Browsing Tag

perspective

Bad Choices

To the Parents of the Three Stooges at My Daughter’s Concert Last Saturday . . .

My daughter sang in a choir concert last week. Thirty kids. A couple of songs. It was lovely.

EXCEPT

The couple next to me brought three young children.

In my head, I got judgy. Really judgy. Like I couldn’t focus very well on the second song my kid was singing about nature because these three kids were talking and dancing and whining about an iPhone and throwing a baby doll at the ceiling.

I also have three children.

So I get it.

Three children is bonkers.

Three children is somebody always crying about the game and how it wasn’t fair or the bacon and how she got more or the bathroom and how it’s my turn or the elevator and how he got to press the button last time.

Three children is hard.

And having three children was kicking that mom and dad’s butt last Saturday. At least, I think it was. Because when I wasn’t judging, I was wondering. What is going on over there? Are they okay? Should I say something?

I wanted to. I think maybe I should have. The kids were actually closer to me than they were to their parents. I could have asked in a super-small voice if they could please keep it down because my little girl was up there on stage singing about fireflies and maybe could they please sit down or play the silent game for 45 more seconds? Pretty please?

Except, I did not know their parents. And even if I did use my best preschool teacher voice, mom and dad would have wondered who was that strange scary lady talking to their kids?

So I could have said something to the grown-ups. You know, in between songs, just crouched or scooted over there to say little Larry, Curly, and Trixie were kind of ruining my mommy mojo. Maybe tell them about the bake sale outside in the breezeway.

But I didn’t say anything.

Know why?

You can’t say anything.

You just can’t.

Those were other people’s children. Not mine. If they were my cousin’s or student’s or my best friend’s kids, I could have gently intervened. Dudes, pop a squat, my child is singing about wildflowers.

My own children have been corrected by strangers. I usually don’t mind it. I figure if it doesn’t apply, let it fly. And I appreciate when someone tells me: Your son is climbing on that window ledge. Or I think you left your daughter in the ice cream aisle. I will take all the help I can get. Mostly.

But not always. One time during church, when my grandmother was sick and my heart was aching, I just kind of handed over the parenting reins to Jesus. As I quietly wept, my kids argued over the hymnal and knocked over a kneeler on someone’s foot during the Sign of Peace. It was not our finest hour. And it was made worse, not better, when the well-intentioned stranger came to me afterwards to give me some parenting advice. She had a book, she said, and she would send it to me. It helped moms like me raise kids like those.

Moms like me. . . kids like those.

We never entirely know, do we, which kind of mom or dad anybody is. If you see me on my best day, I’m baking bread with my kids, reading, singing, dancing, gardening. We’re riding bikes. We’re playing games. It’s all love and joy all the time.

But catch me on a bad day and I’m swearing. Not at the kids, but definitely about them. And near them. Closing their car door, frackin’sacking-frackin’sacking, and then opening my own. There are days when my kids feel like too much for me.

Maybe Mr. and Mrs. Choir Concert Crumb Bum were having one of those days. Maybe the games and the bacon and the bathroom and the elevator button had just done them in. Or maybe those kids weren’t even theirs. Maybe they were watching somebody else’s kids on that parent’s worst day and the babysitting adults were just as horrified as I was.

It is possible that they were just crappy parents. That’s what I was thinking for most of the song about sadness. And I wanted very badly to tell them that.

But even if they were the worst parents, they didn’t need my judgment right then. They needed my prayers. And my kindness. And looks of solidarity rather than scorn.

And I needed some perspective. It was just a kids’ concert, after all. Not an ordination or a wedding or funeral. And who knows? Maybe what looked like a family falling apart was actually a family trying desperately to keep it together.

dadvmom-com_totheparentsatthechoirconcert_sunset

Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

What I Did Today Instead

I did not march today.

I thought about it. It seemed important.

I wanted to. But I didn’t.

I have been angry since November 8th. Just so angry. And tired. So tired of being so angry. I was worried that today would be just another day of anger. Dies Irae.

And, of course, like many who stayed away, I had reasons.

My youngest daughter had a birthday party to attend. Her first since we’ve moved here. It meant so much to her to feel included.

My oldest had a basketball game. It’s tournament season, and they were already down two players. She really wanted to play her part, and ended up scoring the only points for her team.

My son wanted to play soccer in the yard. And Frisbee. And Badminton. And Star Wars.

My husband was traveling for work.

Getting to a march seemed too much of a hassle, a disruption. Especially to go somewhere to be angry.

But the pictures I saw today were beautiful. So many people I love. And so many strangers. Emboldened. Hopeful. Strong.

But what were they fighting for? some dared to ask. Inclusion, equality, love. All the biggies. Ideas that have felt trampled in recent months.

Even though I did not join, I felt drawn in. I played my part at home. And I behaved differently today because of what was happening.

I have been a little wary of my neighbors since moving to this new town. Today, however, I went out and met some of them. We stood in the cul-de-sac in solidarity and civility, parents of different political persuasions and creeds, chuckling and conversing and watching our children ride bikes until sunset.

I called an old friend, someone I’ve been meaning to reach out to, but it always seemed to be the wrong time. Today, I decided, was the right time.

I had a nagging feeling. Would history judge me? Would I judge me? For cowardice? For silence? For being complacent on a day that demanded action?

But I chose love today. In my way. Quiet devotion to friends and family. Others chose differently. I respect that. More than respect it, I honor and admire it. And I dare to believe that many of you marched today with women like me in your hearts.

Thank you.

Thank you for reminding me of all the ways love can win.

dadvmom-com_whatididinstead_loveislove

*** Thank you Kirstin and Leigh Ann for the signs, and, of course, Lin-Manuel Miranda, for the sentiment. For anyone unfamiliar with his sonnet speech at the Tony Awards, watch here or read here.

Health & Fitness & Oreos

An Apology to the Other Parents on the Team

My son is the worst player on this team.

He seldom kicks or throws. Mostly, he skips. When the ball rolls his way, he falls on it, like a grenade, or picks it up and runs, which is frowned upon in soccer. Unless you’re the goalie. Which he isn’t. Because they don’t have those in his league. But that does not stop him from lurking in the box. Not in an effort to deflect scoring, but rather to hang from the goal post and entangle himself in the net. Last week, he started a game of tag during the second quarter. He swatted an opponent and yelled, “You’re it,” before running away down the sideline.

On the way to today’s game, we talked about hugging, and how we weren’t going to embrace our teammates so hard they fell over. “Purple Penguins don’t hug,” I reprimanded, but he has the memory of a goldfish. Just now, I watched my son ninja kick a child who was trying to pass him the ball, and I wonder if we shouldn’t have stuck with the embrace. Afterwards, he ran over to the bleachers to offer onlookers high fives.

Since we only play four on four, everyone rotates out frequently. But even on the sideline my kid is trouble. He karate chops the water bottles, kicks the practice balls into the woods, and sometimes leaves the field entirely to come lay on my blanket and ask me for his post-game apple juice.

He is prone to lollygagging, even during play. When he gets tired or bored or a hankering to cloud watch, he simply lays down in the middle of the field. The other kids dribble around him, or leap over, like cheetahs to his sleeping gazelle. But today, the warm-up seems to have made an impression on him. He’s been doing arm circles for most of the third quarter.

I am embarrassed every time we come here. For the first few practices, I apologized to the other parents. “He’s small for his age,” I said. Or, “He’s never like this at home.” But an apology is only as good as the mitigation of the offending behavior, and it is obvious that my influence over sport decorum is limited at best.

In fact, the only card I really have to play is to pull him from the team. It is likely that the other children would have a better experience if my kid was not there. Every chain has its weak link, every ladder its bottom rung, and every litter has its runt. When it comes to this soccer team, my child is all of the above. Of course, I remember studying group behavior in a college psych class. Even when the “problem child” was removed, someone else just stepped in to take his place. I tell myself that if it was not my son somersaulting in midfield, it would simply be someone else’s.

The one thing we have going for us is that Coach Fox is obviously short-listed for canonization. At the close of every game, he and Henry exchange fist pumps, and he says, “Great job today, buddy!” As though he really means it. As though he has utterly forgotten that Henry spent the bulk of the first quarter grabbing him in the ass.

And so week after week, we don shin guards and bright purple socks, and my son, the runt, the problem, the slacker, happily reports for duty on field 5, much to the dismay of parents and caregivers. Because despite Henry’s skill-less-ness, this is his favorite sport. He wakes up every morning asking, “Is today a soccer day?” And let’s out a squeal when it is, it is, it is.

He is the worst player on the team. There is no doubt about it. But what separates us from the animals, I think, is that we let all the children play together. Cheetahs and penguins, goldfish and gazelles all have their time in the sun. It is a game, after all. And they are children. Ninja kicks and all.

dadvmom-com_anapologytotheotherparents_purplepenguinhenrysillyhair

Awesomeness

Cross-Country Day 2: Your Singing Is Hurting My Band-Aid

 

We had some trouble getting out of the motel this morning. Our plan had been to awaken early, pack up quickly, and head to the Grand Canyon swiftly before the heat of the day and the arrival of the weekend tourist buses.

But leaving LA yesterday took a physical and emotional toll, thus we were all bonkers tired this morning, plus the kids wanted pancakes, and then Henry cut his foot during one of his epic leaps from one advertised-as-a-queen-but-totally-a-double motel bed to the other while Dad was trying to nap, so it was nearly noon when we finally made it down to the parking lot—which was empty, except for two vehicles, both ours.

dadvmom.com_yoursinginghurtsmybandaid_emptylot.

 

As we set out for the Canyon, I was reminded of why I had skipped it on my three other cross-country road trips. It is not exactly on the way to anywhere, except, I guess, to itself. The kids argued about the iPad, and Henry complained the music was making his Band-Aid hurt, and Ken and I wondered aloud about whether the gal at the front desk had been exaggerating when she told us about the 30-45-minute long line just to get into the park. With Henry’s bum foot and this crazy heat, there would be no hiking, and what was the point of visiting the Grand Canyon if we were only going to look at it?  I had half a mind to just turn us around again to keep driving.

But then we saw the helicopter.

dadvmom.com_yoursinginghurtsmybandaid_helicopter

Yes, it was expensive.

Yes, it was (initially) terrifying.

But then, it was just awesome.

The pilot played the theme songs to Chariots of Fire, Star Wars, and 2001: A Space Odyssey as we headed toward the Canyon, but then when he reached it, he cut off the music and let nature speak for itself.

Hovering above the Grand Canyon made it look simultaneously big and small, made us feel both all-powerful and insignificant. And after I overcame my fear of all of us plummeting to the ground in a fiery crash, I enjoyed the ultra-modern journey backwards in time.

dadvmom.com_yoursinginghurtsmybandaid_canyoncopterview

We got back to the car and the kids resumed their arguments about whose turn it was for the iPad and who would pick the next movie. But I hardly listened. I floated above them, my mind full of rusty red rocks, and I piloted our minivan east.

dadvmom.com_yoursinginghurtsmybandaid_choppterpilotri

Goals & Dreams & Sandwiches

Help! My Baby Stole My Novel

A few years ago, a friend sent me a question.  She was a new mom and she was having a tough time.  The days were long, the diapers were many.  She had grown accustomed to life in the parenting trenches.  But she missed literacy.  Sharpness of mind.  And the friendship of a good book.  What she wanted to know was:  would she ever read again?  What follows is the answer I wrote for her.

Will you ever read again?

The short answer is No.

At least that’s what it will feel like. You will examine warning labels on baby Tylenol. You will peruse pediatric websites at 2 am seeking guidance on teething, green poop, or how to get your baby to leave you alone. You will discover notes to yourself that you do not remember writing. You will read the expression on your partner’s face that tells you s/he is in the mood for love.   S/he will read the expression on your face indicating you are in the mood for cereal. But will you read books? No, probably not.

It is normal that a sensitive, educated parent might miss reading. So, what follows is a 5-step program for reclaiming The Book.

Step 1: Chaucer Coasters

Believe it or not, TV and sleep are necessary pursuits if you ever want to read again. As a new parent, I was wonked out. Despite plans to “revisit the classics” during my maternity leave, whenever I touched a book, I promptly fell asleep. Pick up a book if you must, but then set it down and put a cold drink on it. Books make good coasters. Sip your beverage and catch up with Real Housewives. Check in on The Deadliest Catch. Watch a vacuum cleaner infomercial at 3 am, just to say you have. Slum some with basic cable. When I wasn’t napping, Sex in the City reruns and Ice Road Truckers massaged my brain where literary information had previously been stored. Television helped me hit rock bottom. It is said alcoholics bottom out before seeking help. New parents need to do the same. I once watched eleven cooking shows back-to-back, leaving the couch only to change the baby and toast Pop-tarts. TV saturation gave me the drive to read again.

Step 2: Embrace Kid Lit

A runner returning from an injury doesn’t start with a marathon. A model on maternity leave doesn’t come back for a swimsuit shoot. They stretch, ease in. The same is true of readers. Start slow. Reawaken the memory of simply holding a book. After the birth of my daughter, Katie, my first book had a fabric cover and no discernable title, plot, or, in fact, words. It consisted of three pages – one depicting a doggie, another a kitty, and finally (and always surprising to me), a bunny. It wasn’t much, but those were the first pages I successfully comprehended. We “read” this book often. Before long, legitimately lovely children’s books followed: Goodnight Moon; Runaway Bunny; The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I was educating myself with reruns of Gilmore Girls, but at least I read to my kid. It was a start.

Step 3: Forgive Your Brain

After children’s books, I figured grown-up reads were not far behind. However, babies melt brain cells. As a parent, I was dumber. My husband tells me I confuse left and right for about two years after the birth of each child. This makes reading challenging. Whatever you do, DON’T return to something you were reading pre-baby. Unless you start all over, you will not recall even the basics of the plot. Take my experience with what I am told is a gripping tale of historical intrigue, An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears. I began this novel when I was pregnant, and picked it up again when my daughter was six months old. Technically, I did complete the book, in that I turned each of its pages. But at the end, I was left with two important questions:

  1. What was the Instance to which the title refers?
  2. What exactly was a Fingerpost?

I do not fault Mr. Pears. His characters performed surgeries and ate dinners in consummate detail. But my life was upside down and covered in baby vomit. I could not summon enough info from my first reading to inform the second. My eyes read words that my marshmallow brain refused to process.

Step 4: Forage in the Bathroom

So maybe whole books aren’t the best way to start. Graze instead. Nose through a Pottery Barn catalog; chew on Disney fliers that will magically appear in your mailbox as soon as you have children. I read magazines instead of cleaning house. And because I failed to clean, magazines were everywhere—clogging kitchen counters, cluttering coffee tables, and decorating every bathroom. In fact, most of my after-baby reading happened in the loo. I was alone there. So I dallied. I bopped from article to article, inching back towards literacy. I studied recipes I did not cook, and learned exercises I did not do. I read eight-month-old news articles that were still news to me. Whether my source was Oprah or Obama, I savored every stolen bathroom minute.

Step 5: Recovery: Vampires at the Beach

After magazines, books are yours. Drag your bambino to library story time and start browsing. Don’t be surprised if your stamina has altered during the months (or years) away. If you previously fancied Victorian novels or tended towards tomes with Russian heft, now, even in the dead of winter, you may crave a beach read. Unfamiliar with the genre? Just find a cover with a glassy-eyed woman staring into the mist. With a title like Love Promises or anything After the Harvest. But don’t laze in the sand for too long. Cultivate new interests. I discovered young adult novels after the birth of my daughter, Lizzie. Teen books aren’t all wizards and vampires. The Hunger Games rescued my neighbor from the brink. Looking for Alaska, a sweet and wry little adolescent romance, set me on the road to recovery. Nonfiction was also appealing. Essays were easy to pick up and put down. I found E.B. White again. Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions helped me laugh about parenting. To escape parenting, anything written or breathed upon by David Sedaris was always a good bet.

 

Eventually, the reader in you will resuscitate. For me, it happened one fall. Six years after my first maternity leave, I finally returned to the classics. I curled up late one night in my favorite rocking chair, and thumbed through Pride and Prejudice on my iPhone, with my baby daughter drowsing on my lap. Elizabeth and Darcy saw me through those nighttime feedings. Their flirtatiousness, their wit, their passion…it awakened in me a desire I had not felt in years.* I wanted to keep on reading. And, for once, I did.

 

*Of course, it also awakened in me other desires. Not long after, I was pregnant again, and right back at Chaucer Coasters. But, for a little bit there anyway, there was hope. And I know there will be again.

dadvmom.com_helpmybabystolemynovel_booktitles

A version of this piece was originally published on The Huffington Post.

Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

Other Mother’s Day

Let me begin by saying I love my mother. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thank you for all these years of unconditional love, laughter, and great cooking. Your guidance and care echo in my heart every day.

Now let me continue for everybody else.

We are all mothers today.

We all mother.

Even if you are a childless man, you mother.

If you are a moody teenager, you mother.

All of us nurse, protect, cherish, and tend to the people we love in this world. At least, we should. And THAT is what this weekend is reminding us. To mother.

Sure, take your mom to brunch if that’s what she really wants. But the day is not about seafood omelets or exclusivity. Mother’s Day is about celebrating mothering. Let’s minister to the sick, defend the weak, nurture the young, the old, the rich, the poor.

In recent years, I have seen women crying on Mother’s Day, weeping openly during the “Ave Maria,” or muffling sobs in contemplative prayer. Last year, a friend told me Mother’s Day was when she missed her mom the most. Of course, it is a day to remember, reflect, and pay homage to the women who birthed us. But we need not leave it there.

Mother’s Day can also be an occasion to check ourselves. Do we mother our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers enough? Do we nourish, tend, and enrich others on this planet the way we should? The way all our mothers taught us to?

That’s right…mothers. Those who birthed us AND all those Other Mothers–the many women and men, both young and old, who held our hands and guided us along the way.

I am blessed to have many Other Mothers. I have auntie-mothers, and boss-mothers, and sister- and brother-mothers. I have a father-mother, and a grandma-mother, and a former-next-door-neighbor-mother. I have had teacher-mothers and student-mothers. I even have a husband-mother. And, of course, a mother-mother.

Let’s all be mothers today. Definitely call your mom. Give her your love. Chances are if you are close, you do this all the time anyway. But call one of your Other Mothers today, too. Don’t weep because you have lost someone. Well, you can do that, but don’t let it be the only thing you do today. Thank an Other Mother. Let that person know he/she loved you, led you, nourished you, and mothered you. And that you are always there to mother right back. Pay it forward and backward today. Let Mother’s Day heal.

Be the mother all your mothers taught you to be.

 

dadvmom_othermothersday_familyinmountains

Originally posted May 9, 2015

Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

Be One Another’s Cul-de-sac

A friend and I spent the evening at church tonight. We broke bread with families who needed some. We listened, laughed, and prayed.

After the dishes had been washed and the food put away, we lounged together in a basement rumpus room. The kids invented a new game — ping-pong dodge ball — and the adults daydreamed about a cul-de-sac community where we could let our children play safely all day. Some nights, we all mused, we could wheel our barbecue grills out to the curb for a neighborhood buffet instead of cooking and eating dinner alone.

I drove home feeling both thankful and dispirited. So many of us have so much. We build our homes up and out and bigger and more. We have dishes for twenty, but only ever use five. We build fences where we could plant flowers. We schedule ourselves so tightly that there is no room for generosity, magnanimity, or an impromptu dinner with the people next door.

We make it easy to forget to share.

But we can be better. I can be better. In a world of gated communities, security passcodes, and election seasons that divide rather than unite, summon your kindness, and unleash your love. Be one another’s cul-de-sac.

dadvmom.com_beoneanothersculdesac_rainbowbikes

Holidaze

Oh Christmas Tree?

This story originally appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered.  

 

Our Christmas tree gets uglier every year. It’s not the tree’s fault. This year we sprung for a Fraser fir, cut fresh at a local farm. It has soft needles, that ideal pine-cone shape, and a pointy top perfect for holding a star. But when we got home, I felt like apologizing. This tree did not deserve what we were about to do. We re-cut the bottom, mounted it in its holder, and gave it water. For about five minutes, our tree looked beautiful. Then came the decorations.

My wife and I watched as our two children vandalized the bottom half of the tree. Katie hung multiple baubles on the same limbs, causing them to bend and bow, as though the tree was gesturing “why me?” Ornaments were shoved directly onto branches: An angel dangled by its halo; a smiling Santa impaled through the nose. Our 2-year old, Lizzie, sat chewing our Nativity scene, throwing body parts into the tree.

To be fair, my wife and I are partly to blame. We suffer from that common seasonal malady I call ugly-ornament-itis. We can’t seem to throw any away, especially those made by our kids. Or anyone’s kids, really. More than half the construction-paper-and-popcorn curios are mine. When I left home, I inherited these homemade gems from my parents, who were eager to regain their own tree’s dignity. I see the 30-year-old hunk of dough my wife attempted to shape into a wreath, and a mouse-like creature I vaguely recall molding from melted crayons.

dadvmom.com_ouruglychristmastree_clipart

This year, our 6-year-old was in charge of the lights. Katie looped them tightly around the trunk, as though dressing a wound. In a way, I suppose she was. When the strand ran out, she dove into a bag of Mardi Gras beads. Shiny purple necklaces now hang in bunches from the middle limbs. In third grade, my wife wrote an Arbor Day poem titled: “What does it feel like to be a tree?” Today, she thought she heard the answers whispered through those laden branches.

About halfway up, the tackiness halts. Cotton-ball snowmen and pipe-cleaner candy canes give way to glass stars and holly sprigs. The effect is a bit schizophrenic. It’s as though our tree got tipsy one night and started decorating itself but passed out halfway through. If I lined up photos of my childhood Christmas trees, I bet I could arrange them chronologically by how high the ugly goes.

Some day, my wife and I will get our tree back. The kids will move out and inherit their own boxes of Christmas tacky. I picture the two of us in our holiday cardigans, sipping port by the fire, gazing at our tree. It will be elegant, majestic, refined. Then, one of us will venture into the attic to retrieve the box kept behind. We’ll hang Katie’s clothespin Rudolph, Lizzie’s headless baby Jesus, and every last memory we find. And somehow, I know our tree will thank us.

Holidaze

Free the Elf

…with apologies to my troll-loving friends…

The Christmas season is here which means it’s time for the annual release of the holiday kraken. It is time to unbox the Elf.

From now until Dec. 25th, my Facebook and Instagram feeds will be overrun with whimsical images of red- and white-clad pixies wreaking havoc on my friends’ homes. Here is Sprinkles mismatching the family socks. There is Squeaky throwing marshmallows at the dog. If I were to unfriend every friend who posted a photo today of that playful puppet with Chuckie’s smile…well, I would be a lonely gal indeed.

I have girlfriends who swear by the magical and voyeuristic properties of this tiny troll. He is rumored to report directly back to Santa. Thus, children of the house are more compliant with the Elf’s beady eyes upon them. A blessing, my friends call it. Creepy, I reply. The Elf is like a nanny cam we use on ourselves. But it’s not just the surveillance component that rattles me, it’s the relentless choreographed merriment.

Did I miss the meeting when parents decided it was our job to perpetually entertain our children? Why not ship the Elf in an extra-large cardboard box and have kids spend December moving that around the house? I find it flabbergasting that anyone ever looked at the Christmas season – with its shopping, wrapping, baking, singing, and decorating — and thought, It’s just not enough. Our kids need more.

I would be willing to put up with the spying and shenanigans if I felt like the ritual at least improved us. But, in the end, I think Rascal is merely another diversion from the real work of the season. Whatever your denomination, no matter your beliefs, this time of year beckons us all with bounty and light. As a mom, I want to teach my kids to share this bounty and spread their light.

I would like the Elf more if he interspersed the clowning with little assignments – “Go clean your room. Fill a bag with clothing and bring it to a shelter downtown.” But that’s not very festive, you say.

But what, I ask, makes more sense? An Elf who for 24 ½ days rotates around your house unstuffing the sofa pillows? Or an Elf who spends nearly a month reminding children that they can make the world a better place?

Free the Elves, folks.  Let the real Elves be us.dadvmom.com_freetheelf_iceskatelizzie dadvmom.com_freetheelf_katiegirlscanchangetheworld dadvmom.com_freetheelf_henryelf

 

Health & Fitness & Oreos

In Defense of Head Lice

We have it again.

Not all of us this time. Not even most. But enough.

The tiny combs are unsheathed. The bedding has been bagged. The house smells like coconut oil and eucalyptus. Also frustration.

We should probably cancel the play date we scheduled for Tuesday. And alert the school nurse just to be safe. For a little while, anyway, we’ll be that family.

Which isn’t exactly fair, since head lice do not choose their hosts. They do not hand-select the most slovenly or ill-behaved among us. They simply cling to hats, pig-tails, and hoodies, and wait to catch a ride on the next person who leans in for a hug. If anything, you might say that head lice, well, they follow the love.

dadvmom.com_indefenseofheadlice_teatreeoil

But that’s not what it feels like at first.

When you find a bug on your kiddo, it’s disgusting. Serious heebie-jeebies. And for every one that you see, there are usually a bunch you don’t, including dozens of sticky little eggs (nits) cemented to your child’s hair. Of course, that grossed-out-ness morphs pretty quickly into annoyance. Because getting rid of head lice is a pain. You really do have to comb out your kid’s hair repeatedly, strand by strand, removing bugs and eggs as you find them, being sure to dispose of them in chemicals or bleach, in order to prevent them from crawling right back in again.

And even once you get the infestation under control, then, there’s the embarrassment. We can’t let anyone know. Once you are outed as a head lice family, it feels like the whole town is pointing. As though you purposely infiltrated their homes or gave bugs to their kids during baseball practice. Sometimes it’s enough to make folks shy away from befriending your kid. Which, of course, is heartbreaking. All over a couple of bugs.

So, I am here today to try to reframe the experience. It does not have to be like this.

Because, in addition to everything I have already said, having head lice is also kind of…nice.

Yeah, I said it. Lice can be nice.

If you are (un)lucky enough to discover a louse on one of your children, or (gasp) even on yourself, from that moment, you enter a holding pattern. Whatever you had planned is canceled. Wherever you were heading, you’re not. Instead, it’s kind of like a snow day. You are calling in sick and staying at home. To treat head lice. Which, while irksome, is also among the most old-fashioned of parenting rituals. Like churning butter. Or dipping string into pots of hot wax to make candles. There are plenty of monotonous tasks that bring people joy – weaving, knitting, chanted meditation. Combing out lice can be similar.

I know folks like to hire professional nit-removal companies to handle outbreaks. But I maintain that having head lice is an opportunity – to withdraw, bond, and connect with your kids. We use oil treatments instead of chemicals here at our house. But with either medium, I can’t handle it and do anything else.  When I comb out my kid’s hair, I can’t cook, or clean. Or fuss with my computer. Or play on the phone. I just have to be there, right next to my child, and detangle and talk, and talk and detangle, and try to take the bugs — and the stigma — away.

dadvmom.com_indefenseofheadlice_keepcalmandcombon

It is a long process. If you comb out your kid’s hair in less than an hour, you have probably missed a bunch of bugs. So take your time. Enjoy this forced opportunity to gaze at your kiddo for longer than usual. Savor the break from the busy-ness of customary days. It’s like a vacation without the fuss of packing and actually going anywhere.

And as annoying as head lice can be, it is an opportunity for teaching perspective. It is okay to be initially dramatic. To panic and blame and kvetch. But it is also an opportunity to show kids the difference between an actual problem and a mere nuisance.  To discuss issues that are bigger than a few bugs on a comb. During our most recent louse bout, my daughter and I talked about peer pressure and dating, the Syrian refugee crisis, and veganism. We made plans to work at a soup kitchen over Thanksgiving weekend and to someday hike a portion of the Appalachian trail.

In this way, head lice was a little bit of a gift to us. It afforded us time to talk about things that matter.

If all of that is not enough, there’s the very phrase itself. When you comb eggs out of someone’s hair, you are quite literally “nit-picking.” In almost every other situation, this is an insult. Nobody wants to be nit-picky. But head lice gives you permission to be fastidious. To destroy every last invader. To painstakingly finish a task. I carry around lengthy To-Do lists and end nearly every day with dozens of tasks yet undone. There is something quite satisfying about giving into your inner nag, and completing a picky job.

And finally, a case of head lice is a chance for solidarity. No matter if it’s one kiddo infested or everyone, I always treat my hair, too. I douse it in coconut oil infused with a few drops of tea tree, and lavender, rosemary, or thyme, and I wrap it in an old towel or hair net. I do this for three reasons:

  1. I’m paranoid. It you ever have lice in your house, you will psychosomatically scratch whether you have them or not.
  2. It smells good. There’s nothing like a little aromatherapy to soothe a stressed-out soul.
  3. It is a message to my kids: I will not let them suffer humiliation alone. For all my preaching about the niceties of lice, other kids will sometimes ostracize, ridicule, and judge. I want my kids to see me in this battle with them. I share their discomfort and I am on their side.

If ever these little buggers hop on your little buggers and hitch a ride into your home, take heed. And take advantage of the time. Call off work, mix up some sweet-smelling oils, and grab a tiny comb. And accept the invitation these invaders offer – to be fully present for your children during a time of embarrassment, distress, and love.