A pox upon me

If you're considering becoming a work-at-home parent, then I'd suggest you run right out and get your shots.

Yes, shots. Vaccinations. You'll need such medical protection because children are little germ magnets. They go out into the world, gathering viruses like so much lint, then bring them home, where the sniggering viruses lie in wait for the approach of unwitting adults.

We parents expect our children to deliver a certain number of colds and the occasional flu to our homes, but it can be much worse. Standard childhood diseases -- measles, mumps, chicken pox -
- can wreak havoc on grown-ups who have no immunity against them.

If you are vague about whether you ever had chicken pox, for instance, you'd better trot over to a doctor's office and request a shot. Parents who are cavalier about such things -- such as, well, ME -- can tell you, these diseases are excruciating for grown-ups. And you won't get much sympathy from your peers, who'll be too busy laughing.

This has been Chicken Pox Spring at our house. First, our third-grader broke out in pox. He had maybe 30 of the itchy spots. He felt bad for a few days, the pox went away and he went back to school. No problem.

Then our sixth-grader contracted the disease. Since he got it from his brother, his case was worse. More than 200 spots. Out of school for more than a week. Miserable.

(Yes, yes, there's been a chicken pox vaccine available since 1995. But our sons already had all their other shots by then and we somehow missed this new development and, oh, never mind, we're terrible parents. Come and take our children away. Please.)

Since I'm the parent who works at home, I did most of the Florence Nightmare routine for our sons. Making them comfortable. Taking their temperatures. Preparing their soup.

But, you ask, hadn't Dad ever had chicken pox himself? Well, no. But I'd been around kids with the illness numerous times, so I gambled that I'd gotten immunity somewhere during my 44 years on this virus-ridden planet.

Bad gamble. A week or so after Sick Son No. 2 was all better, Dad suddenly didn't feel so good. High fever. Nausea. And then the first few pinpricks of developing pox. Consulted doctor, was warned that these diseases are much more serious for adults. Got a prescription. Settled in for a week of deliberate non-scratching.

Oh, but all the warnings were true. When chicken pox comes to your house, you don't want to be last in line. I stopped counting when my pox totaled more than 500. The worst ones were (naturally) on my face. I looked like a photo from a medical textbook: "Worst Case of Acne Ever Recorded." I couldn't shave, bathe, dress. Matted hair, unruly beard and pox, pox everywhere.
And I was contagious, which meant I couldn't leave the house. Which was fine, really, because I was too hideous to be seen in public. I made Quasimodo look like Brad Pitt.

Quarantine is an unnatural state for working parents. We're always on the go, out and about in the car, zipping from one extracurricular event to another. I couldn't even run to the store. I couldn't go out in the yard for fear of bumping into my neighbors. The bank? The supermarket? All my usual stops? Forget it. Out. I was Typhoid Harry. I had to stay home, laid up on the sofa, watching bad, bad daytime TV and trying not to scratch.

Now you'd think that someone who works at home, someone who deliberately stays home every day of his life, would be fine with two weeks of quarantine. All my work's right there at the house anyway. I'm accustomed to being home alone. But I'm also accustomed to being able to come and go as I please. Being trapped in the house gave me an entirely different kind of itch, one of wanderlust. I wanted to go out and shuffle around shopping malls, wearing a sack over my head like the Elephant Man.

But, of course, I didn't. I stayed home, carefully not scratching, until my condition cleared up. Which gave me lots of time to think about this: Sure wish I'd gotten that vaccination.

(Editor's note: This column is from 2001. My pox were all healed by the time I turned 50. If I were you, I'd still get that shot....)

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