COLUMN: The memory-stirring properties of calamine lotion

I’ve spent the last week elbow-deep in calamine lotion, cotton pads and oatmeal baths - yup, my two-year-old has chickenpox.

I knew what it was as soon as the first telltale spot appeared on her stomach, in exactly the same place my first pock appeared when I was nine - and the spot where I still have a scar to this day.

It’s been nearly 25 years since I’ve been near a bottle of calamine lotion, and popping the lid off this week, as the chalky scent invaded my nostrils, I was cast back over two decades to my bedroom at my parent’s house. I didn’t have the spotty illness too badly, luckily, and my main memories of that time were two whole weeks off school (score!) and lots of daytime television. And a whole lot of itching.

That’s the thing I’ve found really tough this last week. You can’t reason with a toddler who wants to scratch her back until it bleeds. You can’t explain to her why she should leave the hot, painful spots on her face alone, so she doesn’t face a lifetime of filling tiny scars with makeup concealer. You can’t explain, as she lays whimpering in pain between the two of you in bed through the night, that this will soon pass.

And let me tell you, the guilt of working mums is only amplified when your child is sick. You hate that you can’t always be the one by their sides, dabbing their little bodies with calamine lotion, singing lullabies into their ears, offering cuddles and soothing words. You can’t always be the one to rush to them when they’re sad, and that’s hard.

Of course I know women all over the world have found this out the hard way. And it’s not a problem that needs to be fixed - I love to work, I know that it’s good for my daughter to see me busy and productive, to have a focus outside of our home - but sometimes it sucks.

My own mum was a working mum. She had three children who were often in the care of loving grandparents - as my own daughter is - while she went to work every day. It’s only now, as a mum myself, I realise how tough that must have been for her. What brings me comfort, though, is that I don’t remember ever begrudging my mum’s absence in those moments. She may not have got to sit with me all day, making soup and cold drinks as my nan did, but she was the one sitting up with me through those long poorly nights - and now I realise how exhausted she must have been as she dragged herself to work the next morning. I still remember how great her cool hand felt as she laid it on my hot head - the first thing she always did as she came through the door each evening - and how I felt nothing but happy to see her.