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,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.
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!