One pearl of wisdom I’ve learned since striking out on my own is that while divorce was a rather big, traumatic deal in my life, it seems it’s more often the little things that can really make or break my day. Tiny gestures of love from a child like an unexpected hug, acts of kindness from friends and family like when my father goes out of his way to help me around the house because he knows I’m on my own (and, despite my best efforts, not particularly great in the DIY area), and small victories like successfully getting to and from Target with young children – and back home in one piece.
It’s also no surprise that small things will throw me over the edge, the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Or, say, the creepy-crawly that nearly sent me to the loony bin about a week after I became a divorced single mom. I’m talking about lice, the gross, disgusting minuscule bugs that feed off of your scalp. Lice.
I remember it very clearly. I was at my desk at work, exhausted but elated after moving into my own place, gazing out the window. After nearly a week of painting, drilling, unpacking, washing and putting way too many nail holes in the wall where I didn’t need them, I was glad to be back at the office with a pen, not a paintbrush, in my hand. More to the point: after my marriage went kaput, I was glad to have moved out and to be moving on.
Then the phone rang. Our daycare center’s number popped up on the display. Oh, how my heart sank. I mean, c’mon — when does a call from daycare in the middle of a workday ever amount to anything good?
"Hi, Susan," the center director said. "I hate to tell you this, but we were combing your daughter’s hair and…well…she has lice."
I’m sure I squeaked out something semi-rational at hearing this, but I assure you that inside I was screaming in horror, picturing an army of insects pitching tents under the canopy of my daughter’s hair – luscious, thick hair, which, I might add, she inherited from her father.
"I’m sorry," she went on, "but you’ll need to pick her up; your son, too. And just to be safe, you should wash everything they’ve touched in your house."
Friends, the lice was bad enough, but it was the last part of what she said that prompted the first tear I had cried in weeks (okay, maybe days) to roll down my cheek. I hung up the phone, feeling my head begin to itch.
See, after spending 5 days getting everything ready and moved in, I had brought the kids over to my – our – new home the previous night. The kids had explored each room with great excitement, finishing their tour by rolling around on my bed. They were happy and so was I.
That is, until a tiny insect living the high life on my daughter’s scalp – plus our clothes, towels, toys, and the brand new crisp, white linens and pillows on my bed – moved in with us.
After picking up my quarantined children we went home and started the exorcism. I shampooed each of us once, then twice. When I frantically lathered up my hands again, my children began to wail, "But you just washed us, Mommy!"
"But it’s lice!" Don’t kids know anything?! This was war! And hysteria!
After a third shampooing, the kids ran and hid while I moved on to the rest of the house. Like a madwoman, I threw anything not bolted down into the washing machine. Stuffed animals, pajamas, sheets, towels, comforters, and pillows – all of the items I had removed from their brand-new zippered bags and washed only days before.
Twenty-four hours later, our house was sterile, our hair squeaky-clean. My children returned to daycare. I returned to work, tired but triumphant. I was gazing out my office window again, massaging my chapped, sore hands, and the phone rang. A call from God telling me to stop looking out the window and do some work? Nope, I wish. It was daycare.
Somehow I knew what they would say and they didn’t disappoint: lice.
This time, I didn’t cry. This time, I got mad.
The stuffed animals and sheets, combs and comforters went back into the scalding-hot water; the kids went back into the bath. This time, I decided to make one home not so warm and welcoming to its guests.
"We’re going to get your hair cut short," I told my daughter as we drove to the salon.
"’Cause I have lice?"
I remember glancing at her nervously in the rearview mirror. "Well, sort of, but no! You don’t have lice! They’re gone now, so let’s keep that our little secret, okay?"
Next thing I knew my daughter’s hair was falling in large chunks onto to the floor and I heard her tell the hairdresser, "I had bugs on my head, but Mommy got rid of them. It’s our secret."
To this day, the thought of that big-little episode of my newly divorced life makes me chuckle. And, knowing I can rid my house (and daughter) of a louse, I’m pretty sure I can do just about anything.