The other day I received a phone call no mother wants to get.
The phone rang smack dab during a marathon writing session at a busy coffee shop, so at first I couldn’t make out the words amidst the Venti-ordering. After barely discerning the caller’s identity, I picked up on her serious tone, stepped outside, and paled when I heard, “My girls have meningitis.”
I gasped. Those poor kids! They were friends of my daughters who lived right down the street. My kids played with them all the time. And they have meningitis! How horrible! The sweet things. I’m so sorry! Then, I took a deep breath because it sunk in that the actual word she said sounded like “meningitis,” but had fewer syllables. Wait what?
The caller paused, then: “My girls have lice.”
Oh right. That’s different. I mean better, right? For them.
Because they are friends of my daughters who live right down the street. My kids play with them all the time. AND THEY HAVE LICE. I immediately started itching.
Of course this was the day my girls attended camp for the first time, a vacation bible school camp, who would be non-pleased to learn of the pestilence I’d unwittingly rained down upon their happy place, and it would major blow to inform everyone about my kids’ parasite condition.
I mean, I was almost sure they had lice. They shared helmets and Disney Princess dresses and scrunchies with the girls down the street, they stretched out on the same blankets, they rolled in the same grass, they practically lived in each other’s hair.
I raced down to camp right when it was letting out for the day. I didn’t say anything right then because I didn’t want to set off a mass itching epidemic, and instead sped home to check the girls’ heads in the faint hope their hair wouldn’t look like Pigpen’s.
I borrowed our neighbor’s magnifying glass because my eyes are sightless marbles and buried my nose in their scalps. I thought I saw a little something grayish or purplish or red. Was it a glitter fleck? A grain of sand? A bug engorged on the blood of my daughter’s head blood? I couldn’t tell. I called my other neighbor in a panic while my nonplussed oldest started a fire in the grass with the magnifying glass because clearly she has no idea that lice are the scourge of mankind and she’ll be forever marked with the scarlet “L.”
My neighbor brought her lice comb (that is a disgusting combination of words), and confirmed my suspicion: the speck was a head-blood-engorged non-glitter fleck.
I sprang into action, gathering up the girls and covering them with a blanket of shame. I ushered them into the house where I made them strip, step into a scalding hot bath, and cower in the closet for life, but not before I went to Walgreen’s for every lice nuclear bomb known to modern science. We started with the shampoo, a dastardly combination of carcinogens and car acid, and progressed to the TNT gel touted to explode the motherfucking hell out of anything living in the hair.
I threw everything I owned or thought I might have had possession of at one time into the washing machine. I sprayed the living crap out of anything that had the indecency to not be washable and I prayed for the light of 8 million suns to dry up anything disgusting and not a glitter fleck. I treated myself as well, and made my husband chemical shampoo his chest hair.
Then I called everyone I knew.
As fate would have it, I’d spent the night at a friend’s house just two days before, and my girls slept in the same bed as her daughter. I also went to dinner with some friends and in a mass after-meal hugging incident, rubbed my hairs against their hairs. After those cringey calls, I emailed the camp director, all the girls’ friends, and the CEO of Lice in a plea to call the calvary home.
So here we are in day four of quarantine. I may be over responding, but at least I didn’t cut our heads off for complete lice removal.
And it could have been meningitis.
I’m sure my kids will tell that to their therapists in 2034. Which is the year I let them out of the closet.