Zen and the Art of Inclusion: How to Show Gratitude to the Parent Who Excluded Your Kid


To the mom who (repeatedly) didn’t invite my kid to her kid’s parties, I want to start off by saying two, little words to you. Thank you. No, seriously! I’m not being facetious. Thank YOU. I have spent my whole life trying to understand what you have just taught my child in one, unfair swoop.

When you chose, for whatever reason (frugality, early onset dementia, or a massive brain fart) to exclude my child (and only my child – magically everyone else was there!) from your child’s special activities – and therefore taught your child that it was okay to continue such exclusion during the school day – you were offering a very important treatise on life. Namely that there are assholes in this world. And they are everywhere, even where they are least expected to be.

Trust me – following the amount of tears that those actions have caused, it was an invaluable lesson that won’t be easily forgotten. By either of us. But here’s why that’s important and why I’m thanking you now. Because life is full of people like you. And your child. People who are callous, unempathetic and just plain rude.

People like you will someday fill the spots in her life as teachers, bosses, frenemies and maybe even in-laws. But that’s just how it goes. And we can’t make it better by wishing or trying or pleading with the higher reasoning of the unwaveringly cruel. Some people just don’t care about others. And they never will, no matter how many smiles are flashed their way or kind acts are offered in their direction.

So, now, thanks to you, my kid knows the truth about the big, bad world. Life isn’t fair. People are mean. Even people that we think of as friends. I expected a big, scowling bully to teach her that. Or a nun with a ruler in hand. Or maybe even a street thug – you know, the kind that they always show on T.V. But, I absolutely didn’t expect it would come from your direction.

Needless to say, though it happened earlier than I thought it would, it’s over and done now. The innocence of childhood utopia is finished for my daughter and now it’s off to the starting gates of adolescence. So, again, I say thank you for stripping her of this cumbersome youthful happiness and showing her what it really means to be human.

Thank you, also, for teaching her, through example, exactly what I have been trying to teach all along. How NOT to act and how NOT to treat others. As a parent, I have always taught the “Golden Rule” to my child. Tried with every effort to plaster it into all layers of her conscious and unconscious mind. Sometimes, though, as with all verbal lessons, I have felt that it has fallen on deaf ears. But, not now. I think she gets it. Finally and completely. Knowing firsthand what the pain of rejection and exclusion feels like, I am certain she will never do that to someone else. At least, I hope not.

Believe me when I tell you it hasn’t always been a picnic for us to extend birthday invitations to the entire class. The expense has often been A LOT and I’ve had to work hard to restrain my cheapo instincts from using the line “sorry, your invitation must have gotten lost in the mail.” Like it or not, we’ve always sucked it up and included everyone in our parties. Everyone! From the whiny kid that always tattles on others to the infectious kid who likes to smear cake icing with their booger-y fingers. It hasn’t always been pleasant, but it has always been the right thing to do.

You see, in our household, the feelings of others matter. They factor into our decision-making process almost always because we realize that none of us is a universe unto ourselves. How we treat other people is important since our actions are like a ripple in a pond. Our life is a silly chain of dominos, endlessly clinking one against the next. We can pretend to live in a bubble, untouched by others, unable to bring about change, but inevitably we are all linked. And our actions are the very creations of tomorrow’s new horizons. For better or worse.

All of that aside – regardless of what you do or have done, regardless of the way my daughter found out about your kid’s awesome parties that she was never invited to attend (for whatever reason, it was never clear), regardless of the ripple effect that has since ensued on the playground (since kids are so easily swayed to act like their favorite alpha-kid), and regardless of the rage I felt towards you as her tears grazed my shoulder when she came home a sad mess – we would still invite your child to her party. Because that’s just who we are. And what you are, whatever you choose to teach your family, will NOT be allowed to shape what we do. The “Golden Rule” still lives strong under our roof and even your thoughtlessness won’t change that.

Soon enough, it will be time for another birthday party. Ours, not yours. I will be addressing envelopes and stuffing cards, tucking them in neatly and with great care. Even though a large, maternal part of me wants to tell you that your kid’s invitation just got lost in the mail, I won’t. Because it won’t. Unless, of course, it does. But, if so, it won’t be my fault. Rather, it would be the fault of the US Postal Service. And, if that day should come, I will only offer you one last word to go with my previous two. Karma!

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


outsider

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.

We Are Who We Are


The social world, for me, has always been an awkward thing to navigate. Especially now that I’m a mom. I always hoped, in my youth, that these things would get easier as I aged, but…nope…they haven’t.

I am essentially the same string-bean girl with pigtails and dusty, white-canvas Keds that I was in grade school. Only now, I’ve added some girth, dropped the ‘do and opted for dusty Nikes instead. In essence, I have grown into a larger form of my same self. But haven’t we all, really? Isn’t that what aging, growing, maturing is all about? Becoming yourself in a bigger version?! Well, sort of…

The sad fact is that though we do age and we do grow, we don’t always change. I’m starting to see the cracks in my own development and have noticed, through the course of PTA meetings and play-dates, how I am the same person I was in school. And I’m starting to sense that this is true for most people, as well. For better or worse.

I’m sure everyone knows the typical archetypes that play out repetitively, either in the schoolyard or outside of it. There is always a popular person – that one special soul everyone wants to know or emulate. And, equally important, there is the life of the party – someone who is so comfortable in their skin that they make everything seem lighthearted and fun.

And then there others, like the helper (who you can rely on for anything), the organizer (who is able to get things done) or the clown (who helps lift your mood). Each of these people were born with the innate ability to be one with themselves and offer a skill to the world that has an absolute value. They are needed. They are loved. They are celebrated. From cradle to grave.

Then there are other, less-desirable types who make our time on Earth less pleasurable. There is the braggart – he always looks to one-up your experiences or make your talents/abilities/fortunes seem nominal in comparison to his own. The snob, similar to the braggart, is never able to find contentment within their surroundings.

Of course, there is also the social-climber – someone who is friends with you just long enough to use you for their gain…and then leave. Their cousin, the back-stabber, equally has no sense of honor when it comes to allegiances and will sell you out in a heartbeat for a pack of gum.

But, worst of all, a fixture of all playground drama, is the bully. The bully is able to embody all of these negative aspects on the inside, while somehow hiding them so well under the exterior of one of the other, more positive characters, she will often go unrecognized by most. Yes, in the adult world there are still bullies. In my case, she was the mom with long blonde hair and a tray full of cookies.

This awkwardness I felt around her had lasted for a couple of years. We would encounter one another at school carnivals, children’s birthday parties, book fairs and holiday events. We would say hello to each other. Fake smiles. Wave in carpool. But, what I didn’t know was that under the surface of smiles and years of forced conversations, she was seething with animosity towards me. It was totally unprovoked. And it was not in my head.

The cause, I would later come to find out, was because four years before I had posted an article on Facebook about the devastation big families cause the environment. I didn’t say anything damning. I just posted the article with a response that “this is why I will only have one kid.” Obviously, I didn’t only have one kid, so that logic flew out the window. But it was just a silly article I chose to share years ago. One that held very little value over my life, but one that she saw as a personal attack to her family of seven and, therefore, felt the need to cause my destruction.

I always felt the sense of something being “off.” I knew, for whatever reason, that she didn’t like me. Not really. But I was okay with it. It bugged me. I didn’t understand it. But, I dealt with it. That was, until the veneer came off and her reasoning for disliking me bled over into her reasoning others to do the same.

Under hushed tones, I know she whispered about how my “sad little career” was a joke in comparison with her own, thriving business. I discovered how she had adopted some of my friends as her new “besties” and asked them pointed questions about how they could feel comfortable having an atheist (meaning me) influencing their children during play dates. To my best knowledge, I had held very little impact influencing anyone to do anything…but that was beside the point.

I started to feel sorry for her, how insecure she must be, how lonely – until I realized that I was the one! Insecure. Lonely. A loner. And I had always been. Because of people like her. It was her very ilk which had marked me from the start, put me in my box, and left me there like a prisoner. For my entire life.

Schoolyard drama had never ended. It had just shifted. Grown. Increased in its value in my life. Perhaps in all other lives. It was all the same as it had ever been. And, no matter how much older I got, not a darn thing would change that fact. Worse still was the fact that I was passing it along to my own children to repeat and rediscover. A family of loners. Alone, again. Naturally.

So, now that I watch my daughter, in all of her social experiments (some floundering, some faltering), I worry about the thing that plagued me more than bad hair and orthodontic halitosis: the unrequited friendship. It is the sure-fired fast track path to becoming a loner. And loners are easy fodder for bullies.

When I was a kid, I remember always wanting to be friends with people who were not quite as interested in me as I was with them. There was never an equal footing and, as a result, the ones I considered to be my best friends were people who only regarded of me as “okay.” Sadly, sometimes, I see this path coming along the horizon with my daughter. So, my new goal, as any parent’s would be, is to nip this in the bud.

There have been times when she comes home in tears after being excluded from a game or told about a birthday party to which she was not invited. In those moments, I coach her as fervently as I coach that hurt little girl in dusty Keds, the one I used to be.

Simply, to both wounded children, I explain that these things happen. People get left out. But it doesn’t diminish the worth of the outsider. The outsider just has to harness this feeling and treat others better than they were treated. They need to learn to dance to their own songs and sing to their own rhythm. They need to bask in the beauty of silence and live with the knowledge that observation makes them kings. And, more importantly than any other lesson, they need know that, though life isn’t fair, it can be just.

Cookies will make everyone fat. Mascara, after enough tears, will run. And mean people will lose friends. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But in the end, it is far better to be forgotten in the crowd than remembered as an asshole.

I cling to that truth. The smaller version of myself clings to it. And, hopefully, if I have any influence at all, my daughter will cling to these words as well, whether she follows my dusty loner’s path or that of her more clown-like father!

I Am The Infected: Breaking The Silence Behind Pinworms


biohazard

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.

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!