There are many occasions when we question our abilities and decisions as parents, even when we know we’re being silly. Do I push too hard; am I not pushing enough? Do I let my children eat too little; do I let them eat too much? Am I giving them too much time on their own; am I suffocating them by not letting them have more time on their own? Would they be healthier if I’d done x; would they be healthier if I hadn’t done x? And on and on.
I know that none of these things is worth worrying about too much, and I usually keep the fretting under control. It’s funny, though, this year my normally very healthy kids have been unusually sick. Everything seems to have happened: ear infection, foot infection, strep throat, norovirus, colds, flu, fevers, coughs, sprains, eye irritation. It’s gotten so that when I call the school in the morning to say that one of the children will be absent, I start with “It’s me again.” I jokingly wonder if child-protective services will come knocking to check out conditions in our home. The defensive mother in me just has to add here that, yes, we do wash our hands frequently, cough into our arms, eat healthy foods, and get plenty of sleep. Although I’m sure my parenting has little to do with their getting sick, a tiny sense of maternal guilt does push its way in sometimes.
Nothing, however, prepared me for the feeling of “bad mom” I experienced when both my children got head lice last week. I’d taken my son to his favorite hairdresser to consult on a new style. During these salon visits I keep my distance and let him have time to consult independently with the beautiful, young stylist. He seems to enjoy chatting with her and trusts her opinion. But when I went to pay, she whispered that she thought he might have head lice, that she’d found a dead one in his hair. I was embarrassed and defensive and told her that she must have been mistaken by his flakey scalp. After all, I volunteer at the kids’ school to do head lice checks a few times a year. I’ve checked hundreds of heads and know what to look for.
Except in my own kids. How could I have missed them? The tiny, brown sort of sesame-seed-looking eggs blended in perfectly with my son’s sandy hair. His hair is abundant, thick, and with multiple chaotic, swirling parts. The live insects were hiding just out of sight. Then I checked my daughter’s waist-length brown hair...they’d found her too. We spent the weekend treating hair, washing bedding, putting stuffies into plastic bags for a two-week quarantine in the basement, combing and picking nits. The first couple of combing session took hours to thoroughly check both kids. However, the biologists in us found it all very interesting in a strange sort of way. We had a microscope set up so we could get good looks at all the life stages. Nit-picking seemed to come naturally, like something our ancestors must have done eons ago.
What kind of mother lets her kids go around with breeding bugs in their hair? Intellectually I know that catching head lice in a crowded school is like catching a cold. I went back to the hairdresser a few days later with a note of apology, plus an additional thank-you tip. As I handed her the card, she laughed, saying that I’d taken her diagnosis very well. “It happens all the time, and most people freak out,” she said. Seeing that she didn’t view me as an irresponsible mother made me feel a little better. Maybe the big tip put me back in her good graces. As long as my son is allowed to go back again for his Justin Bieber hairdo, that’s all that matters.