It was holiday time again. Shopping, stressing and eating too much and then feeling too much guilt about eating too much and then eating too much again. That’s what I was “looking forward to” during the 3rd week of December.
The husband was away for work … again… and I was trying to hold down the fort without too many video games, ordering out, the occasional play date and the mandatory “families coming soon so you have to get a haircut” kind of day. That day was Sunday. We walked up and down Queen Street to find the perfect place for a trim. No, I wasn’t looking for something with chandeliers and fancy chairs; I was searching for an “open” sign. After about ten blocks we found one. Our “stylist” was a rough guy who pulled my kid’s face and sneered at me when I tried to tell him to take more off the sides and leave it a little longer on top. It was as if I’d ordered grain-fed kobe beef at Tim Horton’s. Okay, fine! Do as you wish, strange man with a buzzing blade at my only child’s neck. I’m Canadian. I’m sorry. When it was done I paid him a whopping $8 and we walked home.
I, feeling satisfied that I had not only managed our passport photos with a new hair cut (I had mine cut at a really fancy place the day before for $70 because I’m a grown up! Shut up!) but we had felt the fresh cold air on our faces and the boy looked amazing. Sure, he was non-stop itching and complaining about being itchy. But…. I COULD SEE HIS EYES!! I was great. We were great. All was great. I could do this. I could do anything. Dinner was easy and we ate happily as I read about Greek mythology and he gobbled up his noodles and kale. YES, I said KALE. I was that awesome a mom.
Then to tempt the fate of Theseus, I said, “Let’s have a bath and wash that hair so you won’t be itchy.” He actually said yes. I was still so awesome. After playing in the bath and laughing and bonding and generally being an ad for a single mom who eats Cheerios with her clean cut son, I started to blow dry his hair. (Don’t ask me why. I never do this… well, actually, I don’t wash his hair that much either. I’d say it’s a philosophy but I’d be lying.) We were in our warm, cozy pajamas with our teeth brushed. I was ahead of schedule and felt pretty great about myself while blow drying his hair when I saw something on his scalp. I picked it out because of course it’s lint from his socks in his hair. It probably happens all the time…. right? Sure.
But the lint had legs and dropped onto the floor. I screamed. I put the blowdryer on his head and started to look. His hair was moving…. not like Mariah Carey with the fan on her cause it’s in her contract, I’m talking about moving because it’s alive from legs. I gasped and I said in a frightened panicked voice that should never be used with children,
“WE HAVE LICE!!!!! OH MY GOD!!!”
My son doesn’t even look at me before he starts to scream louder than the blow dryer.
“WE HAVE LICE!!! WE’RE DOOMED!! DEAD!!”
I turn off the blow dryer before dropping it into the wet sink. I start to pace madly in the 3’x3’ bathroom.
“What are we gonna do? What can we do? I don’t know how to deal with this.”
And he says, “You should text someone. This is an emergency. And I shouldn’t go to school tomorrow.”
“Right. I should text someone. You’re right.”
I run downstairs and find my phone. He runs down right next to me. So so so close to me that I want to push away that clean cut little face. That face that I have loved with my whole being since the day they handed me this perfect helpless being. That face that looked up at me for love and comfort but I wanted to say, “You are gross. You have bugs in your hair. GROSS!” Instead I just itched my own head and began texting. I group texted to my next door neighbour who was on vacation in Orlando and another neighbour down the street.
“WE HAVE LICE! I’m freaking out! Help me. Help me.”
Within seconds the Internet was crawling with panic.
From a Burger King somewhere in the USA: “WHAT? I just choked on an onion. Hold on.”
From two streets over: “It’s ok. Do you have a lice comb?”
From me, as I scratch my head and my kid jumps up and down yelling, “EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY!”
“We don’t have a lice comb. I don’t even know what that is. Help.”
From Burger King in USA: “I just found a living one on my oldest. We have another 16 hours of driving!”
Yikes, no help there. Then at this point I did what no one ever does anymore. I did the unthinkable. I crossed the line of couth. I actually called the woman from two streets over on the phone. She was shocked. I was shocked. My son was itching but shocked.
“I’m freaking out. What do I do? I’m in my pyjamas and it’s Sunday night and I don’t have a lice comb.”
“What? Are you crazy? Didn’t you get my text? WE HAVE LICE!”
“I know. It’s ok. Come over.”
I tell my son we are going to her house. He says, “I don’t think I should go to school tomorrow. It’s an EMERGENCY.”
I say, “Put your coat on. I’m freaking out. We have lice.”
Somewhere in between the panic of getting our coats and boots on and nearly slipping down the stairs, I did make some mangled attempts at deep Zen breathing. My son looked up at me. An opportunity had smiled through the scratching. He said,
“Mama, is this one of those times?”
“Mama, is this one of those times when it’s ok to say a bad word? I mean, this is the kind of time where people might say it, right?”
“Yes, this is the kind of time.”
“Well, mayyyybbee, could I say a word? I feel like I really need to say a word and this is the right time to say it.”
“Hmm. Yes, this is definitely one of the times when I would say a word that was bad, sure.”
“Mama, do I have permission to say a word? A bad word?”
“Yes. Go ahead if you need to.”
Then he stopped moving, which is rare even in sleep, and he looked up at me with his one boot on and his coat open over his matching soccer ball pyjamas and his fresh hair cut. He looked up and me and he paused and he said with such force and pride,
“Fuckin’ time! Fuckin’ time!”
I fell to the floor. I was laughing so hard and yes, there may have been a few tears that were on the precipice of panic that leaped into complete hysteria with hilarity. Now I know you are not supposed to laugh when your child swears because then he will do it again but I had no way of controlling it. I banged the floor with my fist and I laughed and I looked up and him and he was satisfied.
We reached the lice-checking neighbour/angel with her 8-year-old and 14-month-old. Two hours and a thousand lice later, my boy was clean. Then she did the nits. I thanked her and she said, “Uh, you’re next.” I laughed until I realized she wasn’t laughing. I sat in the chair with my head covered in coconut oil as she pulled living things with living legs and living proboscis off of my head. She breast fed as we put on our clothes to leave and I thanked her profusely. Her husband handed me a shot of vodka and told me we were always welcome unless we had bed bugs and then the door would be double locked. Everyone has a limit.We locked the door and made our way down the street to our salvation. We passed a 22-year-old guy in his skinny jeans and full beard. He smiled at my son sweetly as if he remembered his first jaunt out in the dark in his pj’s. My son said, “Whoa, watch out. You don’t want to get my lice!” I said, “Hi.”
My son took the next day off school and I did twelve loads of laundry. We sat around picking each other’s heads, wearing shower caps and smelling like the coconut vacation we hadn’t had. It was almost Christmas and I felt like I had witnessed the most open-hearted miracle all year. My lice-checking angel would certainly have let Joseph and Mary birth a baby in her one- bedroom Parkdale apartment. There was a star hanging over Seaforth Avenue. We took the lice-checking angel three bags of fruit and vegetables the next day. And yes, got her to check my head again, of course. I’m not crazy. Yet.