It’s painful to watch. The itching, clawing, bleeding of my son’s eczema. It tugs on my compassion, but it pulls harder on my anger. I hate that sound, the furious scraping of fingernails across the skin, the catclaw marks they leave behind. And not just occasionally, or seasonally, or even for a month-long stretch. It’s every day for years, the slow, maddening water torture of something that just won’t stop.
We do all we can, anxiously dousing him with creams, soaking him in mineral baths, experimenting with oils, steroids, strict diets. He sleeps with sock-wrapped hands at night.
But no relief. No cures to speak of.
The scratching is more intense at night, right about the time I get home from work and need to make dinner. I try everything to soothe it, but my patience is thin. We do this every day, after all, and I want him to just get over it all ready.
Stop scratching. Stop making yourself bleed. Why won’t you stop?
Sometimes I am calm and ready to meet the need. Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I cry. But the words are the same. The helplessness doesn’t change.
I glance around furiously, searching for someone to blame. Sometimes I blamed my son for his scratching habit or for eating triggering food. But being his mother, I’ve been the best target. My body knit him together, guided by the hand of God. Anything that went wrong must be my fault.
I can blame myself because I started him on formula at 3 months, and then let him go on antibiotics 3 times in his first two years. It’s my fault his immune system is weak and his intestinal tract unhealthy.
It’s my fault because when he was born, I didn’t know how to mother. I ignored every material instinct and refused to be nurturing for fear of being seen as gentle or weak. I was ignorant, arrogant, broken.
If he was born tomorrow, I would parent him so differently, with more nurture and natural remedies, but I didn’t know then what I know now. I just didn’t know.
And yet day after day, his eczema is a painful reminder of my failure, my helplessness, my blame, staring back at me, red as blood.
I yelled and nearly cried about the eczema twice today, and the shame cycle was strong with me. Every time I saw him clawing at himself, I wanted to scream. I wanted to run away or make him leave me alone, to stop reminding me of my failure. The shame heaved over and through me, spinning a cycle of anger and guilt I couldn’t leap out of.
Tonight I skipped out on bedtime stories and prayer because Josh let me, and because I needed to patch my niceness back together after the day shredded it.
I sat in a warm bath and listened to my husband tuck him into bed, the sound of the packing tape scraping off the reel, crinkling over his sock-cuffed hands and around his tiny wrists. That sound, one I’ve heard for months now, a bedtime ritual, broke me.
I don’t want it to be this way anymore. He is still so small. It’s not fair for him to absorb my anger at myself, my rage at my own helplessness. His little body, in distress, tired from the torment, deserves my compassion, not my rage.
Tears streamed down my face in the moment I knew I was ready to give us both mercy. Finally.
I pictured myself asking him to remind me, “Mom, it’s not your fault,” when I wanted to shriek in anger over the scratching moments we would inevitably face. He would do it too, if I asked him. He is the kind of kid who insists unsolicited, “You’re a good mom,” right after I unfairly yelled my eyeballs out for some misdemeanor offense.
This imaginary conversation with my son struck deep, a realization that deep down I must know, his eczema is no one’s fault. As much as I want to blame someone for his condition, for the endlessness and the sadness of it.
I want to blame someone like the Pharisees wanted to blame someone for the man born blind. They pointed at the blind man, they pointed at his parents. It’s his fault. It’s their fault, they shouted, accusing. And Jesus said, It’s no one’s fault. This is his story so he can display God’s goodness with his life. The man was healed after that day, and no one had to shoulder the blame. His healing was the end of the story, not the sickness.
I want that for us too. I want the healing part now, not later, but I can’t control that. But I will take Jesus’ admonition to the legalistic rule followers, the ones whose voices I hear in my head far too often.
“It is no one’s fault. It is his story to display God’s goodness. That is all.”
After the bath, I crawled into his dark room and lay down on his bed. I apologized for being so mean. I whispered that I wasn’t really mad at him when I yelled, that his pain made me feel it might be my fault. I told him I was really just angry at myself. Before I could finish, he was ready with, “I forgive you”, answering with the openness of someone who has not learned to hold a grudge. I thanked him and rubbed his back a while before saying Goodnight.
Now I am ready to give mercy, to get it in return. Since that’s the way mercy travels, in circles like that. I need mercy more than I’ll ever give it. I sort of hate that, but it’s good for me.
My son forgave me. God already did. Who am I to not forgive myself?
I want to shout a giant THANK YOU to all of you who contributed to my crazy birthday campaign.
My goal was to raise $3400 in 34 hours. Our final total was just over $2000, which was only about 60%, but what amazed me about it was that the giving was done by about 15 people. Proof of your wild generosity and how much good a small of people can do.
So thank you for changing the lives of mothers and their children in the slum of Katwe, Uganda, forever. And thank you for being part of a moment of freedom for me too. I can’t do this without you. And I wouldn’t want to.