Monday, October 14, 2013

Parenting trials only seem like crises without end

From Friday's Briefing:

There are trials that no parents escape. Teething. Potty training. Meltdowns.
Then there are trials reserved for a few. Rotavirus. Broken bones. Night terrors.
While in the midst of any one of these trials, you might feel certain that these moments will never, ever cease.
You might imagine your baby will be cranky until age 18, constantly gnawing, drooling and sobbing with unrelenting pain caused by erupting teeth.
You can’t even begin to fathom a day during which you aren’t on guard for accidents, when you’re not carrying a full change of toddler clothes, and when you’re not constantly monitoring your child’s facial expressions and wiggly-ness for signs of bathroom urgency.
In the throes of a stomach virus, you’re absolutely certain that no one in the house will ever eat solid food again, which is ideal because you’ve spent all your grocery money on laundry detergent and disinfectant.
And then, suddenly, you emerge from whatever childhood-induced haze kept you prisoner, and typical life resumes.
We at the Damm house have just stepped out of one of the lousiest of hazes. We have escaped from the dreaded clutches of lice.
The whole experience makes me even more thankful for the first 12, lice-free years of my parenting life. Because living with them is truly miserable.
First, there’s the treatment, which includes dousing your child’s head with a bottle of lice-killing shampoo, otherwise known as pesticide. This is no easy pill to swallow when you’ve devoted much of your parenting career to shielding your children from harmful chemicals.
As your traumatized child — who can’t bear the thought of God’s living creatures dying on her head — sits perched on the edge of the bathtub, you watch the clock, waiting for 10 minutes exactly (and no longer) to pass.
When the bugs are close to dead, it’s time to rinse the shampoo.
What emerges is a tangly mess o’ hair that must be meticulously combed with a fine-toothed, metal comb — every single strand, from scalp to end — in a futile effort to remove eggs.
The work, though, is far from over.
You vacuum like a mad woman. You toss hairbrushes and combs.
You strip the beds and wash everything in hot water. You bag up every pillow and stuffed animal, sentencing them to a minimum two weeks of solitary confinement.
You stop occasionally to administer hugs and offer reassuring phrases such as, “Lice actually prefer clean hair” and “It’s no more shameful than catching a cold.”
You constantly resist the urge to scratch your own head, which, though cleared by the school nurse, is suspiciously itchy all the time now.
You wash more towels and sheets than you’ve washed since the Great Rotavirus Attack of 2002. You give up actually folding, instead creating the largest laundry mountain in your family’s history.
When a child needs yet another clean towel or pillowcase, you direct that child to Laundry Mountain. You pray for no avalanches.
Two or three times a day, possibly every day for the rest of your life, you inspect scalps for eggs. You have a metal comb for each child, and after every use, you soak it in boiling water for at least 10 minutes.
Some of those eggs are resistant to the metal comb, so you also investigate by hand. Every single strand.
And then, seven to 10 days after the initial chemical dousing, you re-treat in an effort to keep the lice at bay.
By this time, your children are veterans with all the manhandling of their hair. They sit patiently. They anticipate your movements. They find humor in the experience.
You spy no eggs.
You put away the metal combs. You’re on the verge of setting pillows and stuffed animals free.
You realize that the Infamous Lice Incident of 2013 won’t endure forever.
You celebrate by taking the tiniest nap — just before conquering Laundry Mountain.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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