I dreaded this for years. Dreaded the discovery of lice in my boys' hair, dreaded the laundry and the shampooing and the combing and the panic of it all. Dreaded the endlessness, dreaded keeping them home from school, dreaded the discomfort, dreaded my shame.
When it happened, I flooded with all the dread, my mind gasping among sheets and pillows and special shampoos. I googled lice and I blogged lice and I read horror stories: weekly nit-pickings for a foster child, desperate souls who'd tried everything before the silver bullet (two bottles of original flavor Listerine, or olive oil and a shower cap, or Cetaphil lathered, blow-dried and left overnight, or Lice MD and a haircut), maternal exhaustion. When I found lice I did not just find a few but an infestation, creeping and crawling and egg-laying all over my eldest son's head and (as I'd learn soon) over the rest of the family, too.
Of course there was discomfort; for days and even weeks, the scratching at the back of the head was so normal I forgot -- until met with another, lice-averse human -- that I should be ashamed. Of course there was laundry; daily strippings and hot-water washes until I became weary of such things, out of laundry soap, disgusted with my energy use. But I was surprised by the zen of the process.
After all my research and my mouthwash-scented dousing, I discovered only one best practice: a stool and a comb and a head before me. One boy at a time through the morning, through the middle of the day, I sat near their chair or together with them on the couch and, hair by hair, gently lifted and combed and pulled out lice and their eggs. I would discover clusters, at the base of the neck or the back of the head or over ears, and I would exclaim, and Everett would say, "oh, you should write about that!" to share my knowledge, or Monroe would wake up in the night itching and crying and would calm when he could find his words and ask for me to "get the hice out" of his hair.
And there I would sit, in the day or the late-night, with a child's head in my lap or against my shoulder, talking quietly and grooming and only, only listening and ministering to that one little boy. And I remembered brushing and braiding hair, the camaraderie and the care, the quiet times during which the stillness was broken only by reminders to keep one's head still, to lift chins, to turn cheeks. My juvenile primates and I were engaging in a ritual rarely entered into between mother and son; in many ways, I know my boys need this closeness, this ritualism, this quiet communion of hands and hair.
And so I let out my breath of shame and breathed in sweet closeness. I let my shoulders fall, fall, fall; breathed out concern and, slowly, took in a breath of competence. I know what to do: seek out, find, pick, destroy. Make clear these boys' scalps. Give time in abundance in the quietest, the simplest of conversations. Open my eyes and ears; listen, see, groom, take care.