My first mistake was thinking I had outgrown it. Out-matured it.
The paralytic fear (are these real terms or am I making them up?) I once had of lice, that is.
I thought I could look at the old me and laugh, kindly but wisely, and say to myself, “There, there. You were just the crazy mom of...um, a toddler through a fifth grader, really, because it lasted a while...who was terrified of something like lice that would both titillate and annihilate your barely concealed OCD personality. But you were so completely batshit crazy that your long-haired daughter will never share a brush. She’ll resist the urge to swipe that fun clown hat off her friend’s head so she can try it on. Really, her ears could be frostbitten and an innocent saleslady could offer her a cashmere scarf and she’d think of the likelihood of lice and say no thank you. Because you’re that much of a lunatic, and you’ve brainwashed her into being a conscientious lice avoider just like you.”
I was proud of what I had overcome. No longer did I hear about neighborhood lice outbreaks and calculate whether it had been at least 72 hours since our last playdate! No longer did my heart seize with fear when I heard those awful words: “I want to wear my hair down!” I could delete the never-called Lice Lady from my contacts! I could throw away the preventive RID that had occupied a shelf in my medicine cabinet for nearly a decade! The only elementary schooler I have left is a boy, and he has short hair and isn’t going to hug his friends all day! Hallelujah!
I let my guard down, that was the problem. Damn you, complacency. Damn you.
Because that maturity existed before my daughter went away for three days with her entire large sixth grade class. It existed before she shared a cabin with ten girls, before I knew about pillow fights or (shudder) the “extra” pillows the conference center made available.
I got to pick her up today. All morning, I thought of nothing more than how excited I was to see her. I thought of how much I had missed her, of how happy her brother would be to see her. I thought of what we’d have for dinner and of how we’d sit together and laugh and she’d fill me in on everything that had happened.
When she got off the bus, she looked…tired. And a little unkempt. But I was just really thrilled to see her.
As we waited for her luggage, I found myself quite unconsciously scanning her scalp. “Stop!” I reprimanded myself silently.
I reached out a finger to see if I could brush a little white speck off her hair.
She rolled her eyes and said, “I don’t have lice.”
“Of course not!” I laughed nervously. “I wasn’t looking for lice!”
But it was too late. Latent Lice Paranoia had swept in and obliterated all sense of peace. My brain had every neuron screaming, "LICE! Pass it on!"
When we got home, she saw the Hershey jar had new chocolate hearts in it and started toward the kitchen. “Later!” I trilled as I pushed her up the stairs. “Let’s get you into the shower! I bet you didn’t shower for three days!”
“I showered last night. Can I at least take off my coat?”
“In the bathroom, in the bathroom...” I herded her in and brought the clothes hamper in. And shut the door.
It was like a decontamination chamber. Clothes and ski jacket came off, went in the hamper and then into the wash (hot water) and dryer (high heat). She shampooed her hair twice, rinsed it twice, then sat through a serious and microscopic visual inspection. After she cleared the initial inspection, I dried every strand of her hair with the hairdryer on high to render her scalp inhospitable to any lice that were potentially on our street and thinking of popping in.
Her luggage went from the car into the wash. Her sleeping bag will remain outside for at least a week, in the polar vortex, far from any human hosts.
Did my daughter have lice? No. Of course not. Did she sit patiently while her completely certifiable mother confirmed the lack of lice? Yes, of course she did. Because she loves me just the way I am.
And she wanted access to those chocolate hearts.
So, two postscripts. One, I know plenty of mothers who will read this and completely understand the nutty place my mind went. They just won’t admit it.
And two, both of my kids can bookmark this page to show their therapists when they’re middle aged and trying to sort out their emotional baggage. I know, kids. I'm sorry. Call and I’ll give you a credit card number to pay for your appointment. It’s the least I can do.