The ringtone, Twinkle, goes off on my phone. I recognize it as my youngest. Glancing at my phone screen, it’s Wednesday, and it’s 11:09 am. It means she’s walked the two kids, Andrea (eight) and Kai (six), to school. Four words into the conversation, and I usually have a pretty good idea of how her day started. This time it took only one.
LICE!!! The silence that follows is pregnant with possibilities. Perhaps she said “wise” as in you are my wise mother. Unlikely. Did she say spice, twice, slice, or ice? I’ve not put in my hearing aids, so I can’t be sure.
“Mother,” she sounds distraught, “an email from the school said there is a lice epidemic.”
Just to be sure, I ask, “did you say there is a mice epidemic?”
“Mom, are you wearing your hearing aids?” I want to share with her that from the sound of her voice, I wish I didn’t have hearing aids.
Did the email use the word “epidemic,” I quiz. Unfazed by my question, she continus.
“They knew about this on Monday. I’m not happy about this.” She pauses. I’m supposed to say something but not sure what, so I choose silence. “And you know what, mom?” I don’t. “Monday was hat day. The kids traded hats all day.” I keep quiet although I really wanted to comment that I doubt any parent is happy per se to learn about lice infestation at their children’s school. I remember that I’m out of hearing aid batteries, so for me, things are looking up. Still ranting, she goes, “Do you think that’s funny?”
“That is bad timing, for sure,” I offer while still worrying about Andrea.
“Bad timing!!!” And then, “That is an understatement!!!” Of course, it was. I should have kept the lid on. “Next Monday, they have a shower cap day!” Clearly, my daughter is going to speak in exclamations. “Well, mom, I can tell you one thing.” Actually, she’s told me several things. “Andrea will be wearing a shower cap and not only Monday, but Tuesday, and Wednesday…”
“Gréta, did you see any in her hair? Just because other kids have it doesn’t mean she does. With her light hair, it shouldn’t be hard to spot them crawling around.”
With utter disgust for the all hexapod invertebrates in the world, she hisses, “They crawl around?”
Turning my comments into an educational podcast, I say, “Lice are brown or dark gray and tiny, and you can find them at the back of the neck or behind the ears. The nits are oval specks that stick to hairs near the scalp. (My role as a teacher meant checking for lice.) If you try to scrape the nits off, they don’t budge. You have to use your nails to remove them. Think of them as lice eggs.”
“Oh my god!! They have babies?” Knowing she is walking, I remind her to watch her steps and cars. Walking and talking about lice can be dangerous.
“When she got out of bed, I rubbed her head with peppermint oil. My whole house smells like peppermint. My kitchen, the kids’ playroom, my bedroom… even the dogs whined about being let out. Shampooing Andrea’s hair, she cried and carried on that the smell was getting worse and worse. What am I supposed to do? I don’t want lice in my house. That girl can be such a drama queen. And then Kai seems to think if he gets them, he can keep them as pets!”
“You don’t even know if Andrea has any lice. Poor kid. With her sense of smell, this must have been awful.” My amma (grandma) heart is full of empathy for the little one.
“Really?! This from a mother who told me to get rid of what she called unearned self-esteem?” As far as I know, she has no other mother, so the answer is “yes.” “I pulled Andrea’s hair into a bun and told her not to play with the lice children.” With stress depressurizing, we start laughing.
I tell her that when I was eight-years-old in a sanatorium, I had lice. “They crawled all over my pillow and moved underneath my nails.”
Instead of empathy, my daughter continues laughing, saying, “Oh no, you were one of the lice children?”
Andrea’s brownie troop earned a trip to the zoo later this week. “Half of the girls have lice,” Gréta tells me. “Just in case, I’m going to make a spreadsheet to identify which kids come over, whose house my kids go to… One of the mothers is hiring a woman to come to her house and bag up all the kids’ linen, blankets, and toys…for a few hundred dollars. It’s well worth it.”
Dropping off the kids at school, instead of a hug, she gave her daughter an “air five.” She was headed to Walgreens for head lice treatment. She’s hoping the peppermint aroma (or odor) will dissipate by Christmas. She read something about Licefree spray as a defense and shampoo with rosemary if lice are found, to name only a few products she was planing to buy. Knowing her father’s penchant for over-buying, I cautioned her not to get carried away with treatment stuff, pointing out that Andrea may not even have lice. “All I am saying is that you don’t need a case where a bottle will do it.”
“Well, mom, I’ll be the judge of that.”
Preparing for bed, a Twinkle text chimes. “Walgreens had one shampoo left. Everything else sold out!” On my to-do list I cross out, buy hearing aid batteries.