It’s October. I have two kids in elementary school. This means that I get uninterrupted time to work while they are in school, which is a huge boon. It also means that I have other responsibilities I don’t normally have in the summer, like making lunches in the morning, flurries of dates to manage for permission slips and costumes and field trips, and I have to adhere to a bus schedule that’s much earlier. I consider it a pretty fair trade off.
But then there are…extras. One of those extras is the constant low level radar scan for lice. We’ve never had lice in our house, so we’ve been spared, but I’m certainly not dumb enough to think we are above it, so I have to stay vigilant.
The other week I got a call from a lovely friend to tell me that they had found lice in her daughter’s hair and since our girls had been playing together, I probably wanted to take a look-see and make sure we weren’t affected. I just want to say how very grateful I am that she had the courage to make that phone call. Lots of people don’t because it’s too embarrassing or they’re too proud, or they can’t make the time, or whatever they decide to tell themselves, and then just silently pass on the plague. I’d like to think these furtive lice sharers walk through the halls of the school like Silas, the crazy albino monk in the Da Vinci Code, shooting lice from the corners of the school with (unregistered) lice guns. But I digress.
The call from my friend was essentially an APB that launched a 24 hour manhunt which included the purchase of a lice comb, physical head frisking, and random checkpoints. The checkpoints were impromptu and basically would ensue when I was walking past one of my children, my head started itching, and I would sidle next to him or her and start perusing his or her head for small movements and tiny white dots. Also included were panicked calls to insurance companies about whether or not they covered nitpicking (Seriously – that is really a thing! And I couldn’t tell you why, but for some reason in our part of the country the Eastern Europeans have got this particular market covered.)
I could feel myself spiraling into a a deep, dark cycle of neurosis looking for tiny creatures that may or may not be there. From my reading on essential oils, I knew that tea tree oil (really just a few drops each time we shampoo) is known to ward off the little critters, so in the execution of my clampdown, I decided this was going to be the first line of defense. But at this point I was so worked up, I decided it was time for more drastic application because we had confirmed reports. So I took the tea tree oil out and dropped about 8 drops, undiluted, along the hairline for both kids.
As soon as the third drop landed on my son’s head, he said, “Mom, is this the oil that the lice don’t like?”
“Well, I can understand. I don’t really like it either.”
“You’ll like it better than having lice.”
“Okay.” (Translation – I can tell you are past the point of no return, so I’d better just stand here while you anoint me.)
My daughter just stood quietly waiting in line for her turn. (She can read a room quicker than a speed reader going through Green Eggs and Ham.) She did voice her opinion by saying, “Mommy? I don’t really like the way it smells either.” Duly noted.
I then put the oil on my own head.
And we walked to the bus stop.
Insert elevator music.
About eight hours later, I got them off the bus, all smiles. My daughter said, “Mom, the smell of the oil got on the bus.” I looked at her, puzzled, not understanding.
“What do you mean it got on the bus? Did it get on the windows when you put your head against the window?”
Then my son piped in. “No, mom! As soon as we got on the bus, someone said, ‘WHAT IS THAT SMELL?!?!?’ and I said, ‘It’s US! It’s me and my sister! My mom doused us with tea tree oil, and it stinks!'”
I told my husband the story when he got home and he started laughing. “Ahh, tea tree oil. Just like tiger balm. INSTANT DE-FRIENDER.”
Tiger balm’s a lot more mainstream now, but back in the day, if you had immigrant Chinese parents and you got hurt, tiger balm was the go-to panacea. Kind of like Windex in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The thing is, if you grew up with tiger balm, you really didn’t think anything of it. I mean, you knew it smelled bad when your parents put it on, but you had no idea there were alternatives that didn’t smell at all. The worst thing was that you didn’t know other people were using all the alternatives (like ice), and that tiger balm smelled really weird, until you were outed. And the outing usually started with “What is that smell?” And then you would think, “What smell? I don’t smell anything out of the ordinary.” Until you slowly realized as the heads and noses were turning in your direction that the smell was you.
Luckily my kids didn’t lose any friends that day, probably because my son ‘fessed up right away. As far as I can tell they haven’t been ostracized. I’m also no longer dousing them with that intensity (I eventually did go with a few drops while washing the hair). But I am walking the beat, keeping an eye out for Silas. Those assassin monks are very tricky…