"Our most ancient metaphor says life is a journey. Memoir is travel writing, then, notes taken along the way, telling how things looked and what thoughts occurred. . . .This is the traveler who goes on foot, living the journey, taking on mountains, enduring deserts, marveling at the lush green places...as a pilgrim, seeking, wondering." -Patricia Hampl

January 12, 2011

Red Dots

My son, my second child, an infant, has developed a rash on his stomach.  It looks like sunburn and feels like grit off of a fine sandpaper.  
The rash: it changes hues and shapes.  Little, spotted, pink clouds on his belly.  In the middle of the night, when the house is dark except for the hallway light, it looks like tiny pollen off of a lily.  Like the dots on a Lichtenstein painting.  During the day, they look like a maze of pink punctuation marks.  By daylight, I can see that the rash covers him from neck to groin, his little penis spared.
It worries me awfully.  I take him to the doctor, I run my finger over it, for the second time, embarrassed for both of us not to be able to diagnose it.  I put my fist to my chin.  This cream and that one, they haven’t worked, nor the humidifier, or the new laundry detergent.  No, there’s nothing new in my diet.  The doctor puts his finger under his nose and huffs.  He recommends us to a dermatologist.
She is petite and precise when she speaks.  She holds my baby like a long trophy, examining him under the revealing florescent lights of her office.  Here, his stomach looks like red clay.  I put my lips on him because I cannot trust my fingers to tell me what I feel anymore, I’m too unnerved by the sight of it.  His skin is hot.  On his ribcage, a scratch.  Or his skin is beginning to break.  The baby cries when I pick him up, because the skin under his arms is raw.
The dermatologist asks many questions. She keeps turning my boy over, front to back, running her perfectly smooth palm over his pathetic stomach like she’s smoothing fondant.  She quickly prescribes two creams, two medications, to be applied at various times and often throughout the day.  The PA scribbles furiously these orders so that I can take the instructions home and follow them exactly.
At home, I bathe the baby as instructed.  I apply special soap to his middle and back, gently rub his scalp with the soft bristles of a toothbrush.  I pat him dry.  I apply the first and then the second cream, torso, back, under the knees, under the arms, into the many folds of his delicate neck.  The baby resists, kicking and peeing.  I blot the water and begin applying the creams again.  There are more little, red dots.  My own stomach turns.  Tonight I will reapply the creams and give him medication before he sleeps.  
Soon, my older child, my girl, arrives home from school.  She is hungry, and I am busy looking up the latin words the precise dermatologist proposed in her office.  My fingertips are slick, oiling the keypad.  I can’t remember now what the words are beyond derma- and sebaceous.  The boy is crying again, writhing on his back, unnerved by the itch.  My girl is yelling for me.  She has spilled her small bowl of tomato soup on the floor.  The splatter on her cream-colored sweater looks like pox.

Photo source: Mozarteum


  1. I'm so sorry for the predicament 9hope the new creams have worked), but this is a beautiful piece of writing!

  2. Thanks, Kate. It turns out that it's really dry skin, "baby eczema" (what an ugly word). The creams are working and my little guy's skin is getting more soft by the minute!