It was Friday morning before school, and we had a busy weekend ahead: My older daughter, 8, had a big dance performance, one she had been rehearsing for the past two months. She'd have a last rehearsal that night, then two stage shows Saturday. Plus we had basketball, fiddle practice, and lots of errands.
I had the weekend all planned out: carpools, schedules, snacks packed. Everything was carefully coordinated.
That is until I heard these words: "Mommy, my head is itchy."
I had been dreading this for years. As a family who has navigated day cares, preschools, busy kindergarten classrooms, dog parks and hundreds of play dates, we have been visited by many, many common plagues. Viruses/flus/colds? Check. Stomach bugs? Check. Ringworm? Check. Hand Foot Mouth Disease? Check. Fleas? Check. We've even had a plantar wart (thanks, swim lessons!) and a few other afflictions that I won't mention... just... because. That whole exercise where you strip the beds, bag up the stuffed animals and spend hours washing everything in your household in scalding hot water? Been there, done that.
Somehow, though, we had never faced the "L" word.
I held my breath and frantically searched my girl's mop of thick, loopy curls, hair just like her sister's and my own. Thankfully, I didn't see any bugs. Just some dandruffy stuff. I sent her off to school.
When I picked them up from school that afternoon, my younger daughter, 7, handed me a paper.
"PARENT ALERT: Several ADVANCED cases of lice have been found in Room 206. Please check your child's head VERY carefully."
My heart sunk. If one daughter was itchy and there was a lice epidemic at school (this wouldn't be the first time) then there was a good chance one or both kids were infested. I fought my gag reflex and the urge to wail. In less than three hours, my daughter had to be at the dance rehearsal, in costume and hair bunned up, among 100 other perfect ballerinas. From what I knew of the lice removal process, it involved hours of combing and washing and checking. Hours trapped in the bathroom.
I had no choice. I pulled out my phone and frantically dialed Lice Knowing You, one of a chain of boutique salons that will -- if you are willing and able to pay -- quickly solve your revolting lice problems.
"That dandruffy stuff was probably nits, the lice eggs," said the expert who answered the phone.
"What do I do?" I whispered, so the other parents making their way home from school through the neighborhood wouldn't hear me. I admit, I felt ashamed.
The woman on the phone, whom I was quickly anointing my personal savior, coached me calmly: "Put her hair up tightly tonight. Tomorrow morning, you'll come for a lice check with the whole family. We have an 8:00 a.m. opening. If you have lice, we'll take care of it. Oh, and it's $95 per person, per hour."
That night, I steeped in guilt. We were a clean family, well relatively, anyway. How had this happened? What would people think?
$95 an hour? Per person?
Wait: WHAT IF I HAD IT? The kids had recently gotten over nasty winter colds. They had been in our bed on and off for weeks, snuggling, reading, getting comfort. Ewwwwwwwwwww!
I put on an outwardly calm, even nonchalant, appearance for the kids. But inside, as I tossed in bed trying to fall asleep that night, the hours ticked by Oh. So. Slowly. I felt an army of creepy, crawly horror scrambling all over me.
At 8:00 a.m. Saturday, four hours before ballet curtain call, we pulled into a deserted business office parking lot. The address on one of the suites matched the one the Lice Knowing You lady had given me. But there was no big sign out front. Just a beige business park and a plain address.
Of course, I thought, no one wants anyone to know where they're going. Fresh humiliation washed over me.
Resigned to our family's fate, we unloaded and negotiated the walk of shame to the beige door. Taking a deep breath, I turned the doorknob and pushed inside. What I saw shocked me.
The salon was brightly lit, and in the main waiting area and smaller adjacent room, kids of all ages sat in barber chairs, their heads encased in clear shower caps, watching movies or playing on tablets. A few very young kids, also shower-capped, played at a train table. My daughters were ushered to their seats. The kids all seemed unfazed about lice, which didn't surprise me. What did was this:
So many of the chairs were filled with moms. Grown women, like me, who had been forced at 8:00 a.m. on a rainy Saturday morning to brave the walk of shame up to the beige office complex door and now sat, looks of resigned surrender or contained irritation on their faces, iPhones and Starbucks in hand, heads crawling with lice.
I was not alone!
I settled in for my check and treatment (all of us were confirmed to have lice except my husband, nearly bald). As the friendly Lice Knowing You ladies went to work, combing and rinsing, scrubbing and checking, I peeked at the mom next to me. Her mouth was firm and her face cast down toward her phone. I was sick of feeling embarrassed.
"Exactly what you had planned for the weekend, right?" I joked, tentatively.
"Yeah, right," she smiled at me. I thought I saw a flicker of relief in her eyes.
"At least we have coffee." I gestured my latte toward hers in a sort of cheers motion.
"I think at this point I need some wine," she quipped. We both laughed.
And then it hit me. I wasn't sitting here in this chair because I was a bad mom, neglectful or careless or messy (OK, sometimes we were a little messy).
I was there because I was guilty only of loving my kids. They had been sick. They had piled into my bed for temperature-taking, storytelling, cuddles. We had rubbed heads. We always rub heads. We snuggle every day of the week.
These other moms, in their Saturday yoga pants and ammonia-smelling shower-capped heads? They loved their kids, too. That's why we were all here. Because of one big, deep, creepy, crawly, all-encompassing mother love. A mother love I wouldn't trade for anything, even a lifetime bug-free potion.
As my Lice Knowing You stylist rubbed my head in a motion that actually felt something like a distant cousin to facial, I closed my eyes. If I breathed through my mouth, it was kinda like being at the spa.
A couple hours later, we would all be out of there. "Lice knowing you," I joked to the other women who had been my fellow mother martyrs.
The following Monday, after a weekend of successful dance shows and lots of laundry loads, I boldly sent out an email to the parents in my daughters' classrooms.
"Please check your kiddos' heads carefully," I confessed. "We all got lice."
It means I love my kids.