Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Itchy McItchers

I promised a post about my office filing/shredding adventures, and I do try to fulfill my promises, at least when I have some suspicion that the person I made the promise to might remember, so here we go.  (I believe I also promised that it would be a "super exciting story", but I'm sure I meant it sarcastically.)

Anyway, I am prone to exaggeration, but I am telling the absolute, non-hyperbolic truth when I say that I had a stack three feet tall (okay, okay! 30 inches, maybe?) of paper that needed to be sorted through--bills (most of them paid), birthday cards, pay stubs, brochures from nice people who offered to paint our house for like thirteen thousand dollars but we said no thanks we can do it ourselves but really who are we kidding our house is never getting painted, and other assorted trash and treasure.

I have a filing cabinet.  Filing tubs.  A nifty paper shredder that claims to be able to shred those credit card offers with the fake plastic card inside but which I have managed to overload on numerous occasions.  What I don't have--a desire to fill my hours with drudgery--caused me to designate the area underneath the desk in the office as my "file pile" for the last, um, six or seven  years? 

So. Anyway. (Note: this post has escaped its point in a completely unbridled, parenthetical sort of way. *wrangles*) In the middle of this precarious archeological dig through my financial life, I discovered a large manilla envelope which contained a form rejection ("Dear Writer: Please excuse the form letter. While we do read all submissions...") and the manuscript of my first (and only) picture book, PRINCE ELLIOT AND THE INCREDIBLE ITCH. Look!  I wrote the page numbers on the bottom with a Sharpie marker! I also included a color photocopy of this, my sample illustration. 

On the one hand, this submission kind of embarrasses me--I cringe to think about how I sent all this weird stuff out to editors--I'm pretty sure my letter said something about how all my friends loved my story and how I wrote it for my son, I had a goofy email address, I had no idea how illustrators were chosen, etc.

But in addition to the reminder of how far I've come in terms of understanding publishing (and I'm still so clueless, believe me!), what this discovery really brought back to me is the memory of writing the story, the absolute frustration and agony and worry and shame and confusion that I felt for three months of my son's life when at age 9 weeks he suddenly erupted in what I thought at first was cradle cap...what progressed into a full-body itchy, oozing rash, a staph infection, elimination diets, compresses, bath oils, steroids, an immuno-suppressing cream that I used daily on my tiny child, only to find out several months later that it had been found to cause cancer--all of the chaos that came with the discovery that my little Jabber has a pretty severe case of eczema.

I did a search here and was shocked to see how little I've talked about Jabber's eczema.  Those first few months were basically awful: when both sides of Jabber's little jaws were covered in open sores that oozed and itched him so much that he couldn't sleep but spent hours whimpering and rubbing his face against his shoulders, when strangers looked at my precious baby and blurted out, "What's WRONG with him?", when David and I were only able to keep him from clawing his skin off in his sleep by placing him between us in the bed and holding his tiny arms all night long.  We almost didn't have any more children simply because we couldn't handle the thought of watching a child suffer like that again (luckily, Monkey did not have eczema like this!)

Just look at his eyes!  There's such a "Mama, why the hell is this happening to me?" look in them.  And I remember being up all night with him, calming and holding his hands and bathing his scalp and crying and he couldn't even nurse because he was trembling with itchers and around dawn, he fell asleep at last, twitching in the middle of the bed with his skin so angry and red, and I was crying and I couldn't sleep...and I went into the living room and wrote this story--the story of a little prince with an incredible itch that moves all around his body, who tries every remedy he can think of (and makes a huge mess in the process!) and finally the itch is cured when he hops into bed between his Mama and Daddy.  It's a sweet story--all silly rhymes and messy situations.

Prince Elliot fills up the tub to the top,
And begins adding soap to the water, Plop! Plop!
The bubbles pile up, up, up,
UP to the ceiling!
"I'll wash off this itch!  I'll scrub off this feeling!"

Now there's nothing a good bubble bath cannot cure,
Be it headaches or ulcers or warts, I am sure.
But this itch of Prince Elliot's really is trouble,
for it just keeps on itching him, bubble for bubble.

It tickles his tummy,
It bothers his back--
It rankles his ribs
Like an old burlap sack!

He rubs with a washcloth,
He scrubs with a sponge,
But the itch won't wash off
Like the regular grunge!
It seems like this would be a story that I would read to Jabber growing up, but the truth is, I can't.  As silly as the story is, I cry when I read it, and I think it would make him miserable, too.  Even now, six years after I finally discovered (despite directions to the contrary from a pediatrician and dermatologist) that eliminating dairy from my diet at least allowed the open sores to heal, Jabber still struggles with his eczema.  We still have sleepless nights.  We still try every new "cure" we hear about (this miracle lotion and that gut-flora method), and the itch still itches on.


Nomes (inkcrush) said...

ahhh, poor little guy <3 my oldest son had eczema too - he's 9 now (!) and pretty much grown out of it - yay!

On another note - I did a similar thing - wrote a children's manuscript, illustrated the whole thing, colour photocopied and bound them, and sent some out to people in the industry who had once encouraged me to get into children's books. I had no idea...

I'm all about YA now. the scary thing though, is the more I learn about the industry, the more freaked out I feel...

cat hellisen said...

oh god that made me tear up - I hate it when my kid is suffering and there's nothing I can do to make it go away - but I've never had to deal with anything on that scale.

Poor little jabber.

Kristan said...

Aww... I can't even imagine what that feeling must be like, as a mother trying to help her son. {hug}

But on the flip side, I think it's great that you focused those feelings and thoughts into a creative outlet, and it's something you have to keep and remember anytime you want. Maybe it's still a little painful now, but time helps all. You never know, maybe he won't want to remember his baby eczema, but maybe he will be interested to know just how much his mama loved him. :)

elissa said...

Thanks for commenting, guys!

Nomes, it's AMAZING how many people tell me that their kids had eczema as babies as well! Jabber's doing a lot better, but I have a feeling he's always going to have some "itchers" hanging around!

and haha that's awesome that you've done a similar thing with a picture book!

cat, you know what an awful feeling that is for a mom. I wish I could take it away from him.

Kristan, I think you're right...Jabber will enjoy the book probably as an adult, when he can see it as something outside of his itching. Right now when we read it, he becomes more intensely aware of his itching, so it's pretty counterproductive. plus, um...he ends up wanting to sleep in my bed, ha!

Jen said...

I totally remember that story. I thought it was really good. Like super cute. You read it to my class and I thought it was genius.

elissa said...

Jen, haha! I forgot that I read that story to the class. I remember reading it, and someone (can't remember who) was like, "It's a kid's story! Why did you use so many big words?" lol!

Jen said...

Aww poor little thing, I bet that story would definitely have made my cry as a parent or hurt my feelings as a child, that being said I think the story is still very cute for another child or parent and what a story to write for yourself. I think that's really special.

You certainly have a gift for writing children's I love how simple yet brilliant the words are, I'm definitely a long novel girl myself but I love meeting other writers!!!

I found you over at Suzanne Youngs blog and your blog is precious! I look forward to many more posts!

elissa said...

welcome to the blog, Jen! Thanks for your comments! And yes, I am most definitely a novel girl myself--this is the only picture book story I've ever written! Mostly I write YA and some fiction for adults, too!