I have a special ability to turn every small life event into an angst-ridden ethically complex personal drama. I can hardly check the mailbox without lengthy speculation on the moral implications of my actions. That's the kind of absurd thing that consumes me every day. I'm an over-sensitive nerd - that's how we roll.
When the kids of friends got chicken pox before Xmas, a new moral dilemma presented itself. I cast my mind back to when I got the pox at age 14. It was bloody awful. As a general rule, the older you are when you get it, the sicker you'll be. I was almost my adult height - probably about 5"6 - and after two weeks of misery my weight had dropped to an extraordinary 38kg.
First of all, I found myself wondering whether I should get my son immunised against chicken pox. I decided against the $80 injection - partly because it doesn't protect recipients against shingles (a related and far worse condition), but mostly out of some half-arsed psuedo-scientific fear that by trying to stamp out common childhood illnesses I would ultimately be weakening the human race.
Not wanting to be responsible for hastening the end of humankind, I was left with two options: to let Nature take Her course, inflicting the pox on my boy if and when She got around to it; or to speed things along by arranging a playdate between my kid and the bepoxed offspring of my chums.
My partner and I debated these options, and he remained uncomfortable with the deliberate exposure idea. It just seems icky, and kind of cruel. I argued that by orchestrating chicken pox now, we'd save the little guy much more unpleasantness in the future - but that still doesn't square well with the principle of 'first do no harm', and neither of us felt particularly reassured.
I ultimately won out with the argument that it was better for the lad to be sick while we have one parent at home full-time with the kids. This is at once sensible and horribly cynical - kids, we'd like you to get sick when it suits our career plans - and seems to suggest something faintly unpleasant about the sort of society we live in. But the playdate of pestilence went ahead, culminating in the poxed boy hugging the non-poxed boy at their parents' suggestion.
Two weeks later, my poor little boy began to come up in horrible sores. He got off lightly compared to many kids, but his sheer unhappiness at times made me feel like the crappiest mother in the world. So I hope my kids will continue to be blessed with good health - if chicken pox gives me an emotional crisis, I don't know how I'd cope with the serious illnesses that other, less lucky families are forced to live with.