… and other tales of teething
Column by Lara Protheroe
We’ve ventured into the world of teething. It’s a bit like Mordor. But the ring is made of baby-friendly plastic filled with water and goes in the fridge for chewing on at desperate moments. Once you have started the voyage it is a strenuous and, at times, utterly soul-destroying journey. Rest assured, at the end of it I will be throwing the (teething) ring into the smouldering fiery pit. I’ll take my baby Luther’s dragon, Idris, with me for moral support; he’s bound to know Smaug.
Parenting will be different for everyone; people choose how to bring up their children and each method is varied. However, there is one place that almost all of us will ultimately congregate: Calpol Club.
Everyone seems to have memories of Calpol; and most seem to recall it with a fond smile and knowing murmur, as if remembering a dearly beloved childhood pet. My husband likens it in memory to his favoured Strawberry Cremes (of Quality Street fame); me, I don’t really remember it.
I must have had it, as I was always ill, and what better remedy for the perennially sickly child? I do remember an antibiotic that tasted of lemonade and was far from unpleasant; but then also a banana variety that made me gag (the inspiration to flavour anything with artificial banana remaining both then and now a seemingly eternal mystery).
Calpol, visually at least, reminds me of the glowing, luminous, red Aftershock spirit that was all the rage amongst the discerning youngsters back in the day when I so yearned to count myself amongst their number. It lured you in with its translucent and vivid beauty, only to betray you with its harshly revolting taste.
I recall that Aftershock, not satisfied with its already outlandish dazzling hue, ultimately saw fit to bring out a blue version, like WKD Blue boiled down in a jam pan and generously stirred in with toothpaste and lemon rind. Akin to thick mouthwash, it was essentially undrinkable. I brought an ill-advised bottle back from a foreign holiday only for it to remain untouched and sorry for its gaudy self for many long months. That was, until one evening when I went out with friends, only to come home to discover that my dad had consumed the entire bottle. “Wasn’t it disgusting?” I asked, frankly astonished (albeit in some small, shameful way, impressed). “It wasn’t all that pleasant” came the reply.
I think that Calpol has a not entirely dissimilarly deceptive appeal: looks good, tastes ok at first swig, but is ultimately really not all that pleasant. If memory serves, at least in my day it was made with real sugar.
The Calpol journey starts after the first lot of injections at 12 weeks old. The nurse administers the first ever syringe of the viscous syrup into the cheek of your unsuspecting tot before three needles are shoved into its leg. Luther lapped it up with glee, and the bottle has since been wheeled out on numerous occasions: more injections, a temperature, a cold… each time a dose being administered with relative ease.
Toothache is really awful. As an adult it can be heinous, but to inflict such suffering on a barely comprehending neonate seems little short of inhumane. Teething overall seems like a very poorly thought-out concept. I can’t do all that much to help him, and now that teething has started in earnest he simply won’t take Calpol. Luther has decided that the stuff is poison; and even if I hide the bottle and sneak up on him with a glowing syringe concealed behind my back he somehow detects its presence and all hell breaks loose.
In the process of trying to get the syringe in his mouth, Calpol gets everywhere: in my hair, on his baby-grow, on the floor, in the bedding, and (if we are lucky) a tiny bit into his mouth. The tiny bit that gets into his mouth rapidly leaves his mouth and gets onto his hands, from whence it is (but of course) smeared all over his face, onto Sophie the Giraffe, onto the beanbag, onto my face, and onto any clean laundry that mummy has (and she always somehow has) left in the vague vicinity. I try to settle him by breastfeeding him, which means the stickiness gets onto my chest where his little hands and mouth paw at me. I am then basically stuck to the bedsheet and unable to leave the bed, left to fester quietly as the cloying aroma assaults my olfactory senses.
I don’t want you to think that I am taking the easy option in hitting the bottle, by which I mean of course the Calpol bottle (some of the more “traditional” soothing methods being seemingly frowned upon in these progressive and puritanical times). We try all the Teething Tactics… Nelson’s Granules, or Nissl’s Granules, as they rapidly (and inexplicably) became known in our household, were something of a mystery to me but worked really well in the early stages. As I flicked the tiny sachet with my finger to loosen the powder, Luther would open his mouth in delighted readiness. I recently found out that this magical elixir is essentially sugar and little else, but the sweet distraction can at least stop the crying (and baby doesn’t yet have teeth to decay!).
Then there is the teething gel, much like the numbing gel you can put on an ulcer. It seems quite good if you can rub the tiny blob into the gum before it is sucked, whole, down the gullet. If too much goes down in one blob, don’t worry, it’s more than likely that you’ll see it again before long!
The aforementioned refrigerated teething rings can work well, sometimes affording even as much as two solid minutes of relief. Sound inadequate? Two minutes of relief can feel like a long, luxurious break when your baby is upset and meltdown appears imminent.
To be honest, some of the best techniques are those of distraction. Hand kissing, tummy tickling, singing in a high pitched voice, shaking your head madly from side to side – any of these in isolation or combination can cause laughter and ease the mouth-orientated agonies for everyone. This doesn’t always work. If things have gone too far and Luther is over-tired then forget any distraction: it’s back to the Calpol.
I have rarely felt as satisfied as, when he’s been exhausted and hating his mouth, I have fed him fridge-cold food to soothe the screaming gums, got some Calpol in him, popped him into his glorious orange Greentom buggy and headed out for a walk, only for him to drop straight off to sleep. I feel that I am truly winning at life, and head home to suck the Calpol out of my hair.
Enquiries: Frankie & the Lamb