A Pox on Our House, Part One


P. and K. have chicken pox. Henry’s never had it so he must stay at a safe distance. We spray Lysol disinfectant on the couch before he sits. His purple bath towel hangs from the doorknob of our bedroom closet, far from the pox infested towels we use to pat down K. and P. after their oatmeal baths.

When K. first heard that he got to bathe in oatmeal, he asked for his swimming goggles. He hasn’t said it out loud, but I’m sure he pictured a swimming pool full of thick breakfast cereal. It hasn’t turned out that way for him, but he’s made the best of it. After waking in itchy agony after midnight on Saturday, he consented to a bath in lieu of calamine (which he’s decided is the skin-care equivalent of boiling oil). I filled the tub with warm water and poured in a few cups of ground oats. He reclined in the water and took a deep breath, finally free from the pain of fresh pox over the eczema that flares up in back of his knees. I turned to reach for the lavender oil on top of the sink, and when I looked back at the boy, he was fixed in the oatmeal, a surprised expression on his face, his mouth open as though choking back a scream, his hands poised like claws framing his face. Our eyes met.

“I’m frozen in carbonite,” he said.

Before the sore throat, low-grade fever, and lack of appetite manifested as bumps and pustules, the kids spent a few restless nights shaking Henry and me out of bed. I can’t sleep. I need water. Will you lie down with me? P. came at four, crawling into the empty space left by Henry when he escorted K. back to his bed and fell asleep. “I’m too weak to get up,” she said. She sounded weak, speaking in that slurred, low register, middle of the night voice she gets when her tummy hurts or her energy is depleted. I helped her to the bathroom and then to her room. I fluffed her pillow.

“My face feels like it’s going to melt, but my body is shivering,” she said.

I covered her body with the blankets on her bed and climbed in next to her. It’s a sweet thing to hold her as she relaxes back into sleep, to hear the steady rhythm of her breath, to give her what she needs at that moment. I closed my eyes. Then she sat up in bed with a verve I hadn’t seen from her in days, as though she remembered something important.

“Michelle,” she said in her plain as day, feeling no pain voice, the same tone as when she discovered she could make fart sounds with her armpit or dance a jig while jumping rope.


“My arm’s popped out of its socket, like three or four times.”

“That’s crazy.”

A lot can go wrong with the body. Chicken pox. Getting frozen in carbonite. Arms popping out of sockets. Faces melting. In March I strained my back pulling bags of clay out of the trunk of my car for a shrine project with my students at Capital High School. The play was opening soon, I had a poetry reading coming up. I was on deadline with one project and launching another. And life. It’s cliché to wish for more hours in the day. But clichés achieve that moniker because they are based on truth. I want time to waste, to stare out the window, to pull cursed Chinese Elm buds from our wildflower beds, to not sweat it when it’s one or two in the morning, and K.’s frozen in carbonite or P.’s face is melting, and I have to be up in a few hours to teach a workshop and then drive to Santa Fe to fire shrines in a friend’s kiln because the one at Capital didn’t work. I am bad about returning phone calls. There are more than 1,000 emails in my inbox. I still haven’t sent wedding thank yous. I often feel I should be doing something else, writing my book instead of washing dishes, taking a paying gig instead of writing my book, clearing out emails after the kids go to bed instead of reading, building up to the half-marathon I committed to running this fall instead of sleeping off a night of interrupted sleep. I am tired. Sunday was a rough night. I hadn’t showered in a couple of days. I felt I’d spent the entire weekend on my feet, washing clothes or blending fruit smoothies for the infirm, flipping grilled cheese sandwiches and filling bowls of pretzels when they regained their appetite. Or sunk into the couch dabbing calamine and calendula on the kids’ bodies with cotton swabs. Tears come easily when I haven’t slept. When K. fell asleep, I slipped outside the house and sat under the crescent moon. “Please, God,” I prayed. “Please, please, please, please let everyone in our house sleep through the night. Please.”

It didn’t turn out that way.

Illness and chaos have a way of bringing life into sharp focus. I can’t plan my workshop or write my book when K. is bathing in oatmeal at one in the morning. I can’t answer emails when P. needs me to lie next to her in bed. All I can deal with is what is right in front of me: a boy frozen in carbonite, a girl delighting in what her body can do, living reminders that my life is lived best when I am in it, one breath, one moment at a time.

Published in: on May 1, 2012 at 1:29 pm  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. ♥ so much love to you


  3. This is so lovely Michelle! I share your life conundrums like no sleep, gads of unopened emails, too many projects, etc. But not the time and love and attention it takes to raise two great kids. So I honor that in you and say “you’re doing a fantastic job AND you’re staying committed to writing every Tuesday (almost).” That alone is enough. And remember that the free moments of gazing out the window or listening to a hummingbird fly by happen too, just not enough!

  4. A beautifully poxy homage to love’s joys and trying times! May your house soon be pox free.

  5. A good trip down memory lane for me, remembering what it’s like to be Mom.

  6. We can soooo relate to this right now Michelle. Thanks for putting it in words. Here’s hoping everyone gets healthy in both our houses.

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