last spot has dried up, with a small child who is invariably grumpy, drowsy, screaming or bouncing off the walls as they begin to get better.

Having found lots of useful information across the web, I thought I’d suggest my own quick guide to surviving chickenpox… what we found helpful to ease the spots and illness, and some suggestions on keeping your little one occupied throughout those lost days cooped up in the house!

For the cabinet:-

  • A soothing, itch-busting gel or mousse designed for chickenpox, which you can pick up at the pharmacy. Or good old fashioned calamine lotion if you prefer, though I believe aqueous calamine cream is better than normal calamine as it does not dry out the spots, which can make them itchier.
  • Calpol to help moderate any fever.
  • Piriton antihistamine in liquid form for children, this really helped to calm the itching and discomfort, after we experienced one night of two-hourly screaming that had us cannoning off each other in our haste. (Get advice from your pharmacist first.)
  • And two old fashioned, natural remedies include;  bicarbonate of soda, or oatmeal, in a warm bath (not hot as this is uncomfortable on the spots). It is supposed to help calm the itching but we found it was also a helpful, distracting activity.
  • A good nappy cream, or the mousse mentioned above, to help spots in the nappy area, which can be very painful if affected.
  • Also, cut their nails to help prevent scratching and scarring.

    (As with any medicines it is best to consult your own doctor or pharmacist for advice.)

House-bound Activities:

  • During the lethargic stage, putting a DVD on is perfect as truly they don’t want to do much. And I wouldn’t beat yourself up about them watching TV. After all they are ill and just want to be quiet, still and cosy under a blanket. Something like ‘The Gruffalo’ or ‘Room on a Broom’ is lovely and calming to watch together, though our daughter also wanted to watch the less serene Disney’s ‘Cars ‘.
  • Quiet activities like reading together or playing with something simple if they feel up to it can also be nice, and a perfect time for a cuddle.
  • Or alternatively set up your computer with a slideshow of all your digital photos, they love this.
  • Once feeling well again, and they are just waiting for the spots to clear up, then there’s lots more to do!…
    • Playtime in a luke-warm bath
    • Time outside in the garden (weather permitting!), playing or helping to plant seeds or to water the flowers. Or set up a basin of water with some plastic toys for them to splash their hands in. If you have one the sandpit is great.
    • Get all their car toys outside and let them make little roads in the flowerbeds, if you are not too worried about your prize blooms. This also works brilliantly with plastic farm and jungle animals or dinosaurs!
    • Check out Pinterest for a multitude of ideas on getting crafty. We made a set of owls using toilet rolls and are still in the process of creating a castle!
    • Start a scrapbook and stick cut-out magazine pictures, photos or significant mementos.
    • Good old fashioned colouring or painting is always a winner.
    • Set up a stool in the kitchen and let them watch you prepare meals, or make a cake together.
    • Put on some tunes and have a good boogie, can let off some steam.
    • If you know of another toddler going through chickenpox at the same time invite them over and they can be all spotty together. Some parents even encourage exposing their child to the illness to get it over with, but that’s up to the individual parents.
    • There are so many things you can do, indoors or outside, let us know if you have any other ideas or your own experience to add!

So we’re nearly done. But with an incubation period of between 10-21 days after exposure, next up is our 7 month old baby, which may prove a trickier experience. I’m anticipating lots of cuddles!

Nobody warned us about nursery being a mucus factory

In order to promote our new, online business, we’ve needed some time, which has meant packing the munchkin off to nursery three days a week. Great idea we thought; it’ll be good for her development and will free up time for us to concentrate on work. In principle; yes. In practice; we’ve both spent the last month sicker than we’ve been for years! Why? Because the munchkin has been collecting infections and ailments like pokemon cards and then generously sharing them all with us when she gets home.

Nobody warned us about nursery being a mucus factory. Maybe we should’ve guessed it, but it’s not like we live in a completely germ-free, sterile environment, so we assumed she would build up her immune system at home. Consequently, we weren’t expecting such a viscerally dramatic step change in virus susceptibility. We’ve had it all, gastric flu, coughs, colds, croup, chest infections, conjunctivitis and enough snot to drown a whale.

I don’t know whether they deliberately keep the nursery temperature at optimum for germ-breeding, but I doubt even Doctor Fleming had a more efficient petri dish. The latest warning they’ve issued is about a chicken pox outbreak, which is actually a relief to us, because we’ve both had it, so it’s not something we can catch from the munchkin. Hurrah!

I feel guilty because whilst we’ve been feeling really sorry for ourselves over the last month, our little munchkin has been suffering with all the same ailments, but has stoically soldiered on in her happy-go-lucky way. For the most part she’s continued to be the smiley, happy, carefree baby we’re so lucky to have. She’s occasionally been a bit frustrated when her cough and catarrh have woken her up, but her constantly runny nose bothers her a lot less than it bothers me. Every time she sneezes, I rush to wipe away the green candle before she can swallow it, which she invariably does before I get to her and it turns my stomach every time. They’re not so concerned at nursery and she regularly comes home with a crusty nose, mouth and top, which is vile. One of my biggest dreads about parenthood was that I would have the snotty, dribbly, bogey encrusted child that I’d found so repellent prior to having one of my own. Now my worst fears have been realised.

The fact we’ve felt so ill for over a month has actually been getting us down psychologically. Having previously considered the most challenging parenting day coping with a bouncy baby the morning after an ill-judged, big night out, I would gladly trade how I feel at the moment with the world’s worst hangover, because at least I know that would have an end in sight.

Having talked to other parents, who all went through the same thing, they’ve reassured me that it does get better and after the first three months at nursery most babies reach mucal critical mass! Apparently it then plateaus, before dipping again until they go to school. Great! But that still leaves another two months of feeling pants….

Baby’s first Christmas, bah humbug!

Yay, it's Xmas!

It’s the third of December. It’s officially Christmas time (even though the commercial world would have me believe it began in October). I can legitimately get excited now. I might even buy a tree today. I can’t wait to see the look of utter bewilderment on Francesca’s face when daddy brings a tree into the house for the first time. A tree for goodness sake! And it smells like outdoors. A tree? In the house? She’ll be wondering what the hell’s going on, especially when mummy and daddy start decorating it with lights and shiny stuff.

Hopefully she’ll be mollified by the “Muppet’s Christmas Carol” and amused by daddy singing the silly songs while we carry on our annual tree-dressing ritual.

The good old days?

Unfortunately this year, I won’t be able to buy the usual eight footer, that fills the bay window and dominates the living room. Why? Because we have a baby and apparently they like to munch, and choke, on the pine needles. I’ll have to settle for a flaccid, five-footer that will sit on the Japanese table, out of reach of the munchkin, and mock me with its meagreness every time I look at it. This is the first time since Chessie was born that I’ve had even the tiniest pang for LBF (life before Francesca). I know, I know! It’s utterly ridiculous and please feel free to mock me. It’s only temporary and I know that in the next few years Christmas will be immeasurably enhanced by having a child who will be almost as excited as me about yuletide, but this morning I’m feeling nostalgic (damn that ghost of Christmas past).

I don’t resent her at all. Of course I don’t. I traded in my sporty, hot-hatch, for a dad-car-estate-with-iso-fix-points, without any resentment (well, maybe a flicker). I’ve given up the drunken, all-night partying, though to be honest, at my age, that was becoming hard work, unless I had three days to recover. I haven’t missed the lie-ins as much as I’d thought. I do miss going to the cinema with Susie, but not enough to give me even the tiniest glimmer of resentment, so why am I cross about not being be able to buy an expensive, over-sized, dying pine tree to swamp the living room? I ought to be happy. It’ll save me about thirty quid. That, coupled with the mightily generous £29.71 tax rebate I received this morning, means I might even be able to buy some more presents for Chessie and Susie.

Perhaps now that I’ve moved up a generation it’s obligatory that I turn into a miserable, old git? I’ve seen it happen with some of my friends when they became parents. Or maybe I’m just having an attack of the Ebeneezers?

Time for a mince pie and a mulled wine methinks. Can I justify that at 10AM?

Well, it is Christmas.

Baby First Aid

Following a heart-stopping, choking moment when my daughter was 7 months, my health visitor booked me onto a free St John’s Ambulance first aid course that focused on babies up to 12 months.

I went along to the class and sat amongst four other parents who had not yet got to the weaning stage. Their babies were still very young and they were mostly concerned with overheating issues, but mine was creeping up towards 10 months by this point and had still not mastered toast!

The class was brilliant, the trainer running through what to do if your baby becomes unconscious or chokes. I got to practice on a specially adapted doll with lungs!

Although weaning your baby onto solids is a really exciting phase, puree-led or baby-led, it can also feel quite daunting as your little one learns to eat, chew and swallow. Each baby develops at a different pace, so one thing I realised quickly in my own experience was not to be phased or pressured by what other Mum’s were doing or seemingly achieving. Some babies just need to take things in their own time.

For peace of mind, I would definitely recommend that new Mums and Dads book themselves onto an infant first-aid class, either as part of ante-natal learning or soon after birth. You may still panic in an emergency but you will know what to do!

You can ask your local health visitor or GP about any free classes in your area, or there are some very good paid-for classes available too. (And no good cheating if you have already been on a general first-aid course; there are significant differences between baby first aid and child or adult first aid.)

Useful links!

What to do if your baby is unconscious & not breathing

What to do if your baby is choking (see ‘Treatment for Infants’ bit!)

Thank Goodness For Google

As impending, first-time, fatherhood approached, my thoughts increasingly turned to my complete lack of parenting skills and how best to answer those tricky questions my little girl might ask. I did the dutiful thing and read as much as I could, including some great books like  “How Not To F*** Them Up” by Oliver James.

I’ve come to the conclusion that wherever possible, honesty is the best policy. I will no doubt learn by my mistakes, how to adapt the explanations into childspeak, to ensure that I don’t traumatise her too often.

An article in the UK listed and discussed the most common questions that children ask and a recent poll for the comedy series “8 out of 10 Cats” claimed that “Why does rain fall?” was the question most feared by parents, even more than, “where do I come from?”

Whilst I’m not particularly phased by many questions, there will no doubt be some awkward ones. My friend recently confessed that his honesty policy went out the window when confronted by his six year old asking him what “rape” was.

I have invested in an iPhone so that I’ll have instant access to Google wherever and whenever these questions arise (at least that was the excuse I gave Susie). I am slightly concerned that my daughter will probably end up worshiping Google, as the font of all knowledge, instead of me, but acknowledge that’s probably for the best regarding my own personal development.

Although I’ve not yet had the pleasure of the incessant interrogation from dawn to dusk and the hundredth consecutive “Why?”, I believe that the invention and convenience of the internet has made it inexcusable not to answer as many of these questions as possible. No longer is it permissible for parents to resort to lazy, mythical explanations when the truth is at their finger tips.

Thankfully today, even when parents fail in their parental duties, kids are savvy enough to look up answers for themselves. I believe the internet will make ongoing generations exponentially more intelligent, provided they know how to think critically and verify their sources.

How did parents ever manage without the internet? I’ve already lost count of the number of infant-advice Google searches I’ve made. Without it I would have been a gibbering mess, constantly haranguing my doctor, parents and friends for reassurance that a throbbing fontanelle does not mean my child is a body-snatched alien.


Everybody gives you advice on pregnancy, childbirth and parenting when you are expecting your first child. Everybody! After a while I tended to smile politely and file away the well intentioned information in the cavernous, Raiders-Of-The-Lost-Ark, parental-advice warehouse in my head, with a wry promise to myself that it would be looked into by “top men”.

Admittedly, there were some pearls of wisdom, but as a fraught, bewildered and sleep deprived new parent, my memory tended to only oblige me with retrospective fragments, usually after I’d already made the mistakes to which they alluded.

One such example happened after a successful shopping session for non-essential, but absolutely must-have clothes for our eight-week-old daughter. Whilst dutifully cooing at the adorable little winter boots, my wife Susie, had chosen, a nagging memory hauled itself from the dark warehouse into the light; “Don’t buy shoes until they can walk.”

I have absolutely no idea who imparted this wisdom, a memory lapse I excuse as a sleeplessness side-effect, but whoever it was they were absolutely right. What is the point of shoes for infants? Do their soles need protecting? No. Do they provide any additional warmth that can’t be achieved by simply donning another pair of socks? No. Do they function as anything other than expensive ornamentation for the baby’s feet? No. Are they irresistibly cute? Well kind of. Provided you have the patience and fortitude to fasten them on again, after they’ve been inexplicably shed by your offspring, for the umpteenth time, on a ten minute pushchair ride… Or they haven’t been outgrown before the right occasion occurs to show them off… Or worse still, they have been outgrown, never-been-worn, still beautifully packaged in their little box, but you haven’t a clue where you put the shop receipt that would net £25 you could spend on something less glamorous, yet ultimately more functional, like nappies.

On balance I think that infants’ shoes are an expensive extravagance that parents can avoid. Let the grandparents and grown-ups spend their money on such fripperies. Our little nipper has lots of shoes she never wears, never will wear and won’t even know exists. She’s the Imelda Marcos of the baby world!

So that’s the unasked-for advice I will be passing on to prospective parents, “Don’t buy shoes until they can walk.”