The scar - FamilyEducation

The scar

June 25,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

I always fantasize in the summer months about some type of conveyor-belt contraption that will automatically apply safe amounts of sunscreen on my kids while I busy myself packing up the pool bag and assembling snacks, etc. Applying sunscreen is a tedious, thankless job, really, since kids don't seem to appreciate all the time you spend working the lotion into all those wiggly spots, and on the ears, too. L. hates sunscreen, hates having to stand still, hates being rubbed (hates being sprayed even more), hates the smell of every brand, and somehow always manages to get some into his mouth, which makes him mad. T., though, is pretty patient about it all, even if she's wiggly. If I forget a spot, she reminds me. Just at the end, as I'm capping the bottle, she always yells, "My scar! My scar!" and I spray the tippy-top of her head, that pink-white spot where the hair parts around the top of her scar. It's maybe the size of a pea, really, but it's there--the only tangible reminder of her surgery, when she was just six months old. Two weeks after T. was born, we sat in a colorless exam room, and listened to the neurosurgeon and the plastic surgeon describe our baby's surgery to us. Exhausted inside and out, through and through, I didn't grasp the process. I imagined some unobtrusive operation, couldn't conceive of the enormity of it all at that point. But every month until her surgery we went back, and every month the same doctors described the process to us. Eventually the words they spoke began to make sense to us, and a picture clicked into shape, a comprehension that began at the bottom of my stomach, and worked its way to my mind, engulfing everything in its path along the way, like a fire. My god, I thought, they'll be cutting her entire head open. I imagined the scar, I imagined she'd be marked for life--it would always be there, lurking under her hair like some snake in the grass. "Oh no, no, no," T.'s plastic surgeon said quickly. "I make a zig-zag cut, that way the hair grows back well and the scar never shows." Even then, we couldn't believe him, couldn't think ahead to that point in the future, when our new daughter would be a little big girl, with long strawberry blonde hair, and a head filled with ideas, and freckles sprinkled across her nose like fairy dust. Sometimes, when I'm combing her wet hair after her bath, I'll part it with my fingers. I know her scar well. I can section her hair in just the right places and follow it, from one small, curved ear to the next. I remember again the horror of it when it was fresh, scabbed over with blood at the edges where the staples met, pulsing, and still glistening. I remember how I swabbed the angry ear-to-ear zig-zag every few hours with a giant Q-tip. I trace the memory in my mind, just as I trace the scar. When I get to the other end, I let her hair fall back again, and the scar is gone. Not gone completely, but hidden, soft like a sandy trail, curving away into the past.