– Retreat day three

At 11 o’clock at night, there was still one more bit of writing to do. But I was tired and didn’t feel like it: no energy, physical or creative. Not much stamina. The fan in the window was the sound of sleeping, which is what I wanted to do. I said to self, at least write a sentence. So I wrote a few, and then I kept going, not even looking at the keyboard (I can touch type). This is that piece entirely, proofread only for spelling:

At first, it is repulsive. The knowledge that the heads of one’s children are teeming with bugs is something to stomach. After their showers and before a treatment, we together sit in their messy rooms, with dirty and discarded clothing on the floor around us. It’s easy to feel poor and afflicted. We bicker.

Lice make you pay attention. Inspect. Scrutinize. And you might not like what you see: wax in children’s ears, moles and bites on their heads, hairs in their noses, teeth tartar, chapped lips, and rings of summer’s grime around their necks. And you may tell yourself This is not my beautiful house! And you may tell yourself This is not my beautiful life!

Lice disrupt your routine and get you to miss work. Children stay home from school. After you soak and smear her head for what seems like the tenth time, you plunk little girl in front of the television and let her eat her lunch there, too. You sit, exhausted in mind though not really in body (you’re upper middle class, after all), so you flop in a chair and read an issue of People that you’ve already read. Brittney and Kevin are on the cover.

Now, if their children had lice, you know they’d hire someone to handle it. A former nurse or mother of grown children who prides herself on lice detection and eradication. The business has a cute name, like Lice Busters, and promises confidentiality. It costs $400 a head to delouse it, and you know they’re glad to pay it.

Why don’t you hire a professional nit-picker? They exist. You read about one in the New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” section. Into Google you type “lice picker professional Boston,” because that’s where you live. That search avenue fails.

So you call the pediatrician, and you hope she’ll give you a prescription for something strong the kids can take to kill the lice from the inside out. The doctor’s nurse calls back, and she advises you to treat the child with an over-the-counter preparation today, and then try the same preparation again in one week. “That should work,” she chirps.

“I’ve already done that! I want the drug fix!” you want to say, but you don’t. Sighing, you hang up. You’re pretty sure that you already know more about this health topic than the doc does. You’ve lived it. And, like a terminal cancer patient, you’ve turned over every stone for information on new treatments, alternative treatments, and risky ones too. You’re ready to offer your children to medical science: “Study them.” Do anything it takes. The smell of the insecticide in the drugstore lice lotion is driving you mad. You’ve stopped liking it.

The two other children arrive home from school. They join the little one in front of the television, and you ignore all three of them. In a couple of hours, it’ll be dinner time, and then, after that, inspection time. You know how that’ll end and you’re tired in advance. Shampooing, smearing, and then pinch after pinch after pinch after pinch. They’ll go to bed late. You’ll got to bed after you clean out the sink and throw the towels in a hot water wash. Your feet will ache.

In bed, you’ll forgive yourself. You don’t have to love taking care of them every minute of every day. You just have to do it.

Interesting how I switched from first person to second person and then kept going with it. During the day I had been thinking about how a lot of my lice essay deals with the meditative aspects of nit-picking and not much about the frustration. I read, too, a long mostly uninteresting newspaper feature about the local lice scourge and one of its moments stood out for me: the mother, going into her bedroom to cry, when she learns that her daughter is infested, again. I thought, condescendingly, well, surely it’s nothing to cry about. While I never cried when our children had lice (six, seven, eight times?), it made me weary to the bone. And maybe, as this almost freewrite suggests, pissed off, too.

(Third day’s word count? Way more than day two’s, plus another essay started. Momentum is a good thing.)

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