Motherhood: A Real Job


It’s been eight years since I’ve gotten a paycheck. Like, a real steady one. Not just a here-and-there check for some written article or published piece. Though I would like more of those, they are fleeting and rare, like the money I used to get as a kid for sweeping the porch of an elderly aunt.

When I say this out loud, that I haven’t been paid in years, I wonder if it makes me sound bad. But I already know the answer. The real truth. Outwardly, the world likes to tell me to be proud of my station in life. As a stay-at-home mom, the platitudes say, I am doing the most important job that a person could ever do. But, the thing is, I do it every day without pay. So, to a large portion of the populous, it makes what I do seem less real than the sorts of jobs that my working friends hold.

This leads me to a sort of existential meltdown sometimes and the questions come pouring out of my brain like a leaky faucet. In these terrible moments, I wonder, should I be ashamed of what I’m doing with my life? Should I feel bad about my useless degree? Is there a purpose to this seemingly pointless routine? Are my passions wasted on tiny people who may never appreciate my efforts? These are all my angry ponderings as I clean up Lego blocks from under the couch or sweep sandbox grit off of my newly mopped floor.

Yes, I lead a life of minutia. Truly. All full-time moms do. We don’t debug computers or build amphitheaters. Our days will never be thought of with the same level of respect as a Supreme Court Justice. And the problems we solve will rarely amount to life or death in the same way that it will to a neurosurgeon. But the struggles we face, as women who have chosen parenthood as our career, is very real. And, for that matter, so is our job.

In the beginning, when my daughter was a newborn, she had a battery of issues which made her a challenge – colic and reflux and a cry so loud even her screams could be heard from space! As a result, I was a mess. And so was my house. I didn’t get more than a fifteen minute interval of sleep for the first six months after her birth. And, though the washing machine was always on, it seemed like we never had any clean clothes. Everything was a disorienting blur. Without any help or time away from my home, I waded through the trenches of her early life like a beaten down doughboy in the Great War.

I had contemplated going back to work, especially in my weakest moments when I ached for adult conversation. However, financially and logistically, the idea of putting her in daycare, just so I could make a few extra dimes, didn’t make any sense. And, since my daughter was breastfeeding almost constantly, it seemed like the best path for me was to stay home. So I did. From that time forward.

During those early years, the struggles of my job as full-time mom weren’t evident to the world. All they saw was a young family, now complete, with a sweet baby in arms. Because I was cloistered away in the convent of motherhood, and no one saw my pains, they weren’t deemed real. Nor was my new vocation. People who visited us would always remark on how lucky I was to be home with the baby. How wonderful it was that I got to relax and luxuriate at home. How amazing it must be to live in pajamas and be able to dash off to the park or store whenever I got the urge. But really, this was simply never the case.

I remember thinking how lucky, indeed, I was to be able to hear the day-long cries of my wailing child whom I was thoroughly unable to console. How luxurious, in fact, it was to get the opportunity to milk scream feed repeat. All. Day. Long. And how amazing it was to wear pajamas – never mind the caked on spit-up of a rancid milk burp that even lingered after washing. Yes. Good times!

Now, flashing forward to our current life, with my daughter close to the double digits and my son somewhere in the quagmire of yucky boy youth, my days are equally busy. And my job is just as real. My fatigue level is about the same. The children’s screams aren’t as constant, though the fighting can sometimes make it seem otherwise. Relaxation amounts to being able to finish scrubbing all two bathtubs in the house before someone needs my help – with homework or missing action figures. And I still live in pajamas that, thankfully, smell better than their predecessors, though they do manage to get stained just as often.

I could go through the trite scenario of charting out my duties, with the intent to form a resume, so I can say to the world “Hey, look what I can do!” But I won’t. I may never change the minds of those who think my life has amounted to nothing more than diapering babies and baking cookies. Lord knows I certainly won’t impress many would-be employers with my “wearing many hats” routine. To my knowledge, melting crayons for art projects and getting silly putty out of bed sheets has never ranked highly as a skill set for those who are hiring.

But, to those who know me, or any other stay-at-home mom, I urge you to understand one very important thing: Motherhood IS a full-time job. A very REAL one, in fact. Just as real as the next fireman or accountant or plumber or attorney. It’s an occupation to be respected along with the rest! Sure, our paychecks aren’t traditional – they often come in the form of stick figure drawings or freshly plucked wildflowers. And, after years of service, there won’t be a large 401K fund for one’s efforts – but, with any luck, there will be some well-adjusted human beings who were actually grateful for their mom’s time and troubles.

So, to everyone at a party who has asked me when I’m going to “go back to work” (like I don’t already have a job at hand) or to every working friend who has mentioned their “real” job in passing (as though mine is any less trying or laborious), I want to shout it loud and proud: Motherhood IS my job! My day job. My night job. My full-time job. My real job. And if anyone thinks differently, I would love to hire them for a day and see how well they fare.

 

The Truth About Santa (and other people)


There comes a time in every child’s life when the leaps of faith in fantastical beings (like the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Santa Claus) get trampled and overtaken by more mature thoughts of probability, pragmatism and logic. My friend’s daughter reached that stage this past weekend. There were some tears (from both sides). They had a talk. And, then that evening she left her daughter a note that she would find when she awoke. Here is what that note said:

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To back up a little, this girl has been a “believer” in all things big and small since she was a mere tot. And, her mom had a huge part in shaping those beliefs. They basked in every holiday, adding magical lore and fanciful figures to each and every celebration.

At Christmas, the traditional tales of Santa were told, as well as many untraditional stories her mom made up. These stories explained everything from why there were different Santa’s at every mall, how he made it to all of the world’s houses in one night, and of course the amazing “Santa election process!”

At Easter there was an Easter Bunny. But, unlike most that just leave Peeps and cheap trinkets, he would instead leave plastic eggs with scavenger hunt clues that lead to a bigger prize in the end. And then the Tooth Fairy – she left glittered notes and a magical two dollar bill in exchange for each tooth lost. A pretty sweet deal, if you ask me! Of course, the story behind why she needed children’s teeth became very intricate and had something to do with powering an entire city. Ever heard of “tooth juice?” Yea, me neither, but her mom did and that was a whole other topic of its own!

Yes, my friend had created a very elaborate world of lovely folklore that her daughter ate up with delight. The very best of them all, however, was the Elf. You know, those elves that everyone displays during the holidays. That brilliant Elf on the Shelf from which some ladies amassed and empire?! Yes, those! My friend had gone above and beyond each Christmas season, preparing intricate and exciting Elf displays. Each year had a theme. The first year started off small, with little inspirational quotes.

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The following year got more educational, with the elf embodying notable figures throughout history. (If you want to see all of them, go here. They are pretty darn cool! http://www.boredpanda.com/inspirational-elf-on-the-shelf/)

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And last year, the Elf went all out reenacting scenes from movies. (More here: http://www.boredpanda.com/the-quotable-elf/)

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It was pretty great!

But now it can be no more. Her daughter no longer believes! I know I was sad to learn of this new reality. And I wondered, in my time of pondering, was there anything wrong with instilling such a detailed belief system only to have it shatter and fall to the ground one day?!

The answer is simply: of course not! By telling these stories and keeping this mythology alive, she did a wonderful thing for her daughter. Though it’s not quite how we do things in our house, I understand the logic (or madness!) behind it. She gave her child something we are quite lacking today – the gift of imagination, belief in something grand as well as pure and simple joy. Even though none of it was real, even though some could contend it was nothing more than a web of lies, it was done with love and the good intentions of a parent who wanted nothing more than to give her daughter some special childhood memories. And, that’s pretty great, if you ask me – a cynical girl who always knew such things didn’t exist.

Maybe those tears they shed together were necessary. Maybe this conversation about the “truth” was hard. But, from what I hear, it also ended in hugs and a new sense of wonder. This time, though, the elation existed over what *other* things they could create, together, that could be just as fun as an Elf, a city run on tooth juice and a fat guy who delivers good memories for all! And, boy, I can’t wait to see what they come up with together!

Troubled People: Part 2 (A Hand in the Crowd)


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The end of the school year often brings about a plethora of evening gatherings and events, celebrating and showcasing the work that students have done for the entirety of the school year. At my daughter’s school, this was very much the case with their Annual Family Night presentations. They had worked hard for the entire semester perfecting their speaking abilities and mastering their knowledge on one topic. And this night, this event, was rather like the crown jewel in their efforts. The cherry on top of the sundae that was a strained and loathed curriculum.

My daughter, who was not too eager to step into the limelight, slunk through it all with the ease of any wallflower, wishing her part would come and go without notice, praying away the minutes until it was time to leave. And I would be remiss if I weren’t secretly admitting the same. Not from a shyness standpoint (though I am, painfully), but really from a boredom standpoint. Not boredom about her topic (which was the tropical rainforest, by the way – see, I do listen!). Really just distracted detachment due to the plight of being there as an unfocused mother of another child, one who was three-years old and headed for a meltdown.

After the first hour of doing everything in my power to maintain a wrestling hold on my little squirming monster, I was pretty well spent long before her grade level was even on the brink of stepping out. I kept checking my watch, hoping the time would magically whiz by in a rush of warp speed. All I could think about was the bedtime we would be late to catch, the punch-drunkedness that was starting to take effect on my little guy, and how to keep him from saying his new favorite word (poopy) at the top of his lungs. No small feat!

Of course, we were in the middle of the middle row, so I could neither escape quickly nor with any sort of grace. But, the time was coming. I knew I had literally minutes before the ticking time bomb of a toddler would go off. Countdown was already happening – it was just a matter of when!

I kept checking the exits, measuring whose legs were longest and which direction would be the best point of leave. I glanced at the back, looking for a safe spot where I could take my cantankerous son while still being able to watch my daughter. Ever hopeful that I could live in both worlds at once – like all good mothers. And, of course, it felt like I was the only one in the auditorium suffering through this sort of ordeal. Everyone else had older children, better behaved children. Silent babies. Mannerly toddlers. And they also had complete focus on the videos they were recording. Complete involvement in the world we were so focused on removing ourselves from.

Just as I could hear it, the start of my son’s soliloquy of potty words, I made a mad scramble for the exit. I jumbled through the legs of many, reciting a pitiful “sorry” and “excuse me” with intermittent bouts of eye contact and half-hearted smiles. In the moment of my passing, I was blocking parents from seeing their kids’ presentations. Snickers could be heard. And over that, my son’s loud voice was starting to cause a ruckus. We were both, together, ruining the moment. I felt like a pariah. Like the person who was responsible for wrecking the night. Like the one that all eyes were watching.

Though I know so many of the moms who were present had been in my shoes before, I couldn’t help but feel a little judged. If I were able to hear their thoughts, I was certain they would have sounded like: “Why can’t she keep her son quiet?” “Looks like she’s raising a brat!” “Where’s her husband?” “Why did she sit so close to the front?” “Does she even have a kid in this school? I’ve never seen her at a PTA meeting!” “One word, lady: babysitter!”

Just as I made it to the back, I saw her. You know, the mom that all the other moms talk about. As I passed, I noticed a faint smell of whisky looming in the air around her. Her dark, curly hair was a slight birds’ nest of a mess. Her clothes, ill fitting, aimed desperately to be professional in appearance, though fell short because of the small specks of food (or something) that had stained the corner of her lapel. I watched her for a moment, almost gawking that someone was more awkward than me – me with my over-tired babbling boy, screaming through the rows about his new found fecal philia.

This mom, she clapped ferociously after every child’s pause in speech. And sometimes when they weren’t yet done. She cheered occasionally the way that college girls do at Mardi Gras when they catch a string of beads. A long “WHHOOOOOOOOOHOOOO,” even raising up her hands as if she were on an amusement park ride. And toward the end, she started throwing out phrases like an eager and raucous church lady, saying “Uh huh, that’s right” or “You tell ‘em!” And to one of the boys she even stood up and said “You go, girl.”

In my prior haste to get to the back of the room, I had noticed the thick and steaming snickers of judgement pervading the air around me. Because I can be a bit self-centered, I had misinterpreted it to think that they were all aimed at me. But they weren’t. Not most of them, anyway. After watching for a moment, I realized that they had been directed at this mom. The mom that all the other moms avoid.

Finally, as it was time for her daughter and my daughter (who were in the same class) to make their presentations, I noticed the kids shuffling out with timid confusion. They each came out in a small groups, mumbling briefly into a dusty old microphone before scooting off into the shadows. I was able to catch my daughter’s presentation before she scurried off with the rest. She had been so nervous, but when she saw us in the audience, even though we had moved so far to the back, she smiled with ease and seemed to instantly relax. The juxtaposition between my daughter and her classmate, however, was profound.

This woman’s little girl seemed to have the opposite reaction when she saw her mother. Her otherwise fearless countenance flickered with a hint of panic. You could tell she was holding back tears – tears of disappointment, tears of upset, tears of sorrow. She seemed to have the whole weight of the world on her tiny shoulders, aware of all that could, and probably did, go wrong when her mother was in this “state.” And her mom, who was near us, rose from her seat to a standing position and projected louder her boozy pride from the distance. Clearly the daughter wanted to quickly hurry into the shadows, too.

The evening’s event ended as they always do, with a big heap of gratitude offered from the flustered and ever-perspiring Principal. I walked through the crowd, with my tired son wriggling in my arms, on the quest to round up my daughter to go home. As I did, I overheard a lot of people’s conversations. Most of them, sadly, were about the mom with the drinking problem. The one the other moms wish would just go away.

They talked about how unfortunate it was. How sad for the girl. How many days on the wagon she had been before falling off again. There were even a few guesses about how many drinks she had drunk before coming. And how many more she would have when she got home. Everyone was talking about her. But no one was helping. No one was even considering lending a hand.

Not that there was a lot anyone could do, right? Our culture is one that recognizes problems and then just expects the person to suck it up and move forward. But how? How does one do that if they are living with a debilitating mental condition? How can they get help if the “village” has moved to the other side of their reach, thereby cutting them off from community or the support needed to get such help?

I didn’t know enough about her to answer those questions. And I wasn’t a therapist (unlike one of the other moms, who should have known better than to be so…cruel). But what I did know was that she had not long ago moved here from another city. She was a little rough around the edges, sure. She hadn’t ever really folded into the mix in terms of the group of moms at the school, obviously. But then again, neither had I. We were kind of the same. Both subject to the scoffing of other more perfect parents. Both feeling outside of the loop. Both hampered by big, loud diversions that caused constant embarrassment. Yet, despite our flaws, both of us were here to support (loudly or otherwise) our daughters.

Maybe because I saw myself in her a little (minus the Jim Beam infusion), I decided later on that I would stop being one of those people whose actions and deeds didn’t match. If I spoke of concern, I would act on it. If I thought someone needed help, I would offer it. And if I presented myself as a friend, I would actually be one. Not like those other parents. The ones who sat and judged everyone else, wishing away all those things/people that weren’t perfect.

We can’t save the world. No! But we can be real and show real concern for people in our communities. And maybe that small impact can make a larger ripple in the lives of those we would have otherwise cast aside. Just offering to be that friendly hand in the crowd may save someone’s life.

#FacebookFast


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With social media being what it is, a virtual soapbox for people to air out their grievances, there are many movements on the rise. It seems that everyone has a hash-tag for something they feel to be important. Whether it be controversial political stances or simplified forms of unity, there is a mark for anything. Everything. And, seriously folks, it’s getting kind of ridiculous.

But, pause right there, because I have something that will make a little sense as I go on. I’m starting my own movement. One to end all other movements. At least, on one platform. I’m calling it: #FacebookFast

That’s right! I did it! I am currently (and for the unforeseeable future) continuing on a fast from this format of social media that I find most offensive. After all, it’s really the only viable one. Twitter is for twits. Pinterest is where creativity (and time) goes to die. MySpace is all but defunct. Google +…what the hell is that, anyway?! So, Facebook it is!

And, hold on, by offensive, I don’t mean in the conventional sense – the politically correct sense, the touchy-feely panties in a wrinkle sense. Nope! Instead, what I find offensive about Facebook is the people on it. And their need to over-share. And under-like. And up the ante on false concern. And lower the regard for real human connection.

What I dislike so greatly about this very addictive, very feeble attempt at community is the fact that while everyone is on it, most people on your friend list are noticeably absent from really supporting or encouraging their global “village.” It seems to have become nothing more than a voyeur’s haven. A place where you can watch and laugh from afar at your unwitting, foolish neighbors without bothering to really make the effort to launch yourself into their life.

And then there’s the show. Aren’t most people on Facebook really just showing off?! Yes. How many pictures of sandy feet at Cabo or beautiful blue eyed children do we need to see before we raise the white flag and surrender?! Okay. You did it. You have the perfect life. You win!

In reality, nobody cares about the chocolate cake you “made” from “scratch.” They don’t care about your cat’s mischievous green eyes. Or your perfect duck-faced photo of a girls night post-appletinis. And, for the love of Pete, just how many selfies does one person need to post?! There is no etiquette guide. No Emily Post for the modern era. But, I can imagine that it stops shy of two dozen.

In my angst over Facebook (see my previous article: When “Friends” Don’t “Like” Your Facebook Posts), I have opined about how annoying it is when your own friends (and even family) don’t “like” the things you post. As if that really matters. As if it means something.

In truth, Facebook is just a microscope of all of the worst traits of humanity. Small. Petty. Boastful. Brash. Over-opinionated. Under-educated. Inefficient. Ineffectual. Waste. Of. Time.

So, I’m over it. I’m done. And I encourage you to do the same.

Go out. Enjoy a sunny day. Plant a garden. Read a book. Call a friend. Make a soufflé. Or, you know, whatever. Just live life. Engage in real conversations with real people. Stop showing off. Stop pretending the illusion matters. Stop forgetting about the things that actually do matter. And follow my movement.

#FacebookFast

You might have nowhere to post it but you’ll be glad you did it!

An Elf’s Guide For Momma’s Holiday Survival


It’s that time of year again!!

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These days, it seems to be a holiday requirement for each home to possess their own Elf on the Shelf. And, if you’ve been paying attention, you will notice how every single household is trying to outdo the others in ways of creativity, cutesiness and cheer. Parents are going into full-blown planning mode, months and months in advance, all so that they can come up with new and interesting ways to hide these ubiquitous imps. And frankly, folks, it is turning into insanity!!

I have seen my fair share of moms break down and lose it over a bad Pinterest picture, a plagiarized hiding spot or a momentary creative block. Luckily for me, our family has a very different kind of elf. And he has a very different message! Here are the nuggets of wisdom our elf has imparted to us – tips that have helped me to survive this…

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I Am The Infected: Breaking The Silence Behind Pinworms


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That’s right. I have it – that thing no one ever talks about. I am infected with a plague that is growing inside of my body, an ailment so damning and taboo that I am unable to confess it to anyone. But I walk around in shame, hanging my head low, worried about the prospect of spreading it to others. I feel so alone. And dirty. And disgusting. But I know I can’t be the only one.

Statistically speaking, given the contagious nature of my malady, and with figures concluding that as many as 1 in 7 people in the world are infected at any given time, I know that there are others out there. People just like me. People looking to break the silence. And yet, there are no discussions. No ribbons. No awareness drawn to the issue. It is the biggest secret that most people will never tell.

As a result, there are a lot of things we don’t know about controlling the problem or reversing the spread. Questions remain unanswered. Resources are outdated or hard to come by. And, in our absence of education about the matter, many of us are doomed to failures that will result in becoming infected again. And if you are like most sane people in the world, once you have suffered with this you will never, EVER want to experience it again. So, despite my shy nature, my mother’s lessons in etiquette, and my hope to retain a shred of dignity, I am opening up about what I have learned in my fight against these invaders.

1. The First Pinworm Egg. Ever.

The first question most people with this upsetting problem will ask is “How did I get this?!” Truly, it could come from any number of places. But, most likely, as surely as you are reading this, you have a small child in your life (whom you love dearly) that is the sole culprit. And it’s not their fault, exactly.

They probably go to school. And the playground. And the library. And interact with other kids who go to other schools. And playgrounds. And libraries. And all of them, especially the youngest ones, do the things that grown-ups only do in private. They scratch their bottoms. And if their bottoms are coated in pinworm eggs, then chances are those grubby little fingers will also have at least 1,000 eggs just waiting to be smeared all over any surface they can grab. Hand rails. Door knobs. Books. Toys. Walls. Or, best of all, adult hands who love the feeling of their child’s warmth and innocent embrace.

Scientists have calculated that anywhere from 10-40% of children have pinworms. So, I’m not saying don’t hold your child’s hand – just be aware that you may be holding onto so much more life than you realize!

2. Pinworms Eat Shit And Then Die. But Before They Do, They Lay Lots Of Eggs.

It’s true. Their food supply is that endless trough of waste that comes through our bodies. Yesterday’s Chinese take-out. That piece of fried chicken we ate for dinner. Or perhaps this morning’s bagel. They thrive off of our “leftovers” and will scavenge until they get the nutrients they need.

And, just when it seems they will eat anything, apparently even pinworms have preferences. They tend to become empowered if we eat mass quantities of meat and sugar. But, fruits and vegetables, not so much. They will spit them out like any petulant child. Everyone is a critic, I suppose!

The best part of their “date night” ritual, though, is that after they have had a great, big meal, they do what any star-crossed pair would do. They copulate. Then, while doing their best Romeo and Juliet imitation, the male dies as the female makes her way down the colon to the anus, where she will then lay her best 10,000 eggs before dying. Oh, it would all be poetic if it weren’t so very gross.

3. Pinworms Eggs Are Microscopic.

This is probably the most terrifying fact of all. It means that they can be anywhere. Everywhere. And since they are too small to be seen by the naked eye, they are likely in places that you would least suspect. Kitchen counters. Door knobs. Toothbrushes. Toys. Computer keyboards. The possibilities are truly endless. And they aren’t just on these things for a little while. Nope. They can set up shop and remain as a potential hazard for up to three weeks. THREE WEEKS!

For those of you counting, that’s 21 days. Depending on your personality, it can either be 21 days of blissful naïveté in not knowing what is around you….or, if you’re like me, it can be 21 days of being ultra-paranoid that everything you touch could be contaminated. If you are the latter, Clorox wipes will become your new best friend. So will hand-washing. That is, until your hands start to crack, bleed and mourn the loss of your more sensible past-life.

4. Pinworm Eggs Can Be Airborne.

As if the whole microscopic thing weren’t bad enough, pinworm eggs are virtually weightless. That’s not a big deal, per se, unless you realize that this means that one slight gust of wind (say, from walking across a room, changing your clothes or sneezing) can cause them to breeze through the air, going along from one object to another, virtually catapulting along until they find their final resting place in your gut. All it takes is an innocuous activity. One time of rustling papers or sorting through a clothes hamper. You can breathe them in without knowing it, just like you can inadvertently eat them without seeing them. Again, the possibilities of transmission are seemingly endless.

So, not only can every surface be contaminated, but every motion can spread the bio-hazard. The best thing to do, for those of you unable to sit fearfully still in one spot for three weeks at a time, is to simply clean everything! If you can see it, you should clean it. Wipe down all surfaces with a bleach-laced wipe. Dunk plastic toys in a bleach/water solution. Anything that can be washed in the dishwasher or washing machine should be washed. The floors should be mopped or vacuumed. Pretend your mother-in-law is coming over and scrub, scrub, scrub. If it helps, even imagine that you are hosting a stately dinner party or inviting George Clooney over for the night. Just do whatever it takes to get that house clean(er).

5. UV Light and Heat Destroy Eggs.

Everyone is afraid of something. Pinworms are no exception. They fear two things: UV light and heat. These are the two things that can bring them down. Since we can’t just open up our roof and douse every inch of our homes in warm sunlight, the next best thing you can do is open your curtains. Let the light in. And then wash your clothes, pajamas, towels, bed sheets, blankets and washcloths in the warmest water possible. Dry them with an even hotter heat. And then do it all again…just to be sure. If you repeat this process constantly over the course of treatment, you will likely get rid of the bulk of the household problem.

6. Pinworms Hate Pineapple, Papaya, Pumpkin Seeds, and Garlic.

Some people like to think holistically. Personally, when I am faced with a challenge, I prefer to think in a more nuclear fashion. I don’t usually have the patience or the nerves to “wait out” the enemy. I prefer instead to “nuke” the problem and make it magically go away. Of course, with that said, it doesn’t hurt to add a little holistic warfare to the mix. As they say – “Can’t hurt, might help!”

So, in terms of natural remedies, it has been touted that the acidic nature of pineapple makes pinworms shrivel up and die. As for why they don’t like papaya, pumpkin seeds, or garlic, I am not exactly certain of the science behind them; but, these treatments have been around for centuries. And who am I to balk at them?! Anyway, whether or not they actually do any good, it may not be a bad idea to eat them like their going out of style during this critical time. After all, there’s nothing wrong with overdoing it…is there?

7. Hand-Washing Is Your New Job.

Seriously. If you want to bring these worms down, you have to wash hands at least a million times a day. No joke. Wash them after you go to the bathroom. Before you touch your baby. After you change his diaper. Before you get lunch ready. After you have touched the cereal boxes. Before you make lunch. After you have cleaned the dishes. Before you brush your teeth. After you pick up toys. Before you touch your iPad. It will start to feel like you live (and may even die) at the sink. But, despite how ashy, cracked and painful your hands will become, remember the old adage – cleanliness is godliness – and then pity those poor chafed deities from mythology! If you are not as stoic as they were, don’t be afraid to lotion up like a prepubescent boy! Trust me! It will be your only saving grace.

8. Buy Pinworm Medication Online. Avoid (Some) Embarrassment.

So, it’s not just bad enough that you have this problem. Or that your family may have it, too. Or even that you have had to endure 900 loads of laundry in a mere four days time. Nope. The cherry on top of this entire experience will come when you must make that painfully embarrassing trip to the store to buy the medication. I personally tried to accomplish this at a large chain store. More specifically, Target. And, you know, nobody shops at Target. Nobody!

As people were milling around, on the day that I was there, it seemed that everyone had some small stake in the pharmacy section. People were walking back and forth, up and down the aisles, as I had never seen before. I thought I had remembered those aisles previously being barren and desolate – but maybe I had been thinking of CVS instead. Either way, I tried to wait out the crowds. However, after thirty minutes of pretending to check out different brands of deodorant, I realized that I just had to suck it up and get what I came to get. And to do that I would need to talk to the pharmacist.

When I got the nerve up, I quietly and discreetly asked for the medication, only to have the (young bastard) pharmacist ask me to repeat it not once, not twice, but three times! Then, in his loudest voice, he proclaimed “Ah, yes, pinworm medicine. That should be on aisle 23. But, we have some right here, too!” He handed me the box with not a shred of remorse as an odd array of customers looked sideways at my secret. Oh, joy, I thought. How very helpful. And humiliating.

It was only after I got home that I realized Amazon and Drugstore.com also sold such things. And if I had just bought it from them, I wouldn’t have had to endure such a scene. So, lesson learned, I would strongly recommend that these things be purchased online and kept on hand for whenever the need will arise. And, as long as you have kids, the need will arise.

9. Take Two (Or Three…Or Four) Rounds Of The Medication.

The box of the pinworm medication says that one round of medication is all it takes to clear up your problem. WRONG! Since the medication only kills the adults and not the eggs, it would behoove you to take another round or two (or three) just to make sure any wayward eggs are destroyed. After all, who wants to do all of this housework and laundry only to turn around and have to do it again in a few weeks. I mean, except for the fact that you will have to do it anyway…but, who’s counting. Somehow it just seems worse when it’s forced upon you by tiny organisms crawling out of your backside.

10. For All Of Their Ickiness, Pinworms Don’t Really “Do” Anything To People.

Yeah, I know I have reacted to these creatures as though they were the worst invaders known to man. In my most horrified moments, I even have had nightmares that they were the size of earthworms and had sharp, pointed teeth like a young puppy. But, as we know, that is not the case at all. In earnest, my behavior, my frenzy, could be chalked up to the simple fact that this is my phobia. (Really, it’s #4 on the list of at least 20 thought-consuming fears – but that’s another topic in and of itself!)

As most are aware, a phobia is an extreme or irrational fear of something. Pinworms are gross, they are pesky, they are inconvenient, but they are NOT life-threatening. They are not the boogey men they may seem. They do not really harm people. They simply want to find a nice warm place to live where they can set up a metaphorical white-picket fence, raise a few (thousand) kids, and die after having a decent time on this planet. Just like us. The only difference is that their house is a colon and they like to raise their kids on an anus. So, maybe it could be said that they are no different than the residents of New Jersey. 

11. You Have To Pull Yourself Together. For The Kids.

I know that I most likely got these things from my daughter. I know she is often the Typhoid Mary of our household. And I know in years to come we will find ourselves facing many more battles with the things she brings home (viruses, pets, boyfriends). But, though this may be true, it is important not to fall apart and blame her for this nightmare.

As much as I wanted to unfurl the hazmat suit and spray toxic substances all over our entire quarantined home, my better judgment pulled back the reigns and made me realize what is important. My family. My husband. My son. My daughter. They may all be carriers of some sort of pestilence. They may have infected me. They may even infect me again. But, it is important not to fall apart over it. Or make them feel insecure, unloved and dirty.

Yes, it is hard to keep the heebee-jeebee’s from getting to me some days. There are moments when I sit on the toilet and cry, thinking of all of the prospective problems that we will face one day (a recurrence of this one problem included). But, the hippies do have it right about one thing – we should really just live in the moment, because it is the only thing we truly have. Well, and worms, too. But at least that will soon change, I hope.

Nothing Means Anything: Anarchy for the New Year


resolutions
The new year begins with resolutions, self-reflection and an endless cesspool of thoughts relating to the umpteen ways I did not measure up to last year’s goals. And with so many metaphorical bruises I have given to myself, it almost seems unfair to hope for change. After all, how can I even muster the strength to transform myself when I am obviously at an emotional disadvantage?! That’s why this year, a year like every other, when I have already started to nit-pick over a new set of failures, I decided to try this one anti-resolution instead: live life unchecked.

That’s right! Live life. Unchecked! In other words, fuck that little voice in my head that says “Don’t eat that piece of chocolate, you fat cow!” Fuck that shiny quarter who believes itself to be intended for the “swear jar” just because of a momentary fit of road rage. Fuck the PTA and HOA who constantly make me feel like I’m not being a good (enough) citizen. Fuck Dr. Oz, Deepak Chopra, “Hands Free Mama” and any other person who claims to have all of the answers (for a mere $24.99). Fuck pretentious friends and presumptuous people. Fuck the Joneses – fuck their manicured lawns, their shiny new cars, and their vacation pictures. Fuck Facebook and those who feel a constant need to post on it. Fuck Pinterest and all those crafty bitches who can’t stop making shit. Fuck scales and numbers, fads and fashion, comparison shopping and coupon clipping. Fuck everything. Why? Because I have come to realize that none of it means anything. That’s right. Nothing! As the Buddhists would concur, it’s all just an illusion.

Case in point, I have one friend who is Vegan. She chooses not to eat any animal products because of the ethical issues surrounding their treatment. And while that is all fine and good, she does love to peruse the world on her iPad – which, ironically, is one of the most cruel devices known to man. On the surface it wouldn’t seem so; but, taking a closer look, the poor laborers who assemble them make roughly 10 cents a week, live in a studio-apartment-sized dormitory with seven other people and have “suicide” nets surrounding their prison/office. Cruelty-free life?! Not quite. Oh, and another interesting note about this person: she likes to shoplift. A lot.

And then there is another person I know, one who presents her surface life as fictionally grand though in truth it is earnestly vacant. She is always busy doing endless crafts to adorn her home, making all of the other moms stand in shame because they didn’t think to make more of a celebration of Arbor Day or Independence Day, just like she did, by making children’s handprints into trees or cakes look like flags. Picture perfect to a tee. We all know this type. And yet her kids are total and complete assholes. Period. And while we shouldn’t judge a child any more than we should judge an unfinished painting….let’s just say, it’s clear that some forms of coddling and catering can’t be cured by time. They will be, without a doubt, people who have greatly inflated ideas of their own worth to the detriment of all others. CEO’s in the making!

Even further on the rungs of examples are the myriad of people I know in therapy. Paying people to “fix” their flaws, work through their “issues” and being charged hefty sums…for years…with no end in sight. And how much more sane or content are these folks? Probably less than the homeless guy on the corner! And he ate a day-old moldy burger out of the trash. Yeah.

So, then what are the answers?? Heck if I know. That’s not what this is about. But if I were to guess, I would say that no one knows. Not your sister, your pastor, your lawyer or your lover. We are all just groping in the dark. Without any answers. Without any guidance. People walk around in a state of belief that they are somehow different; but, no one is. We are all, unquestionably, failing in some way or another. And none of it means anything. It doesn’t make us any less important. Or special. It doesn’t mean we don’t deserve happiness or respect. It’s just the truth that we all try to ignore. Especially during the beginning of a new year.

With that in mind, one may wonder what it would mean to live a life unchecked. Does it mean there’s no conscience? No responsibilities? A free-for-all? Anarchy?! Ha! I wish. Simply, it means this year, for once, I will no longer compare myself to others. I will end the need to aim for other people’s unattainable goals. I will stop focusing on illusions and cease using the phrase “If they could do it, so can I.” I will close my Facebook account. And my Pinterest account. And will never, ever go to an Old Navy changing room again.

I will eat when I’m hungry, rest when I’m tired, work out when I’m motivated and do all of the things I need to do to sustain life, forsaking the rest unless desiring them in truth. In other words, I will do what makes me and my family happy. I will put my heart and soul into the things I care about. And I will be okay with the fact that I will sometimes fail. And the fact that sometimes those failures will make me sad or mad. But I will not let lofty dreams of unattainable quests (for self, for family, for creative or personal goals) set me up for upset. I will not buy into fantasies. I will live, not for tomorrow, but for right now. Today. The only thing I truly have of value. And I will not center my life around those holograms (of perfect weight, of perfect families, of perfect lives) that are meant to only torture souls.

This year my resolution is simple: I will live. And, I don’t know for sure, but I think that’s the whole point.

The Opposite Of June Cleaver


june cleaver

Yesterday I reached an epiphany, an awareness about myself that was as startling as it was obvious – I am the polar opposite of June Cleaver. My hair is not set in any particular style. In fact, I am lucky if it sees a brush once a day. I do not clean house in dresses and heels. Actually, I rarely wear anything other than pajamas and bare feet. Pearls never drape around my neck. Only burp clothes caked with dried snot and baby food. My house, though tidy-ish, is not necessarily “company ready” at any given second. I usually require advanced notice of a day or two before someone “drops in.”

My meals, though the aim is nutrition, sometimes burn, sometimes fail and sometimes come out of a box. I’ve never made a roast anything. I’ve never been successful in getting my family to eat their peas. And, sadly, our dining table is a mere charade filling a void in a useless room. We eat our meals – all of our meals! – hunched over the coffee table, in front of our TV, just as I always vowed I would never do.

And that is just the surface stuff. My list of failures and low-points could trail on in a seemingly endless barrage of pathetic details. Episodes that would be funny were they not true.

Yesterday held one such example. During his afternoon nap, my nine-month old son managed to grab an almost empty lotion bottle from his changing table. I had no idea his small arms could reach so far – but they could, and they did! When he awoke and I got him out of his crib, I noticed the bottle in his possession. Then I realized he had apparently had his way with it and had (I assumed) eaten a small portion of the remaining lotion.

In a frenzy, I told my daughter to go play in her room while I did something for a moment. I didn’t want to tell her what was going on because I didn’t want to scare her. More honestly, though…I really just didn’t feel like answering her potential questions. (What happened? What are you doing? Why did he eat the lotion? What’s in lotion? What’s going to happen to him? Is he going to die? If he does, can I have his room?) So, I left her in her room, with my son in my arms, while I went to call Poison Control.

As I sat on the phone with a wonderfully calm professional, my daughter started to yell in the background. It wasn’t a cry for help, though. Instead, it was that all-too-familiar yell for “Momma!” In the background, it grew louder and louder, increasing in pace as much as in volume, with no feasible break in between for me to helpfully reply. As her screaming for me grew more and more desperate, my embarrassment grew with it. I imagined that the man on the phone from Poison Control thought we lived in a crazy house. All of that yelling. The sounds of an unhappy and restless baby. A mother asking, in frazzled tones, about her child eating lotion. By the end of it, I was almost certain that he had one finger on 911, just in case this picture turned ugly.

Sure, I wanted to attend to my daughter. But with no break in her screams, and my intention to make us seem decently normal for the man on the phone, I did the only sensible thing – I shut doors and burrowed further down the hall of our house, as far from the yelling as I could get. By this point, I had made my way into the laundry room, completely at the other end of the house. Any further, and I would have escaped through the back door. It was pathetic. But the worst part hadn’t even come yet.

After I got off of the phone (and after finding out that the lotion would not harm my son), I ran into my daughter’s room to see exactly why she had been yelling. She replied “Nothing. I just wanted to ask if we were going to have dinner soon.” Really?! The yelling, the banshee screams, the frantic shouting of my name while I was on the phone was for that?! THAT??? And that was the moment I lost my shit. Big time!

I lashed out at my six-year old baby girl. I growled at her in a voice so guttural that even a demon would have been scared. I shouted the worst, most horrible profanities that even a drunken sailor would swear were cruel. And, the anger, the overwhelmingly uncontrollable ire, just poured out of me like water from a broken dam. In that moment, as I delivered such a horrible display of parenting, I stood beside myself in angst, living an almost out-of-body experience. I knew it had all gone wrong right as it was unfolding, and yet I couldn’t stop any of it from happening. The tone, the words, the whole moment was something that had spilled out of me too easily. And it was a moment I could never take back.

She and I sat in silence in her room, unsure of how to proceed, for a few minutes following. Just awkward and hurt, disappointed and upset. And sad. We both shed many tears over the incident. We both made our apologies. We hugged and moved on with the day. But, even after we returned to smiles and happier times, I still couldn’t shake what had happened. And that was just one day. There were other times. Other things. My weaknesses, my impatience, my desire for control, my inflexibility – all of them, causing conflict, upset, discord, problems. It seemed a constant and recurrent theme.

And then June Cleaver appeared. On TV. There she was! “Leave it to Beaver” was on. Barbara Billingsley stood, reprising her famous character – the nurturing, loving mother. Buoyant. Chipper. Flexible. And endlessly patient. No. Matter. What. Though fictional, her representation of motherhood was one that I could recall from childhood, steadfastly holding it in my tiny mind as the ideal. The goal. The patron saint of matronly endeavors. So, after the defeat of the day, I did what came naturally. I said a little prayer to June:

Mrs. Cleaver, June, mother of all mothers, please help me to be wise like you.
Coif my head with gentility and open-mindedness.
Line my lips with a darker shade of self-control over my words.
Help me to stand tall in the heels of better judgment.
Give me the courage to wear a smile that bears true happiness behind it.
Lend me an apron to shield me from the messy nature of life.
And, endow me with pearls of wisdom that will get me through situations gracefully.
Though I will never be like you, please help me not to be so much like myself.

However, it took me a full day, when I finally wrote out the words of this little prayer, before it finally dawned on me – the difference between me and June is not that I’m a failure and she is not. The difference is that I am real person and she is not! If I had stylists making me beautiful, wardrobe artists dressing me up, set designers arranging my house, writers crafting my dialogue, and directors instructing me on how to act then perhaps I would have a picture perfect life, too. Our TV culture has done us in by the way of offering false realities for us to compare ourselves to. And I have bought into it, just as much as the next person.

Well…no more! Though I still love “Leave it to Beaver,” and though I still idolize how easy June Cleaver makes it look, I now realize that I should not compare myself to her any more than I would to Botticelli’s Venus or Michaelangelo’s David. Yes, I make mistakes. In fact, yesterday I made a big one. But, for every one of those moments I have hundreds of other more picturesque “good Mommy” moments that go unnoticed. Times like last week when my daughter and I made cookies together, laughing, licking wayward icing off our fingers. Or a few days ago, while I was holding both of them in my arms, reading them a story, spontaneously kissing their foreheads in between words. Or the airplane motions I have to make with my son’s spoon in order to coax another bite. Or the bandaged boo-boo’s I clean with the care of a surgeon. Or the love notes I pack in my daughter’s lunches. Or the countless games of Go Fish. Or hide-and-seek. Or peek-a-boo. Or listening to the same Barney song for the umpteen-millionth time! My love for them is everywhere. And my love for them is real. Because I’m a mom. Their mom!

Yes, I am the opposite of June Cleaver. Not because I’m a failure. But because I am real. I am what motherhood really looks like. And, barring a few exceptions, for the most part I’m pretty good at it. In my actions, even my worst ones, my children learn that a mother, like all people is a person who makes mistakes and gets back up, someone who is constantly analyzing, learning, trying to be better, though sometimes failing. A mother is also a person. And people have feelings. I am not so stoic that their bad behavior goes unnoticed. And I am not always so flexible to work around something that goes outside of my plans.

I’m trying. Every day I keep trying to be better. Every day I say a little prayer for improvement. However, from now on, those prayers will no longer be to fictional characters – and they will no longer be prayers to help me not be so much like myself. Instead, they will be prayers to help me to be my best self. When it’s all said and done, that is more the ideal, the goal of parenting, than any false image or TV reality.

It


it2

As we were waiting for my daughter’s swim class to end, a sweet old lady came up to my son’s stroller with a look of adoration in her eyes. Even before seeing him, an abundance of kind thoughts were mapped on her beautifully wrinkled face. Her mind was geared toward feelings of pure joy, befitting for the presence of new life – an event, I must admit, that is only fully savored by those who have lived long enough to understand its splendor. New moms, with their haze of sleeplessness, often miss its subtlety and don’t catch up on this grandeur until they become of the grandmotherly-age themselves.

Babies are almost swallowed whole by the flattery of old women such as these, and my son was no exception. However, as she neared closer to the stroller, her smile delineated from its original beam into something slightly less bright as she exclaimed with confusion, “Isn’t that a sweet baby. What’s its name?”

It?! I took a pause before blinking and then replayed the words in my head. Surely I had been mistaken. Surely I had misunderstood. Did the old woman call my son an “it”? I thought it would be fairly obvious that he was a boy, with his blue and brown striped shirt and pant suit, pieced together ruggedly with a thick and mannish pair of sandals. And not only did his outfit suggest masculinity but his demeanor should have given it away. He sat up strongly, gripping the life out of his favorite toy monkey, gnawing and grunting over it like a wild beast chewing a bone. It? Him? Who did she think she was, mistaking the identity of my baby! I figured I would let her cataracts and her kind smile pass. She was old and didn’t know any better.

Then, a few weeks later, it happened again! At the grocery store checkout line. With a young couple. And they did not get a pass. They gripped their hands in a loving embrace, while peering longingly at my son, and mentioned casually how they were looking so forward to the time when they too would be parents. After their breathy sighs concluded in unison, and the saccharine sweetness of their smiles waned, the woman asked me, “So, how old is it?” How old is what, I thought. The aged cheddar? The Genoa salami? The Triscuits? I was lucky that they were easily distracted by their infatuation and not interested enough in my response to care that I moved ahead in silence. It, indeed!

These particular instances would have been easy enough to write off had they not become my new norm. It seemed, with each passing week, I was finding more and more encounters like these. At restaurants. In waiting rooms. At the post office. In stores. Even at weddings and funerals. Everywhere!

It almost became comical to decipher the ways in which a wide array of people could ask the very same question – all, I might note, in such a colorful and greatly varied manner. Some more polite folks, ever-fearful of a social faux pas, would say things like “What’s the baby’s name?” Sly and crafty, I knew these words were parsed carefully, concealing the fact that they had no clue as to my baby’s gender. Still, other more blunt types, culled from the ever-growing population that is free from the shackles of shame, would just blurt out abrasive phrases like “What the heck did ya have? A ding-dong or a ho-ho?”

Apparently, blue is the new black for girls. And there are no fire-truck or football  appliqués big enough to denote boyishness. Nor even do the words “brother” or “little man” seem to conjure a masculine presence anymore. Clues flow freely to those who care to observe, yet at the end of the day gender judgment boils down to one thing – the hair.

My son, just like my daughter, was born with a thick heap of black hair covering his entire scalp. As a result, he never needed hats. He never felt the cool breeze of air atop his noggin. Instead, his fluffy follicles covered him like a thick shag carpet lining the halls of the Brady Bunch home. As the months started to pass, his mess of hair slowly grew to be more of a mountain. Sweet, wispy strands would protrude and wave in an uncommonly gracious way. It started to grow long in all the wrong places – like a reverse mullet or the hair worn by a student of Rabbinical studies. It was uneven, but in the most perfect ways; accentuating his already obvious (to my prejudiced eyes) cuteness.

I loved his hair. I thought it was beyond adorable. And, in addition to that, I considered it to be the only thing (aside from his entire body) that he brought with him during his transition from womb to world. It was like the last vestige of his past during that time, from that place. After his umbilical cord had been cut, the crusty vernix wiped away and downy lanugo shed, his hair was the only thing that remained. A sweet souvenir. And I cherished it so dearly.

However, as time carried us further along life’s journey, I started to realize how his hair was becoming more of an impediment than an asset –  getting in his eyes, growing cumbersome; a nuisance which distracted his daily tasks. There were times when I would notice him moving along in pursuit of his favorite toy, only to stop, midway, and brush the locks from his face. That was when I realized we were long overdue for the obvious rite of passage. We had reached a new era and were about to turn over that proverbial leaf.

When we finally took him in for his first haircut, it was a lazy Sunday morning. We had no plans for the day. We hadn’t put a lot of forethought into the moment. It was an off-the-cuff suggestion to fill a lull in our weekend. We figured it would be fun. We thought it was more productive than milling the aisles of Target. But, more importantly, it was something that needed to be done.

In and out, the experience took no more than five minutes. There were no lines and little fanfare. Our son, as expected, cried big tears and screamed his way throughout the entire ordeal. This was, as we were told by the stylist, the typical response. But, after all of the wailing and protesting was made, the experience was finished. Behind us. Another of life’s big milestones checked off our list. And now there would be no more confusion – he had undergone his official transition from an “it” to an “he.” From a baby to a boy.

As we were about to leave, I thanked the stylist for her patience and told her how nice it would be that people’s confusion over his gender would finally cease. She chuckled, with a jovial lilt in her tone, and remarked with something that had never dawned on me before. She said, “If a boy is mistaken for a girl, it just means he’s a pretty baby. But if a girl is mistaken to be a boy, then she’s got a long road of hardship ahead of her!” I don’t know if that’s sage advice or just a kind adage from a person seeking a tip, but I took it at face value. And, judging from the face of my sweet little boy, with his newly trimmed sideburns and evenly shorn hair, I would have to agree that she’s right!

Lice, Lice Baby


liceAll right, stop! Collaborate. And listen. Lice were back. They weren’t even kidding. It was only a few weeks into the new school year when, tucked ever so delicately in my daughter’s backpack, there was a note from the school nurse alerting us to this fact. It read matter-of-factly “NOTIFICATION OF HEAD LICE – This letter is to inform you that a student in your child’s class has been found to be carrying head lice. Please take care to insure that this does not spread further by inspecting your child closely for the next two weeks.”

Past these opening lines, I can’t recall what else was said because everything seemed to go blank for a moment. Lice, I cringed. Again?! Already?! What were these kids doing and who was the evil culprit?! I wanted to get to the bottom of this.

My daughter was nonchalantly eating a snack when I unleashed my line of questioning on her. I asked, did she know anything about this epidemic? Was anyone called into the nurse’s office that day or the last? Had any of her classmates complained of itchy heads recently? Had any of her friends hugged or gotten their head near hers lately? What about scarves? Or brushes? Or hair clips? Or headphones? Did she remember that we don’t share personal items?!

To most of my frantic questions, she replied with an irked response of “I don’t know.” This didn’t help my mania. However, after more prodding on my end, she finally asserted that she knew better than to share head-related items with her friends. I took a deep sigh of relief. I felt at ease for a moment and let her resume the tastiness of her treat. I figured she could eat, unwind, and then we would do the old wet-hair comb-out with the trusty nit-comb we used during this last epidemic. There would probably be nothing. It would probably be fine. But, you know, just in case…

Then, when time came, as predictably as though it were a horror novel, all was not fine. There was something. And it was living in my daughter’s hair! Combing through her thick, brown follicles, I found not one…not two…not even three…but eight nits. Eight! No louse, but I knew it wasn’t far behind because eggs of any species don’t just lay themselves. No. There was a momma louse somewhere…and now the battle was on.

Quarantine began. I kept my daughter separated from the rest of the house as my work commenced. This meant that she was sequestered in her bathtub while I roamed around the house like a mad woman. I ripped off her bed sheets. Placed them, along with all recently-worn articles of clothing, into the washing machine for extra-hot laundering. Removed the gazillion stuffed animals in her room and placed them into a tightly closed trash bag. Then removed the trash bag to the balmy garage, just for good measure. I vacuumed her room, my room, the living room, the hall, along with all of our pillows and couch cushions. And I did this, all the while, with my eight-month-old son strapped into the baby sling I wore across my chest.

After the cleaning had taken place, the next step involved a delousing shampoo that we had purchased during the last school year, a remnant of our first encounter with head lice. That memorable occurrence, which happened as many things do – at a very unfortunate time – came about during the first two weeks of my son’s life. He was, thankfully, spared, as were my husband and I; but, my poor daughter quickly learned how it felt to be a “carrier.” And I was quickly schooled in lice-combing techniques.

This time, a mere seven months later, we were in the throes of “Round Two” in the battle of our family versus the lice. While scrubbing the foul-smelling chemicals into her scalp, I started to seriously consider the purchase of a hazmat suit. I also toyed with the idea of removing my daughter from public school. Teaching my children the strict importance of NOT hugging anyone. Ever. Not to mention the idea that we should all, very truly and in a notably utilitarian fashion, just shave our heads. My pretty daughter, with her fondness for all things relating to hair styles and beauty tips, cried when I let that last thought fall from my mouth into her earshot. Yes, the lice were starting to make me crazy! And they were ruining what had started off to be an otherwise wonderful day.

By the time my husband got home, everything was a mess. My daughter was sobbing. My house was turned upside down. And I was frantic – exhausted from all of the cleaning, itchy from psychosomatic worry and anxious for a resolution to this problem. I feared all of the possible outcomes that may result from this situation. That my infant boy would contract it. Or my husband. Or me. And, worse even still, was the thought that what if we all got it and would never, ever be able to get rid of it. I could picture the tiny louse eggs hatching all over the house, multiplying with every passing minute, and consciously hiding under our beds so they could lay in wait, knowing just the right opportunity to attach to our heads.

In retrospect, it’s almost comical how such a small bug, a mere pest, can cause a rather terrible commotion. There is no logic to it. If I were to take a time machine and go back to the earlier, more ignorant and less calm version of myself, I would walk her through the situation with a more scientific approach. Let her know how things really work and why she shouldn’t worry so needlessly.

I would explain to her that head lice, unlike other parasites (such as tapeworms, hookworms, mosquitoes, scabies, body lice, and bedbugs), do not spread pestilence or create bodily harm. Though pesky, they are relatively easy to contain and are not as dreadfully contagious as one would think. They don’t jump, hop or fly. (Fleas have cornered the market on jumping and hopping – mosquitoes have the flying covered.) And they can hardly stand to be away from the scalp of a human for any length of time. As a result, no, they do not live on other surfaces. (Unlike pinworm eggs.) And, no, they do not lay in wait for another human host. (That’s the modus operandi of bedbugs.)

The life of a head louse is very tenuous. Lice need to eat every two to three hours and can only live apart from their host for about two days before they die. As for any eggs they lay, if for some reason they are not on a surface as warm as a human body, they will not hatch at all. (Think of a chicken egg that does not get the warmth of a mother hen.) Of course, if the louse egg does get the warmth it needs, the nymph will hatch – but it then must eat within a very short period of time or else it will die. This is why the mama louse all but glues them onto their host hair shaft.

Another interesting fact about lice: whatever blood-type they originally ate in their first meal is apparently the only type they may continue to eat, unless they are starving. In other words, they can make a change but, in doing so, they will die. Why? Because the different blood-type, or even different Rh factor, causes – wait for it – an explosion in their intestinal tract. Yikes! Take that, bastards!!

So, it seems fair to say that after knowing their lifestyle nuances getting rid of them is not nearly as daunting. However, the number one rule in the process of removal is important: there are NO short-cuts! Use the delousing shampoo of your choosing. Chemical. Non-chemical. Natural. Nuke. Whatever you are comfortable with. Just be sure that each and every nit MUST be removed from the head and the head must be scoured with a nit-comb daily for the next couple of weeks. If it’s too time-consuming and it feels like an impossible feat, just remember that it’s always harder to treat a problem when it’s larger than when it’s smaller. After all, these suckers can lay about 4 eggs per day which means, if you’re not careful, the situation can go from bad to worse almost overnight!

Next, I would reiterate that lice don’t live on surfaces. That means overly laborious cleaning can go out the window. The bed-sheets and clothes, bath towels and hairbrushes of the infested person need to be cleaned – and in very hot water – but, the whole house doesn’t have to be turned upside down. Focus only on the items that the person with lice has come in contact with in the past 24 hours. Vacuuming is a good idea but a person doesn’t need to become crazed about it. And, as for stuffed animals, just bag them up and take them away for a little while. There’s nothing more to it than that. No chemicals or foreign practices needed.

While it’s no walk in the park and definitely highly ranking on the top-ten list of least favorite things in the world, I would also stress the important of weekly (yes, weekly) lice comb-outs…you know, just in case. Even after the infestation is a distant memory, as long as your child is in school it’s important (for mom’s peace of mind, more than anything else) to do these regular checks.

As for special “lice barrier” shampoos and sprays, they don’t work. We were using them religiously after the first encounter and, guess what, they didn’t build any sort of magical force-field that would keep the lice at bay. My recommendation: don’t spend the extra money on shampoo that smells like salad dressing. Instead, just buy a good quality metal nit-comb and keep your eyes open!

Aside from all of that, it behooves any mother to know that contracting lice (especially for little girls) is merely a rite of passage. It is an experience that most people will face at some point or another in their child’s elementary years. Period. And, though it sucks, it could be a lot worse. A LOT! I tried to remind myself of that fact as I combed out my daughter’s hair each day. At least she was healthy, I told myself. At least she didn’t have cancer, or a birth defect, or paralysis. At least this wasn’t anything that would affect her life permanently. And at least this nightmare would one day end.

To keep my mind occupied as I scoured her head for nits each afternoon, I ran through a whole list of “at least’s.” I even started saying them out-loud to my daughter so she could realize that this wasn’t as terrible as it may have seemed. Before I knew it, in the midst of this wretched new past-time of ours, she turned to me and said something truly special: “At least we get to be together.”

It was then that I realized that maybe, just maybe, we could get through any ordeal as long as we did it as a family. With that, I gave her a kiss on the forehead and told her that I loved her. I was so proud of how amazingly mature she had become because of this. Of course, I wanted to follow my words with a hug, but decided we would save that for another day. Once this was a more distant memory. You know…just in case. And following the given two-week quarantine period, that’s just what we did!