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Can’t Get You Outta My Head

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.

Ride of my Life

It’s dark. My shirt shines an unnatural fluorescent purple under the neon glare and I can see 1,000 little pills of fabric that don’t show up in every day light. People are sweaty, music blasts and a woman wearing a lot of lycra, screams  “Are we ready!?”  way too energetically in my ear. We haven’t even begun and I just want to go home and shower. Welcome to my Tuesday spin class.

Class starts and we’re just warming up to “I got a feeling” from the Black Eyed Peas, stretching out our arms, loosening our joints and getting our legs ready for the ride. I ease into my pace and mentally tune out. What do I need to do when this is over? I go thru my check list. Supermarket – milk, OJ, detergent, remember pancakes for Michael. Call Dad. Shower. Pick up crickets for Smiles, our bearded dragon. Baseball practice later. Get Gatorade.

I return to my father. He’s having a rough week, extra miserable and depressed. His doctors aren’t getting back to him and for a reason that is correlated with his misery and depression, he will never just pick up the phone and call them again. Instead he just sits, waits and bemoans his sorry state. Our last conversation was an hour of me shushing my children away, trying to help him find a reason to live, while he explained the intricacies of how to take enough pills to get committed in a psych ward but not enough to kill himself. Good times. Good times.

Call Dad’s psychiatrist, I add to my list before hunkering down, turning up my gear and preparing for the first hill. “It’s coming!” Judy, the instructor, calls out like a voice from beyond. “You’re almost there. Turn it up!”

“Staying Alive” from the Bee Gees pumps motivation, and my legs slow down as the harder gear makes it, well, harder. One. Two. One. Two. What am I going to eat when this is over? I wonder. Should I have frozen yogurt for lunch? Or food? One. Two.  Maybe I’ll drive to the yogurt store. One. That’s bad. I should eat something healthy. Two. I did have cottage cheese, Fiber One and blueberries for breakfast, I remind myself, that’s healthy. Frozen yogurt for lunch!

“Put on another gear!” Judy yells. “And take it up!” I grunt and stand. Katy Perry’s, “Fireworks” is sparking us into action. I’m nearing the top of the hill and I’ve turned up the gear yet again. My legs feel leaden, like concrete slowly hardening. I pedal on. Almost there!  Al mo st there. Even my thoughts are taking heavy breaths. I c a n d o i t !

“Hungry like the Wolf” kicks in to help us make it to the top. Wolves have always reminded me of my father. They used to call him Grey wolf for his sharp, bright green eyes and, yes, hair that was almost fully grey by his early thirties. And he was clever, with a joke or a line. The ladies loved him, but why am I still thinking about him?  “Love Shack” is pumping through my ears straight down to my legs and I’m racing down this hill like my love is at the bottom and I haven’t had sex in years! “It’s Love Shack Baby! Everybody’s moving, everybody’s grooving, around and around and around and arouuuuund.” I’m singing in my head and between breaths it sometimes comes out my mouth. I can’t help it. I’m flying. Judy has challenged me to beat out the other spinners in my line and I’m going to kick their asses!

I’m sure I won the race to the bottom, but now there are sprints and jumps. I hate sprint and jumps. And even though I love “It’s my life” by Bon Jovi, I don’t know if it’ll be enough to get me through those up and downs. At least I have no energy to think. I’m a tight focused ball of keep on keeping on.

We finally finish the drills, and I’m hunched over in third position just riding my pace for the next few minutes of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. The final hill approaches.  “I want you to want me,” by Cheap Trick is playing and I’m in the moment until somehow it leads me to my husband and I begin to mull over how our relationship has changed since we’ve had the kids. It makes me sad sometimes that it’s no longer about us. At times I feel like the fourth in line – fifth if you count baseball – for his attention when I used to be solidly first. It’s embarrassing to admit being jealous of your husband’s amazing focus on the children, but it’s true. Then I think how I am now the selfless parent (although maybe not so much considering my last statement) and not the selfish young thing, and both thoughts make me want to have a tantrum.

“This is your hour!” Judy screams. “Make every minute count!” Nothing is about me any longer. Nothing. Judy is right, this will be my only real hour and it is torture! I’m feeling a little choked up and am in danger of having a What Alice Forgot moment. I do not want to fall off my bike. A tear mingles with the sweat running down my face. I need to get it together. Breathe. I can’t breathe!

“It’s your final hill!” Judy encourages. “It’s here! Take it. Take it straight to the finish line. Don’t waste a second. Give me everything you got!” “People are People” by Depeche Mode is guiding us along and I’m back trying to climb a mountain. I really need to remember to call my father’s doctor. Not that it’s going to do any good. Like he says, his pain is like an onion, deal with the top layer and there’s another problem right underneath, all fresh and shiny, and just waiting to make him cry. He is my never-ending onion. A mountain with no peak. My brain is on replay, “People are people…” That’s right, and my father is never going to change, and I am never going to desert him and leave him alone, like I probably should, but I’m not, because “people are frickin people!” I’m crying now, my breath ragged, my huffing and puffing closer to hyperventilation. I’m close to losing it as we finally mount the hill, turn down our gear and sprint to “Free Falling” by John Mayer. Breathe. Get it together. Sing. Don’t think. I calm. I ride. I remember I need to pick up dry cleaning. And stop at the post office. And Michael’s pancakes.

Christina Aguliera belts out “I am beautiful” and I am caught in her chords. I’m steady and on pace. The finish line is in sight. “You’re almost there!” Judy screams. “One more minute and we’re racing to the finish! No one gets left behind! We go thru it together! Now GO!”  I pedal furiously. The end is in sight. I’m almost there. I see nothing. I think nothing. I am a machine! I am beautiful! I am across! I made it! The music changes to “Time of my life” and I lower my gear so that I’m back on flat, easy road. My legs move automatically on the light gear and I guzzle down half my water. I am emotionally and physically spent and I am feeling… good.

After we stretch and clap for ourselves and Judy, I wipe off my face and then my bike and ready myself to leave. The spin shoes I shelled out $100 for go back in the bag. For now, the ride is over, but my head is still spinning.

If loving you is wrong, I don’t wanna be right

I had just returned to the kitchen, having settled a dispute between two warring Jedi knights in the other room, when my friend’s accusatory gaze pierced me like a light saber. She stood over my open freezer looking at me with raised brow. “You want to explain this?”

I averted my eyes. The “this” that she referred to was eight half gallon containers of Edy’s Grand Light Ice cream of various flavors lining my freezer. “What?” I shrugged defensively. “There was a really good sale.” I hoped she wouldn’t notice the four frozen yogurt cups resting comfortably on the shelf above.

“That does not explain this.” She snorted. “Have you taken up competitive eating?”

“You know I love ice cream. What’s the big deal?”

She looked at me almost sadly. “Really? You don’t think there’s a problem here?”

Clearly she did. “No. Like I said it was a good sale, two for $5. You can’t beat it, except once. It was amazing! I got them for $1.99.”

“Oh my God, your eyes are glazing over like donuts! You need to see someone.”

“Please. I mean, yes for many reasons, but not this.”

“Fine, then let me see your bag.” She held out her hand.

“Why?” I clutched the bag closer. Obviously, there was something in there she shouldn’t see. What? I wondered, as she grabbed it from me, fishing around my Let’s Make a Deal sack. Then, a superior sounding, “Aha!”

Uh oh. That didn’t sound good for me. I looked up to see her waving a small container and cringed. It was my “emergency sprinkles” cup. You know, for when you’re on the go. You know, right? Uh oh again. I decided to take the offensive defensive and jutted out my chin.  “I like to be prepared. So what?”

“So, you don’t think there’s an issue here?”

“Of course not.” I choked, sounding something like a dragon with flames stuck in her throat.

“Fine. Then, stop eating ice cream for a week.”

We stared each other down. As if on cue, children’s screams sounded from the other room and we both ran, okay walked with powerful stride, into the living room. Thank God, I thought, saved! I was never so happy to see a child laying on the floor whimpering and the rest jumping from one of my couches to the other.  In the mayhem, our conversation melted softly away.

At the gym at 6:45am the next morning, in between knee shaking lunges, I replayed my friend’s impromptu intervention and honestly assessed my unusual attachment to my daily treat.

Hoarder – check.

Indulged more than once a day – double check.

Ate alone, with company, for emotional comfort, reward, misery, joy –checkcheckcheckcheck.

On a first name basis with yogurt store owner – Joe check.

I want it. I need it. I have to have it – big screaming check.

Well there it was, plain as vanilla . I was a creamaholic.

Clearly my consumption was out of control. I would do it, I decided then and there. I would get the monkey off my back, or out of my mouth for that matter.  Of course, this was all just sugared up swagger since I still had eight containers (two Rocky Road – mine, two Cookies and Cream – mine/kids, French Silk – mine, Chocolate – mine, Vanilla – kids, Fudge Tracks – kids) as well as the frozen yogurt cups (mine) waiting for me in the freezer. Mmm. Just the thought of them made my salivary glands sweat. I had to get rid of them, fast. So I fixed my jaw and set about with great determination the terrible task of polishing off my goods one by one. Only a scoop left in the container? Might as well add it to my bowl.  I took to the task like a Roman at his last orgy.

When I got down to less than two tubs, something in the dark recess of my brain cracked, transforming me from typical suburban mom into a love struck teen, I began stalking the yogurt store, manufacturing reasons to be “in the area”, sitting in the car talking myself out of going in, only to trip over myself (and some other sugar crack riddled mom) in mad rush to heaven’s door. Floating out on a cloud of peanut butter cappuccino topped with chocolate crunchies, breathing deep contented sighs, I gained some insight to my pharmaceutically dependent father. It was not a proud moment.

As a child of divorce (see above) followed by a hasty and tumultuous remarriage and two additional step brothers to the one I already didn’t want, ice cream soothed and numbed me. As I developed from child to budding young whale, it became clear that ice cream, might not completely have my best interests at heart. In high school, I can mortifyingly attest that the boys all found my carrot eating, paddle ball playing mom way hotter than me. Cue two to three years of resentment binge eating.

“You really don’t need that,” short shorts mom says.
“You’re so right,” muffin topped, hanger-zipped jeaned 16-year-old responds, placing scooper deeper in the container for an extra big helping, licking the spoon for the most obnoxious effect.

It took some maturity – and a bunch of skinny/bulimic college friends – to realize that I needed to exercise more and switch to frozen yogurt, because even though my mother was annoying, she really was hot.

That night, after consuming the last of the Fudge Tracks (my kids’ container – yes, I have no shame), I had done it. I had rid my house of ice cream. It had taken more time than expected given all those extremely unfortunate, yet unavoidable stops at the shoe store which happened to be next to the frozen yogurt shop. “I just must have navy Espadrilles today!” But now my freezer was empty. I lay on the couch bloated and satisfied. Tomorrow was so far away.

Day one on the wagon, I woke with determination. I would do it. I would not waffle!* I had a nice healthy breakfast, followed by a nice healthy lunch. Around 4pm, the anxiety set in. “What have I done?!”  At 5pm, panic. “Get more!” followed by a body chained to table effort to suppress the intense desire to run to the store. I breathed deep and imagined popcorn. Or a nice cookie. Feh! Popcorn had no pop, cookies were crummy! Ice cream! My brain screamed. I scream for ice cream! I heard my father’s thick, semi-conscious voice in my head, “Addiction runths in our family.” It’s not nearly the same, I reasoned, uneasily recalling my friend’s disapproving judgment.

Then, it was dinner time and we were in the house for the night.  Now I’d done it, if I wanted something I’d have to drag my three children out with me, luring them with postponed homework and treats of their own. Definitely pathetic. It screamed addict. They’d probably see right through me too. It was even possible that they would say no and I’d have to make an extra trip to the candy store to bribe them. Even more pathetic. But I really REALLY wanted it.  Desperate, I wondered if i could get someone to deliver it to me. Not my husband.  He was wise to my game. What friend could I call…? My seven-year-old son Michael called down for a cup of milk. “Get it yourself!” I snapped up at him. Crap. I was strung out.

It continued like that for the next seven days. Cranky, anxious and reeking of cinnamon mints, I survived. By week’s end, I felt healthier, was two pounds lighter and the intense cravings had somewhat subsided. I managed emotionally torturous conversations with my father without my crutch and the freezer held, wait for it…. actual food!

That’s why, when lunch time rolled around, I bee-lined straight for my yogurt store and bought myself a beautiful cone of peanut butter and chocolate covered in sprinkles. Reward! Euphoria. Blissed out on my drug of choice, I decided that my pleasure outweighed my pain. My booty would continue going to boot camp. I would battle an extra few pounds. It was just too good. Besides I was not my father, I could lick it if I wanted to.

*Just so you know, it’s not like I have never gone a day without ice cream or frozen yogurt. When I travel or when I’m sick, I almost never have it. And there have been snow storms…