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February 10, 2011

Make It Don't Stop

In the spirit of the snow day yesterday, Madeline had her first beauty treatment. I had come to the end of all possible Fancy Makeup permutations for myself and because she was the second-closest female, she bore the brunt of my boredom.

The issue: cradle cap. You may think that sounds like a meeker cousin to some 18th century thing like consumption or scurvy, but suffice it to say cradle cap is a brutal affliction of a baby’s scalp. And by brutal I really mean brutally unattractive more than anything else. It’s basically a common inflammatory skin condition that causes flaky, yellowish scales to form on oily areas like a baby’s scalp. And, gulp, it’s thought to be caused by a…by a…by a…oh gosh, here it comes and there’s no hope of stopping it: a YEAST. Ugh. There. I typed it. If she notices it I can never tell; Maddie’s too busy learning how to grab her big toe. 

I noticed the cradle cap about a month or so ago and thought, here we go again, because Drew also had it. I’ve put up with it this long only because it’s fun to pick at, and if mommies have a secret pastime it’s picking at the various appendages, surfaces and crevices of their children. This might be a primal instinct for which no immediate benefit is obvious except the benefit of sheer enjoyment. Well. No, not exactly-- enjoyment isn’t the right word. It’s more like the thrill of purposefulness born of horror. 

To add to the horror, whenever I manage to scrape off a particularly meaty chunk of scalp, a small bushel of baby hair comes right off with it. This reminds me, against my will, of a tarantula shedding his winter coat.  What a nightmare.

I once sat there and picked at her head for probably thirty minutes, flicking the flecks behind the glider in her nursery. One scale led to another and another, and I begin thinking if I sat here long enough there HAD to be a finite number of yellow crusties and I would come to the end of it if only I had the willpower to sit there and see the job through to the end. But cradle cap is like the backseat of a car: one thing always leads to another.

At a Suberbowl party this week, a good friend caught me absentmindedly picking at Thing Two’s head. She suggested I try Aquaphor at the recommendation of a friend whose doctor told her to use it. I had never heard of it but sure enough there it was on the aisle at Tom Thumb right next to the Desitin. It seemed pretty serious about itself, and with a name like that you sort of have to live up to your claims instead of hiding behind pink elephants or words like Lavender (capital “L”!).

I squeezed the bottle and a clear substance oozed out slowly, like I had disturbed it after a night of partying in the tube. Its consistency was thick and oily-- petroleum jelly-ish, like frozen Vaseline. It didn’t smell nice. And when her head was covered with it Thing Two resembled a guido from Jersey Shore with a very self-important Mohawk. I sat there and waited for it to, well, work. The stuff was so thick I worried it hadn’t penetrated down through her hair to her actual scalp, so I thought it might be a good idea to run a fine-toothed comb through the mess just to work it down into the roots.

Do you ever wonder sometimes about the significance of small decisions, like if you had just eaten the salmon at lunch instead of the tuna how the entire course of your day, possibly life, would have been profoundly altered? This was that. At the first stroke of the comb, a chorus line of yellow crusties burst from her scalp, flowing up into the sticky continuum of hair like potato chip crumbs caught in honey. I salivated. Do it again. Another stroke of the comb, and more. More! Oh God, look at it all! I started running the comb harder against her scalp, shaving whole stamp-sized pieces off like asiago cheese, catching them in the tines of the comb, creating a grey paste of scalp and Aquaphor. It was an orgasm of horror-born purposefulness. If Michael the Archangel himself had appeared to send me on a mission from God, I would have made him stand there and hold the Aquaphor until I scraped every single solitary cell of wayward scalp from Thing Two’s head — come hell, high water or high-waisted jeans.

Sometime, I don’t know when, I made Drew lunch, set up a craft for him to do and interacted with my iPhone, but Home Base all morning was the head of Thing Two. I would return to it to tinker like a man in his garage. Sometime before her afternoon nap I talked myself into rinsing her hair out because I just couldn’t bear it any more; my hand was cramped from holding that tiny comb, my jaw sore from clenching it in rapture and determination; and there was this very cynical little voice inside my head saying, “You’ll never get it ALL you know. You better just give up now, while you still have your sanity. Plus she’ll get that junk in her crib.”

It turned out to be a good thing I didn’t decide on a gentler cleanser. I mean, Johnson and Johnson shampoo isn’t emulsified with battery acid but they don’t exactly crush rare holy plants from the Himalayas to make it, either. Even after a good five minutes of fingernail-involved scalp lathering, a thin veiling of Aquaphor lingered on. But my hysteria had subsided.

When we put her to bed, Thing Two was clean-scalped and still retained the slight suggestion of her guido Mohawk. I don’t know if the Aquaphor worked because of its innate healing power or because of the OCD it inspires in moms after that first fateful stroke of the comb. All I know is, I slept well last night. After my cigarette.

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