His eczema was so bad we seriously questioned if he would be able to go to school. Then a miracle occurred. A jar of ointment, mailed from Montana by one of my husband's business associates, helped. If the man had sent the prescription, we would never have had it filled, having long ago given up hope that this media could make a difference. With the medicine in hand, however, I spread a little on the corner of his hand, and the next day the spot was clear.
He was four then, and by the age of six his face was clear. Also the weeping areas on the rest of his body were under control. His first grade teacher, having known him in earlier days, shared our joy that he could go to school, and off to school he went.
The eczema was always seasonal, however, and I knew that some months would be worse - the winter when forced hot air sprayed dust in heavier doses - the spring when pollens loaded the air with exotic perfume that made him itch.
As spring approached, his feet broke out in open sores, and I realized the day would come when he could not wear his shoes. I had purchased a pair of sandals to meet this crisis and stored them away until they were needed.
One morning he came to me saying, "Mom, I can't put my shoes on. They hurt my feet."
"Oh, that's all right," I said. "I have something you can wear instead."
I got out the sandals and offered them to him.
"Those are girl's shoes!" he objected indignantly.
"Boys wear them, too," I insisted
"I'm not going to!" he replied.
"But you have to go to school," I reasoned.
"Let me wear my house slippers," he entreated.
"Those will be conspicuous," I argued. "The children might laugh at you," and I knelt to put the sandals on his feet. As I looked up, I saw huge tears streaming down his face. I almost let him stay home, but remembering the many students in high school who were hypochondriacs by the age of fifteen because their parents had succumbed, I realized that with his problems sympathy was entirely wrong.
"Would you rather wear the slippers?" I asked.
"Yes," he said.
So he put them on. I insisted that he take the sandals in a paper bag in case he decided later they were better, and he trudged slowly up the road toward the bus with the bag under his arm and his head bent low to the ground.
That day at school, contrary to my usual practice when teaching, my thoughts often turned to him and what might be happening in his first grade world. The day finally ended, and I rushed home to pick up the pieces. When I arrived, he was out in the front yard playing with his friends, still wearing his slippers.
"Hi, Mom!" he called gaily as I went by.
"Hi!" I replied just as gaily. Whatever had happened had been good, and I would make no more issue of it. I went on in the house and prepared dinner, saying nothing about the slippers, and nothing was said.
That evening when the phone rang, it was my son's teacher. She called ostensibly to ask how he was, but she knew he was all right. She wanted, rather to describe the situation which had developed at school. The children did make fun of his slippers, and he had gone up to her and tugged on her skirt to get her attention.
"Mrs. Wright," he said, "the children are making fun of my slippers."
She then spoke to the children. "Children, Johnny is wearing slippers because his feet are sore. You must not make fun of him. Furthermore, if you hear anyone on the playground say anything, you are to tell them to stop!"
It worked. The children accepted the slippers, and he wore them until summer when he could go barefooted. This was a crucial point in my son's school life. He had perfect attendance through the first three grades of school, and his attendance has always been excellent.
The most important result, however, was the lesson he learned about people. He expects people to accept his condition, and they always do. In junior high when his face broke out again, I worried about the reaction of his classmates. Foolish me. He had them bringing numerous remedies to school to try to help.
I forget too often that people behave, generally, the way you expect them to. The good is there in all of us, but it is like the sap in the tree. It must be tapped before it can appear.