Ares is 13 1/2 weeks old and for a good part of his existence, he’s been plagued with skin issues. There was the baby acne — just a couple of white bumps around his eyes — that was there when he was born, but that went away within weeks. That was really the least of it. Dry skin has been more of an issue.

Even though he was born a day ahead of his due date, he came out with really dry, wrinkly skin, leading the midwives to believe that he might have been overdue. How overdue, we’ll never know, but overdue enough for his skin to crack from head to toe. Raspberry was born eleven days past her due date, but I don’t remember her skin being as dry and cracked as Ares’ was, and I don’t think it lasted all that long either. When we changed his clothes, a cloud of dry skin would fly up behind him. It snowed dry skin onto our dark-coloured couch. Whenever Aurelie came by to check on him, I’d apologize for the flakes littering the couch and rug; it was impossible to keep cleaning up each time he shed. Naturally, I was intrigued by the Ares’ skin and obsessively took more pictures than anyone ever needs of their newborn’s various body parts. After about two weeks, the flakiness disappeared and I returned to taking more prosaic pictures of him.

Ares’ skin was more or less fine and dandy, save for a few instances of peeling skin around his mouth and head, until early this month, when an insane case of cradle cap erupted on his head and I suspect, also spread to his forehead. His forehead and cheeks became raw, red and crusty, tinted with bits of orange seeping through the cracks. When he rubbed his face against my cheek, it felt like sandpaper. I longed for his baby soft skin.

His scalp wasn’t much better. Sometime in March, he had a very mild, barely noticeable bit of cradle cap near the front of his head and for some reason, it made all the hair in the area fall out. In the pictures taken around that time, he’s a smiling bald Buddha. I mused that since the hair on the back of his head remained intact, he was going to end up with a mullet at some point. Well, 80s fashion is making a comeback, isn’t it? Since then, the hair has grown back — little tufts among the big dry flakes of still fused to his scalp, but I’m not sure what the hair looks like exactly. I feel like it’s been so long since he’s had a normal head that I’ve forgotten what he looks like with a little bit of hair.

The cradle cap is disturbing to look at, but like a train wreck, it’s hard to look away. Raspberry calls it mushrooms, partly because she thinks it might be fungal. Lucas calls the dark circular patches near the front islands. At the back, it’s crustier and more yellow. It looks a little like bread crumbs or parmesan cheese, except it’s stuck on fast. When you run your fingers over it, it feels like a gravel path. It reminds me of tectonic plates too, how the flakes are layered thickly and unevenly upon one another.

We slathered olive oil on Ares’ scalp and tried brushing the dry skin off with the edge of a towel for a while, but it didn’t seem to be helping. The damn thing just came back. One evening, as Ares was slumped in my arms, asleep, I stood by the kitchen sink meticulously brushing and picking the skin off. I felt so proud that I’d gotten quite a bit off, but the next day, it was like what I did didn’t even make a difference. Bah.

So, we’ve just left it for now. The doctor said to reduce his use of hats, but he only really wears one when we’re out. I stopped putting a hat on him inside as the one we had was too big for his newborn head. When I tried to put a hat on him weeks later because it was cold in our apartment, he squirmed around irritably, shaking his head back and forth to try to get the offending hat off, as he hadn’t yet discovered the use of his hands, or their existence, for that matter. But I digress. The doctor mentioned we could try a cradle cap shampoo on it, but she couldn’t remember the name of it, despite saying she’s got a bottle of that stuff in her bathroom and she sees it all the time. She said to ask the pharmacist and that if it needed a prescription, they could call over to the clinic. Dentinox, that was the name of the over-the-counter shampoo. We decided against using it, since the cradle cap isn’t really bothering him.

If anything, we’re the ones bothered by it. I kept putting off getting Ares’ picture done for his citizenship application because of the cradle cap and the angry red forehead and cheeks (my neuroses, since it really shouldn’t matter) but eventually, I was resigned to the fact that neither of it was going anywhere, so I had the pictures done anyway. You can’t really tell he’s got bad skin in the pictures, but I don’t really like them because I don’t think they were well-taken. Whatever.

I would like to pretend no one else notices the cradle cap, but it’s quite glaringly obvious. In fact, he looks blond because of the yellowy flakes but he’s actually dark-haired. It’s kids who are the most vocal and curious about his head. Yesterday at the museum, I overheard a little girl ask her mother about it. Dry skin was the mother’s reply.

I can’t resist the temptation to pick at Ares’ scalp, despite the Internet warning that it could lead to an infection. Just one little pick here and there, especially as he naps in my arms. After all, his head’s right there, beckoning to me. The flakes are deceptive. They look like they’d come off easily but they don’t, and I don’t try the way I would it it were my own skin. His skin is too soft. He’s too little, too new. Still, I’m so tempted to pick at the edges that look like they’re coming off and lift them like how one would lift a rug to peer underneath. Sometimes when I’m sitting outside with Ares in my lap, watching Raspberry play or waiting for something, I can’t help but pick a little. It’s like an adult chimp grooming a little one. Isn’t that what it is though?

The cradle cap seems to be improving. It’s receding in the back and there are fewer dark patches on the front. There’s a bumpy red ring around where the cradle cap used to extend to, sort of like a fence protecting the rest of his scalp from the scourge of the reddish meadow. The flaky surface is noticeably smaller and the flakes are coming off by themselves. I find little tiny crusts, which I’d initially mistaken to be cat litter, on the bed and on the couch. I’m thrilled to know that the skin’s coming off without any intervention, although I will admit that this morning as Ares napped, I picked off a small mountain of crusts and I was even bold enough to peel off large pieces (what I deem to be a success… ha!).

Yesterday, Ares clawed at his forehead and head with sharp nails, making his scalp bloody. This is what he does when he discovers what his hand can do. Sigh. The sight of his bloody, crusty head makes me cringe because it looks like it hurts, but I guess it doesn’t since he’s not crying about it. The crustiness on his forehead and cheeks has since cleared up with an almost-daily application of lotion, but has since been marred by thin, bloody scratches that seem to magically disappear by the day’s end. Baby skin is so strange.

I’m looking forward to the day when his scalp returns to normal again, perhaps soon, and hopefully there won’t be any other skin issues again for a long, long while. I imagine he might one day be a pimply-faced teenager, but that’s a long way down the road and if that happens, I can assure you I won’t be the one picking at his skin.


6 responses

  1. Anonymous

    His crown resembles the moon’s surface. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Go submit it to The Globe and Mail. I am quite sure the back page still runs readers’ submissions.

    April 27, 2014 at 11:37 pm

  2. Anonymous

    I have successfully used vitamin E oil for skin blemishes ,did you try this harmless oil ?

    April 28, 2014 at 3:45 am

  3. This is a fascinating series, Dawn!

    April 28, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    • Thanks, Kristen! I didn’t plan it as a series initially. Funny how it turned out that way.

      May 8, 2014 at 9:06 pm

  4. The last few photos of his scalp are absolutely amazing abstracts, incredible and beautiful. Though I do hope his little head is better soon!

    April 29, 2014 at 10:59 am

    • I didn’t mean for them to appear as abstract as they did turn out. They’re beautiful, but also a little scary when you think that they’re actually on a baby’s body! His head’s getting better, due in no part to my picking at it. Rather, he’s the one scratching his head every time he’s falling asleep. It looks like he’s been in battle now :|

      May 8, 2014 at 9:09 pm

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