My five-year-old son calls it "chicken pops," as if it were a new poultry-flavored brand of breakfast cereal. But the truth is, chicken pox is worse than that. If you can imagine such horror.

The nastiest aspect of this contagious kiddie disease is not that it makes your children look like the tragic victims of a Clearasil shortage, or that they aren't allowed to return to school, or play with their pals, or go outside for the small eternity it takes for their bodily complexions to clear up.

No, the real reason chicken pox is feared by parents is that, more often than not, youngsters are still healthy enough to whine, "IIIII'M BOoooOORRRrrrRRRED" every time they exhale.

It is this characteristic, I'm sure, that inspired the ancient curse, "a pox upon your family." And clearly, the boredom factor also explains why Mother Nature--or Uncle Vermin or whoever's responsible for these things--arranged it so children could only get this bug once per lifetime. No quarter-sane adult would put up with it twice.

For those moms and dads who've yet to confront this blight (just wait, heh heh), kids get chicken pox the same way they get popular, ghastly new toys you're determined never to allow in your house.

First you hear that the thing is sweeping the nation. Then a kid down the street gets it. Then, one by one, every child on your block follows suit. And as soon as you turn your back, one of your own little darlings brings it home to share with his siblings.

Given the choice, any seasoned procreator would rather be trapped at home with a kid who's faking illness than one who's poxed--but not for the obvious humanitarian reasons. You see, the phonies know that if they don't maintain the illusion that they're teetering on the brink of death, they risk being forced back into household slavery.

But kids with chicken pox love to flaunt the fact that they feel pretty good, they're missing school, they've fouled every square inch of the house, they've reduced you to a slobbering shadow of your former self . . . and there's nothing you can do about it but cater to their every whine.

Yep. The moment your beloved's first bright red blotch has been lovingly swabbed with calamine lotion, you are no longer a parent. You become the world's lowest-paid, least-appreciated entertainment director. And no matter what you do, you will fail at this job.

You can haul out the crayons and the coloring books and the Play-Doh and the construction paper. You can rent every violent, poorly animated kid video on the market. You can say, "Hey! Wanna play another game of Uncle Wiggly?" 'til the cows come home. You can hire Pee-wee Herman, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Gunther Gebel-Williams to perform in your living room . . . and the kid will still act like the victim of abject parental neglect.

According to the experts, chicken pox is a fairly harmless affliction unless your child shows any "abrupt mental changes." So naturally, I panicked when my resident shut-in was suddenly overcome with the desire to go outside, play with his friends and actually participate in his own life.

Leaving the house is usually the last thing my boy wants to do, for obvious reasons. Inside, in the warm glow of the TV, everything needed to sustain kid life is on the floor, only inches away, right where he left it. Outside, not only is there no television, there are no dinosaur fruit snacks, no toys of destruction directly underfoot, and no mothers or fathers to annoy.

Yet there was my polka-dotted prepubescent, behaving like a hopeless nature addict in the advanced stages of fresh-air withdrawal. It just goes to show what a raging 98.9-degree fever can to to an undeveloped human brain.

As horrible as this experience has been, we've had it easier than most of the parents in our heavily blemished neighborhood. Chicken Pox Rule No. 1 is to somehow prevent your kids from scratching their blisters into gaping wounds.

Well, this wasn't a problem for us because my son has seen enough action movies to equate even the tiniest amount of blood with instant death. (I have not attempted to dispel this notion because, frankly, it takes a lot of the worry out of child rearing. For example, this is not a boy who's ever going to come home with a skull-and-crossbones tattoo, a pierced nose, or a body part missing because of a poorly played round of mumblety-peg.)

Happily, my son has recovered to the point where it is extremely difficult to play connect the dots on any single part of his anatomy. But now my year-old daughter is starting to look a little blotchy, and all of a sudden she doesn't want to do anything but go outside and play.

Excuse me while I prop open the door.

Kids get chicken pox the same way they get popular, ghastly new toys you're determined never to allow in your house.

You are no longer a parent. You are the world's lowest-paid, least-appreciated entertainment director.

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Michael Burkett