When the chicken pox hit our house, I felt personally attacked. Just when I was settling back into my writing routine. Just when I’d busted out of week six of Couch to 5K. Just when I was launching a major storytelling project. Just when I finally had a handle on our household budget. Now this. Sick children. Two weeks out of school. Sleepless nights. Routine shot.
When I am not doing the things I must do in order to feel like Michelle—writing, sleeping, eating well, exercising, relating—everything feels personal. The Mother’s Day card forgotten in the truck Henry borrowed when his car died. The train of sugar ants trekking across my kitchen windowsill despite the peppermint laced cotton balls I put in place to deter them. The empty box of laundry detergent when I need to wash the fever out of P.’s and K.’s sheets. A wasp hovering around my desk.
The kids went back to school almost two weeks ago. Perhaps eczema has been a good training ground for K.; he made it through the pox with no visible scars. P., on the other hand, opened up a gash on her forehead. She’s a picker—mosquito bites, scrapes, a pimple here and there, no bump or cut is too small or too large to escape her fingernails. She does it without thinking, a nervous habit, like twisting her hair or chewing the end of her pen. At night, I dab vitamin E oil on the pockmark, one shade darker than her fair skin, it could be a tear shaped Bandaid or a bindi. We started the routine the night before she went back to school, as the four of us settled on beanbags in K.’s room for our nightly installment of The Hobbit, read by Henry.
“What’s that for?” she asked when I came at her with a glistening cotton swab.
“It’ll keep your forehead from scarring. Otherwise the scar—“
“—won’t disappear until I’m twenty?” she interrupted.
I wish I could have answered yes. The scars carved into our skin, the bad habits, the thought patterns that no longer serve us all disappear every twenty years, and we approach the next phase of our lives with a clean slate. I turned forty in February. Gone would be the burn mark on my right calf from that motorcycle in Oaxaca and the tiny red dot on the bridge of my nose that just appeared one day in my thirties. Gone would be that bad habit of taking things personally. But the scars are mine to accept as part of the story of my life, and that habit won’t fall away on its own. It takes awareness, consciousness, work.