It’s 7am and the phone rings. Everyone is still asleep in my house, but I, of course, am up, straightening things, preparing breakfast, doing laundry and making sure the camp backpacks are ready. There’s a half an hour of quiet before I’ll wake the boys. The phone is not supposed to ring.
“Hey!” It’s my friend Danielle.
“What’s up? Better be good for a 7am call.”
That throws her for a moment. She didn’t realize it was too early to call. Mommy brain has its own clock.
“Oops. I didn’t realize. My kids have been up for a while.”
“No big deal.” I chastened, now I can be magnanimous. “What’s up?”
“What does lice look like?” she asks innocently.
Oh no. I grimace. She did not just say the “L” word.
I remember back six months, when it was going around Julius’ nursery class. For months, I preventatively treated myself and all three kids. I even got myself double checked at a salon. Even though they said I was fine, I just couldn’t stop scratching my head. My family didn’t even have it, and I was obsessively checking and feeling bugs on me. It got to the point where Howard refused to even look at my head anymore. He called it, “Not enabling my crazy.”
“Crazy!” I screamed. “Two kids in Julius’ class have it and so do their moms!” I was pulling up pieces of my scalp, and then examining the skin under my finger nails like a gorilla.
“It’s no big deal.” He shrugged. “We have boys. We’ll just cut their hair.”
I looked up at him, eyes wide. “Just cut their hair?! Just cut their hair?? First off, one of our boys has the hair of a lion, and another cries when we even give him a trim.”
“Okay. Whatever.” Howard conceded, backing off and slowly backing away.
“And have you noticed,” I yelled after him. “We are not ALL boys in this house!”
Howard had left the room and I went back to pulling off bits of my scalp and muttering to myself.
I did not want to go back there.
My brain returned to Danielle, hanging on the phone, awaiting my reply. “Well,” I answered slowly. “Lice are tiny black bugs and their eggs are tiny, oval shape opals that stick to your hair. You can’t blow them off like dandruff. You have to pull them from the strand.”
I wait a moment as she assesses. “There are a lot of little white things.” Pause. “I think he has it.”
I’m sure he does. Just the other day, we got a note home from the camp saying that there have been a few reported cases of lice. It happens constantly in the schools and camps so I chose to hope/pretend that it was another group. No such luck. Lucas, Danielle’s son, is in the same group as Michael. They are also on the bus together. A mini-bus.
“Oh no. That’s not good.” I say and begin scratching my head. “I’m sorry.”
I hang up the phone, after offering my condolences and a referral to her neighbor, the ultimate lice specialist – Joy has three girls and a penchant toward meticulousness. So when they got lice, and couldn’t get rid of it, it was a shocker. Night and day, Joy checked and combed. She bought up all the anti-lice Fairytale hair products in our local drugstore. The girls wore their hair greased back in braids, and slept in olive oil and shower caps for weeks. And yet, they got it and got it again. And then, again. If she and her family could contract lice and not get rid of it, the rest of us schlubbs were in big trouble.
The minute my kids woke, a half an hour later, I was on them; sticking my fingers in their hair and inspecting their parted scalps. All of them, brushed me away like one of those giant horse flies, but like those flies, they couldn’t get rid of me. Until finally, while Michael was peeing and still barely awake, and I was behind him pulling at strands of his hair; he turned on me, figuratively and literally. “Stop it, mommy!”
“Arrrggh!!” I yelled, jumping backwards. “You peed on me!”
That woke him. Laughing uncontrollably, Michael finished peeing on the floor. Tyler and Julius, who were also in the bathroom brushing their teeth, almost fell off their step stools in hysterics. Julius gleefully pulled down his batman underwear and walked toward me. “I pee on you too, mommy!” he said, which caused another fit of giggles all around.
“No more peeing!” I announced loudly, which only added to the hilarity that was already going on in the bathroom.
“Ever?” Tyler asked. Eyes lit with merriment, his hysteria mounting again, starting a chain reaction through the mostly-naked boys.
I suppressed my smile. There was important business at hand here. “Come on guys! This is serious!”
“Yes.” Tyler happily mimicked to his 7 and 4 year-old audience. “This is serious. No more peeing ever!”
I left them in the bathroom, doubled over with laughter. I had to go change my clothes now anyway.
Downstairs at the breakfast table, I subtly poked at their heads while they slurped their cereal. I was a little less subtle when I sprayed the lice repellent leave-in conditioner. Michael, my gagger, almost threw up. I guess I should have waited till they were done eating.
I finished my preventative treatment outside, using lice repellent gel on Michael instead. I tried to pull Julius’ mass of hair into a bun in the back of his head, but he balked. I had done this less than a year ago, when we went through it at the nursery school. Back then, when he complained that it was a girl thing, I convinced him that it was a “boy bun,” and that only extremely cool boys could wear their hair that way, like rock stars. Now, six months later, he looked at me with outright defiance. I believe what he said was, “No way, mommy!” and began to run for the hills. With five minutes before bus time, I had to settle for hats (sprayed, of course, with lice repellent).
When their busses pulled up, I ushered them each on, whispering in their ears. They were not to touch heads with anyone or wear someone else’s hat. If possible, they should not sit next to anyone on the bus. They nodded, got on, and I’m sure ignored me.
“I love you!” I yelled to each of them as they stepped up onto the bus, using the more popular and certainly more favored “L” word. Thankfully, we aren’t yet at that place where yelling “I love you” is embarrassing to my kids. “Remember,” I screamed at the bus window, touching my hair and shaking my head, “Don’t touch other people’s hair!” Obviously, I had plenty of better ways to embarrass them.
Back in my house alone, I scratched my head and considered what I was doing. I should move on with my day and go to the gym as planned, but visions of lice danced in my head. I am not crazy! I yelled at the air, but really it was an image of Howard’s face in my brain. I’m not!
It had only been an hour and a half since Danielle’s early morning phone call. One short conversation, but really just one little word, had changed everything. Back and forth I went, finally giving in, going upstairs and stripping all the beds. I will have the olive oil and shower caps ready when they got home. Later, I will stop at the drugstore and pick up another bottle of anti-lice solution.
The troops may rebel a bit, but this is war, and sacrifices will be made. We spray in the morning. We check in the night. We never touch heads. We will triumph. The only “L” word allowed in this house is reserved for me, the lunatic. I can already see Howard, shaking his head with disapproval. It’s really going to bug me.