“You still have a fever. You can’t go to the party.”
“But daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad, daaaaaaaaaaaaaady, everyone will be there. It’s my first sleepover party. You’re so mean. I’m never talking to you again!”
And so it goes. Back and forth between mom and dad, trying to drive a wedge between resolute (wife) and wavering (dad), my highly motivated, high-fevered daughter is turning up the heat, doing anything and everything to get herself to that sleepover. Even if her parents separate, divorce and reconcile all in the same night.
But we hold firm, barely. And so she goes to sleep overwrought, and over medicated with bubble gum-flavored Motrin®. Today’s battle won, we go to sleep ready for the tests and tribulations that come with the perils and pitfalls of tween parenting.
Cells buzzing, phones ringing, we are awoken to a cacophony of sound. Someone is sounding the alarm and we rise to the reverie of suburban raucous. I.. to the phone. My wife… to the texts.
“Did you hear?” a distraught soccer mom screams into the phone.
“Lice. Lice at the party. Someone brought lice to the party.”
Her voice trembles with fear and loathing. She is scared and ready… ready to beat that someone and someone’s parents into a bloody pulp. Bringing a guest unannounced to a party is one thing. Bringing lice is paramount to an act of war.
Before I can answer, my wife grabs the phone. Finished with the texts, she’s armed for bear and ready to shoot the bullshit with any mom from here to Main Street.
I slink away. I know the mayday communications have set off a tsunami of picket-fenced responses that will plague my family life for the next two weeks. First the ancient Egyptians. Now me.
“Get Kate up. You need to check her right now.”
“She is sleeping. She wasn’t at the party. Why panic her?”
But my wife is long gone, barricaded in the hall closet where she is at one with her shelf of lice remedies and products. We have it all – from homeopathic to industrial strength. No prisoners, no lice.
I go to my younger daughter’s bedroom. Her face less flushed, she is sweaty to the touch. Fever has broken. But now all hell is about to break loose. I gently turn off her dream machine sounds and waken her.
“Honey, I need to check your head.”
Her sleepy eyes look at me in wonder. Who is this man and why does he have a funky looking comb in his hand?
“I need to examine your head. There was lice at the party last night. Mom wants me to check.”
Let’s get one thing clear. I am passive-aggressive so I immediately put this on my wife since she has made me the official lice seeker. I have no trouble selling her out.
My daughter, though half asleep, comes with me to the bathroom. She knows the drill. Within seconds, I am scanning her head like I’m sifting through sand for lost coins. Methodical. Meticulous. Maniacal. I am man on a follicle mission.
With a sigh of relief, I give her the thumbs up as she races back to her room… and computer. Within seconds, she is video chatting, discussing the latest outbreak and getting in on the latest gossip rocking middle school.
I join my wife in the closet. Not for a morning quickie but a quick update on our family status.
“She is fine. Not an egg or nit in sight.”
“You know, it could happen days from now. This is just the start.”
“But she wasn’t at the party. We should be okay.”
“We’re never okay until we’re okay. So here’s what we’re going to do…”
In that tight, cramped space, I am given my marching orders. There will be tightly wound buns everyday with special spray that will coat the hair, making it more reflective than a mirror. There will be no hats or helmets of any kind. A service from New Jersey is on speed dial in case we see an outbreak. And there will be no play dates for at least two weeks. For any of us.
I take my orders silently, scratching my head unconsciously. I have been here before, and I know what has to be done. We have sidestepped and sideswiped lice every season since our oldest daughter was two. We’re batting a thousand and nothing is about to change. It is us against the lice… and we ain’t planning to lose now.
Leaving the closet, I greet the morning light with my comb and tea tree oil in hand. I am the king of my castle. And I have a shelf full of lice products to prove it.
Brian Rutter is a work-at-home dad and husband offering observational insights from the trenches of suburbia. For more stories about one dad in the suburbs, visit his blog, The Burb Man.