Three Gifts of the Father.

By the time I became coherent and realized that, in fact, I had just had surgery and wasn’t really playing with random children at the beach, I was in my hospital room with Brian by my side. Everyone had kissed me goodbye and returned home, I was in a ton of pain, thirsty and hungry. It must have been the drugs because I was suddenly concerned about a white bag sitting on the counter.

“What’s that?” I grumbled.

“Your dad bought you a few things while you were in surgery.”

I motioned for him to bring me the bag. I lifted my bed up, focused, and watched as Brian showed me what was inside. The bag contained three gifts: a square, a stone, and a scarf.

A Square.

It was a flat, squared-shaped magnet, colored white and aqua that read, “Cancer Sucks. That is All.” Nothing speaks a greater truth. No matter where in your body or what kind, cancer sucks. It shakes your foundation and unsettles your soul. It is a logistical pain in the ass. It is very expensive. It’s scary. While I have no control over what cancer is or does, I can control the way I react to it or the way I deal with it. Some days I say this to myself and it helps; I mean it and believe it. Other days I laugh and laugh at myself, saying instead, what-the-fuck-ever sista; this shit sucks. Either way, it’s ok.

A Stone.

It was a polished white oval with gold script lettering that read, “Celebrate Life.” I have found there is no better way to do this than to sing at the top of my lungs along with Toto. I found so much joy signing ‘Africa’ the other day, tears actually ran down my face. I don’t know if it’s because I love the song so much or that I am so incredibly thankful that I didn’t lose my voice after surgery. When faced with the possibility of loosing it, having a voice really is something to celebrate. I could have also been just really excited to finally be alone in my car. I’ve celebrated by saying ‘yes’ to almost everything lately. Yes to staying up late, yes to new shoes, yes to cookies for breakfast, and yes to TV binges both for me and the kids. All of which is okay. Life really is great and so much of it is worth celebrating. As much as cancer does totally suck, it could be so, so much worse.

A Scarf.

There were actually two scarves, one hot pink and one aqua. We had planned a beach vacation prior to my diagnosis and were leaving 10 days after surgery. My surgeon gave me the okay to go but only if I made sure the scar was completely covered, protected from sun and water. I cannot think of a better way to accessorize a bathing suit in the middle of the summer than with a scarf.

I was nervous about the trip for a multitude of reasons but despite my worries, I found that burying your feet in the sand really does have therapeutic properties. Walking along the surf is often exactly what the doctor ordered. Laughing with your family while teaching your children the game of spoons (a game that has a very long history in our family) is incredibly good for the soul. Watching your daughter win the spoons championship is the icing on the cake! Or in this case, the cream on the pie. I had a slice of key lime pie twice a day, every day of which I do believe had a positive effect on my overall healing. Our Lady of Emotional Eating, pray for us. 

I wore those scarves everyday. There is no doubt people thought I was totally nuts. Picture it: black and white mod one piece, large brim black hat, and a hot pink scarf. If that isn’t the image of a high maintenance weirdo, I don’t know what is. Truthfully, if I had even one shit to spare, I still would not have given it. I wore those scarves with pride and let my flag fly. Be weird. That’s okay, too.

I discovered that my days were very much like the beach waves – some good, some not so great, some perfect. The important thing wasn’t so much the quality of the day, but that the water was continually flowing. Some days I didn’t crack a smile until 10am and other days I woke up laughing. The best thing I could do was give myself space to feel however or whatever I was feeling that day. An exercise in peace and patience….even now at home. Either way, good days or bad, it’s okay.

These three gifts turned out to be a true reflection about life for me right now. We are all going to have times that suck. There may be days, weeks, or months that suck, and it may be really awful, but no matter what, hold on to the promise that it will get better.  It will. Remember that there is always something to celebrate. Even the tiniest, smallest thing can be celebrated. Sing in the car. Laugh with your kids. Buy yourself the shoes. Have a cookie for breakfast. Let your flag fly. Be you. Be the best you, you can be no matter what. All of it is so totally, and completely okay.

 

Just Ask.

So, I’m pretty sure you have figured out by now that I didn’t die. Thank the good Lord because that would have sucked so terribly bad. The days leading up to surgery were filled with stress and anxiety. To fix that, I decided to clean my house from top to bottom – steamed bathroom floors, cleaned windows inside and out, and washed basically everything in the house that was made of fabric. I can’t imagine how bad the cleaning tirade would have been had I not had the Xanax to keep my feet on the ground.

While stress and anxiety were completely expected, what was completely unexpected was my willingness to ask for help. How in the hell that happened, I have no idea. Look, I will be brutally honest, I make no effort to hide the fact that I’m a kick-ass working mother of two and wife who has all of her shit together. I mean, aren’t we all? The absolute last thing I need is help. No thank you, I’m fine. F-I-N-E. Right? F-I-N-E.

Well, maybe I don’t need help on a random Thursday around 10am but after a cancer diagnosis and pending surgery, more than likely, I do need help. In a big way, actually. Asking for it wasn’t something I normally did or necessarily liked to do. At all. But in this situation, there really wasn’t an option.

I first asked for help when I called that awesome receptionist at the Baton Rouge Clinic. I so wish I had asked for her name because she needed to be recognized. That woman was a true-to-form rock star. I’m still amazed that I did it but I actually accepted food from total strangers! Friends from church organized dinner for my family for over ten days. Looking back, I don’t know what I would have done without these gracious people feeding my family day after day.

I needed someone to watch my kids. All day. On a Wednesday. Throughout all of this my brother’s wife had said repeatedly to me that she’d help in any way. She offered to watch my kids numerous times so I took her up on her offer. I hated making the request – it felt like so much to ask! She immediately assured me that she would be there, just for me to tell her what time to show up.

The requests for help continued. I need ice chips. Please may I have something for the pain? Mom, can you stay at my house another night? Please can someone help me to the bathroom? What about something solid, like something that I can actually chew. Can someone please make that happen? None of this was within my comfort zone but I focused on my family – our children. If I didn’t ask for help now, I would not be able to help them later. It was for my own physical and spiritual good.

I can only blame it on the pain meds but I took this picture the morning after surgery:

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I call it my ‘proof of life’ photo. I survived the surgery and lived to tell about it. I never needed that emergency trach that sat ominously next to my bed, with a label “DO NOT REMOVE FROM ROOM!” I asked for help a million times and I didn’t implode. I showed the world that I couldn’t do this alone and not a single person pointed or laughed. It’s a good thing because I’m fairly certain that my requests for help will continue. I’m still not sure how to process what lies ahead.

Thyrogen…injections…levels…scans…levels…isolation…radioactive…ablation…

What I can process, though is the love that I see and feel around me. I can process how I much I love my kids. I can process how I feel about my husband who has been an absolute steadfast rock-of-life throughout all of this. (The next time any of you see Brian, please be sure to give him a high-five or a hug, or whatever you deem appropriate because the man has been AMAZING.) I can also process the fact that I’m ready and willing to do anything and everything to get well and be healthy, even if it means asking for help.

Truly, from the bottom of my heart, thanks for all of the help. xoxo

 

 

Love in Action.

We say it all of the time:

“I love you.”

“I love her.”

“I’m in love.”

Years ago before I was married my mother gave me some powerful advice about love. “Be Missouri. Make sure they show you.” She reminded me that the words are really easy to say, but it’s the actions that count. Love is a verb.

As mothers, it’s easy for us to love our babies and children. We cradle them, gently sing to them, rock them, prepare meals for them, engage them continually reinforcing our actions of love. We hug them, we listen, we pack lunch, we make them laugh. We show them each day how we love them.  I honestly haven’t thought that much about how this is expressed between adults. Romantic love, well that’s easy. What about ordinary, everyday love?

We see the true face of humanity; the wonderous good and dismally bad, within the space of two life changing experiences: 1) winning the powerball, and 2) a cancer diagnosis. I’ve only had the pleasure of experiencing one of these experiences and it is through this that I have witnessed love as an action and it’s beyond anything I could have ever imagined.

Love is stopping me in the hall to ask how I’m doing and standing there long enough to listen to the entire, oddly crafted, winding answer. Love is sending a hand written note with words of support and encouragement. Love is praying with me. Love is sitting with me, crying alongside me while I worry out loud of the possibility of death. Love is laughing while hugging me and exclaiming, “But you’re not going to die!” Love is beautiful hand-made pajamas. Love is offering to watch my children and taking off work to actually do it. Love is calling daily and simply asking how I’m feeling. Love is reminding me that I am never alone. Love is hot food waiting at my door.

I don’t think I have ever witnessed a greater expression of compassion, love, and humanity as I have in the past few weeks. On the eve of my surgery, I don’t think I’ve ever seen love in such full and complete action. I feel it. Brian feels it. Our children feel it.

My deepest and most sincere gratitude to everyone who has reached out and truly loved our family.

Peace out! See you on the flip side…

xoxo

When Our Pediatrician Treated Me.

My son is four. He is almost always happy and has the most infectious laugh. He loves to laugh, too. He’s affectionate and easily expresses his feelings; especially his love for me. For the past few nights he has not been himself. It’s like a switch right around bedtime – suddenly out of sorts, cranky, downright confrontational. To call bedtime a struggle would be an understatement. He doesn’t want to sleep because, “sleep is boring!” He won’t stay in his bed or room, engages in a standoff with me in the hallway, crying when I walk away. I know behavior, I know best practice and I applied all strategies. I offered hugs and love neither of which he wanted. I tried to ignore the behavior which only led to him attempting hand stands in the dark almost taking down my table lamp. He wanted mommy, then daddy, then mommy, then daddy, ad nauseam….

This afternoon Brian suggested we bring him to the doctor to maybe check his ears. I’m usually not that quick to make an appointment especially when there is really no sign of anything being wrong with him. But, we have had a long history of ear issues and he is known to have ear infections without typical symptoms. So with no hesitation I opened the app on my phone and took the last available appointment. Who in the world makes and appointment for 4:50pm on a rainy Thursday for a reasonably healthy child? Me.

She looks in his ears. Fine. She checks his throat. Fine. Tummy is great, too. She asks him some questions about what’s been going on at night and if he’s possibly sad, angry maybe, scared, or even just really, really tired. Of course his answer to all of her questions is ‘no.’ He’s super! I shift uncomfortably in my chair because I’m starting to feel embarrassed for taking up our doctor’s time.

This makes zero sense for me being here.

My throat tightens.My eyes start to burn.

She looks directly at me and asks, “How are you?”

Tears begin to stream down my face. She casually, yet swiftly ushers my son out the door and has him join the nurses to look through stickers and have a sucker.

The truth is I’m not ok. On May 12th during my annual exam my gynecologist found a lump in my neck. On May 18th I had an ultra sound. On May 20th I found out I have a large, dominant, solid mass in my thyroid. On June 1st I had my first appointment with my endocrinologist. On June 9th I will have a biopsy.

My words and tears fell freely as she listened. She offered me tissues and asked good questions. She gave me advice, both as a doctor and a mother. I felt overwhelming guilt; realizing instantly that William was responding to my current state of stress and anxiety. Of course I try to hide it but either I’m a horrible liar or my kid is highly intuitive. I’m fairly sure it’s both. She reminded me not to take on unnecessary guilt. She reassured me that no matter the outcome, I will be ok. William will be ok. We all will be ok. It was like a good, honest conversation with a friend that I desperately needed, only with a $25 co-pay.

It’s no surprise he’s affected. My current state is fragile. Sometimes tense. Often preoccupied. Worry. Lots and lots of worry. I worry for them, though, not really for me. I am perfectly content with the idea of removing any body part that may be plotting harm. If my thyroid is trying to kill me, take the fucker out. Besides, you haven’t been doing a great job of keeping my hair smooth lately so you can suck it on the way out. But for them, for a million different reasons, my heart aches for them.

I’m working on it. I pray often. I try to keep busy. I adopt huge ass pianos. Which, by the way, turned out to be a terrific decision for our family. I stare obsessively at my kids which freaks them out and that make me laugh.

I’m human and far from perfect and admittedly I see that while my kids don’t know any of the specifics, this is all affecting them in unexpected ways. They are resilient and I pray that this time in our lives will soon be a distant memory that only I remember.

For now, I focus on gratitude. I’m thankful for my family, friends, and faith. I’m thankful for my husband. He is more than I could ever ask for or imagine in a partner. Today especially, I’m thankful for being 41 with a really great pediatrician.

xoxo

 

The Mouse Effect.

I can’t say exactly what time is was but I’m certain it was close to ten o’clock. I was tired. We had walked for close to an hour in a futile attempt to find a place that didn’t turn out to be what we hoped. All of that walking for nothing. It was hot. My kids were growing tired and I simply wanted to get back to my room to shower and sleep. Our bus was late. It seemed like everyone else in the entire park was getting picked up except for us. Where is our bus? Finally it arrived. I drop into a seat next to my mother. I’m holding my tired, sweaty son. It felt like we drove in circles for the first ten minutes. We make another stop and take on what felt like 50 new people. Now I’m sitting, still holding my tired and sweaty child but having to stare and the backside of a stranger. I’m sure this is a very nice and kind gentleman but I don’t relish the idea that I have to stare at his back pockets for the next 25 minutes. My lower back is on fire. All of the walking and carrying, bending and carrying I have done today is wreaking  havoc on my back. To improve matters, not only am I sweating, I am also slipping. I don’t know about you but apparently no one in Florida understands the concept of softening their water for visitors. Hard water coupled with hotel soap makes for one dry girl. The lotion I applied that morning is now causing my sweaty legs to become slippery. The hem of my sun dress is unfortunately folded far up under my thigh with no chance of ever retrieving it which means my sweaty and slippery thighs continue to slide across the seat. The act of keeping my thighs appropriately closed while also holding my tired and sweaty son who has now taken off his shoes and socks is becoming too much to bear. My inner thighs begin to cramp. It’s entirely too much and I cannot stand another single minute. I plop my son onto my mother’s lap and stand up, making my way to the center of the bus. Shaking my arms in the air I scream, “Get me off of this bus! You have driven for 15 minutes in one giant circle! We aren’t going anywhere! I am hot, tired, and hurting all over. Not to mention I have to stare at this man’s rear end and all you can do is drive us in a complete circle! I’m not having a magical day! I’m not having a magical day! I am not having a magical daaaaaaayyyy!!!

***

What happens next is a bit unclear…because of course it’s not true. As much as I wanted to stand up and scream I didn’t. I certainly didn’t want to end up being thrown into Disney jail or worse yet be forced to walk back to my resort. Aside from the tantrum, the situation is completely true. During this long ride home I looked at my mother and asked, “Kind of makes you want to stand up and scream, doesn’t it?” She laughed and agreed knowing it was totally true. We all wanted to stand up and scream. Thinking to myself on that long ride back to our resort it made me wonder, how is it possible that no one ever totally looses it at Disney?

Unless you go to Disney alone by yourself, it is work. If you bring along two kids ages six and (almost) three it’s serious work. Actually it’s more like manual labor. It’s barely even June and it’s hot. You walk, on average, six to eight miles in a day. Several times I was walking carrying my son. Other times, I was pushing both kids in an umbrella stroller made for one. Yes, that’s right, about 80 pounds of children piled into a stroller that should probably max out at about 35 pounds. I was asking a Chicco to do a Bob’s job in the hot sun walking past landscaping that had an odd smell of manure. So it was more like hauling small children through Haiti. Just the shear physicality of the trip, it seems, would make one go mad. At one point I remember wondering how it was possible that my underarm was sore. What about this odd bruise I have on my upper left calf muscle? I have no idea how and why I have these pains. Listen, I’m no athlete but I’m in pretty good shape and yet my body took a beating. Everyone takes a beating and yet no one looses their shit. I’m amazed. I watched this one family make their way into the Magic Kingdom: mom was holding one toddler, dad was pushing a double stroller which one child in it all while he had another child strapped to his chest. Kudos to them. If they are not collapsing at the end of the day I can only assume they are androids expertly disguised as humans.

We are put under, what would normally be oppressive conditions. We are hot, sweaty, dehydrated, and often hungry. We are pushing, carrying, or walking with our children for countless miles (often in the wrong direction) and yet no one seems stressed, panicked, or overly troubled. Let this happen in the mall and see how well things go. I would give it ten minutes before  there was a riot. It’s truly an enigma.

Have you ever been rammed in the Achilles by a hard plastic stroller wheel? It hurts. It’s a pain level similar to stepping on a Lego with bare feet. Somehow, though people get rammed by strollers all of the time and it seems as though they couldn’t care less. Here you are in a huge group of total strangers, often many from different countries speaking a variety of languages. Go ahead and accidentally ram into some guy from Bangladesh and he’s going to say something like, “Not a problem.” or “It’s ok, I’ve been there!” or “I understand, we have kids, too.” It makes zero sense. Give me ten minutes at any given Wal-Mart and I can find a handful of people ready to go fist-a-cufs because someone’s buggy is taking up too much room in the aisle. Does the mouse really have this kind of effect on us? Do we all just turn into the people we should be in our daily lives but aren’t?

My daughter is six and I have been talking with her about what I like to call ‘social movement etiquette.’ This involves things like, always walk to your right, allow passengers on an elevator to get off before barging in, and never, ever stand still at the top or bottom of a moving escalator. Apparently none of this applies in Disney but thankfully no one cares. At one point we were walking back for our mid day break on the right side of the sidewalk located on the right side of the park. It was unreal the mobs of people coming at us. But it’s totally fine – a mob of people will simply and instantly dissect itself to move around you and will instantly regroup once you are passed. Conversations will end mid-sentence and be picked right back up once you are out of the way. No one is upset by this either. It’s like everyone suddenly adopts a new way of scattered conversing as soon as they hop on board the Magical Express.

On that long bus ride home that night I remember thinking that Disney would be a great place to study. It seems like it would be a social scientist’s dream come true. If I ever had to write another dissertation I think I would find a way to study the human behavior at Disney. Why do we become so amenable? Why are we so willing to intentionally put ourselves under such physical and mental stress? As I think back to the trip we just had I think I know why.

It’s because our son is really just that excited to fly high in the air on Dumbo. It’s because our daughter thinks Goofy’s Barnstormer is ‘totally awesome!’ I’m still laughing that my family group of 9 had trouble figuring out how to evenly distribute ourselves into three groups to ride It’s a Small World! We laughed so hard. It’s because my son looked up at me while waiting to drive the race cars and said, “Mom, you my best friend.” It’s because where else can you sit under an umbrella and enjoy ice cream and strawberry pops and reminisce about meeting Minnie and Daisy IN PERSON! It’s watching your niece and nephew genuinely want to push their cousins in the stroller. It’s watching your son’s excitement and joy as he watches the steam train pull into the station. It’s seeing my mother’s joy that she was able to bring us all together for this trip. In short, it’s worth it. At the end of the day, it may be just a waffle but it’s a Mickey Mouse shaped waffle.

So yes, ram me with your stroller. It’s ok. I’ve been there. Walk aimlessly in the wrong direction for miles on end? We have totally done that! Even though I’m tired, I will happily carry my tired son simply because I can. Of course we will get back in line to ride again, because she’s totally worth it. We brought home so much from the trip – Olaf and Elsa t-shirts, stuffed Dumbo, dinosaurs, and freshly cracked geodes. (Little do they know but a Disney steam train and a Doc McStuffins doctors kit is on the way to our house.) I’m thinking, though that it may be a good idea to bring a little something else home with us – the patience, understanding, and willingness to always go the extra mile that somehow magically happens when you hop on board. Good thing I kept my magic band.

Happy Mothering!

Melanie

Let Them Eat Cake.

Let me start by creating a visual for you:

I’m wearing a set of flannel, black and white toile pajamas (with pink trim), collar up of course. My short hair is pushed back with one of Audrey’s pink, yellow, and green floral emmie j headbands so most of it is sticking straight up. I have a black spatula in my right hand. My left, if I remember correctly is waiving wildly in the air.

“Fine, then don’t eat. Go hungry! Better yet, go right into the kitchen and help yourself to whatever your little heart desires. Have cookies! Have Doritos for breakfast! Go right ahead; I truly don’t care anymore.”

Yes indeed one of my finer moments of motherhood, right here in black and white for all of you to see. Reminds me of the time when she had the horrible skin virus molluscum. Please take note: if your child has this condition, do not let your child swim, bathe, share a donut, or even talk on the phone with anyone, ever until the condition is completely gone. It is so highly contagious and a royal pain in the ass to deal with. I had to treat one of the bumps and she didn’t want me to touch it. I was over her fear and worry about the damn thing and I just wanted to get the medicine and be done with it. It was late. I had reached my limit. At her last tear-filled sob that she was afraid it might hurt, I blurted out, “Well fine, then. Let them spread all over your little body.”

The good news is that there has been at least a full year between these two outbursts of fine mothering quality. It doesn’t happen that often but boy when it does…

So the issue now is all about food and my child’s current revolt against anything I cook. I. Am. Over. It. I make no claims to be Barefoot Contessa, but I serve my family healthy, well prepared meals. I use only organic chicken. I make my spaghetti sauce from scratch. I make mashed potatoes from actual potatoes. I have never served a frozen meatball in my life! I plan meals that are supposed to be relatively kid friendly. A few weeks ago I made lasagna pasta which consisted of a kid’s holy trinity – meat, noodles, and cheese. I served this delight only to watch both of my ungrateful children stare blankly at their bowls. Whining ensued.

Over this past weekend I served red beans and rice, of which Audrey pushed around in her bowl, took two bites and declared she was finished. The next day I made a gumbo, which I can say with certainty is good. Very good. I cook a pot of gumbo for no less than five hours. It was met with an apathetic side of meah. I should have known better but I had big plans for Sunday morning. I was making pancakes – from scratch! I found this delish recipe that consisted of whole wheat flour, oats, honey, and buttermilk. Yes, that’s right, I made my own buttermilk. They were crusty golden brown and as delicious as expected.

I have never heard so much unfounded complaining in my life. I was informed that they looked too lumpy, they felt funny when picked up with the fork, and yes, there was a concern that they weren’t cooked long enough. I thought I would roll my eyeballs right out of my head.

This brings us to the visual of me standing in the den, spatula in hand, yelling something about either going hungry or eating Skittles for breakfast. I truly didn’t care.

Isn’t it true that no good deed goes unpunished? 

I know that as a mother, I am the nutritional gatekeeper for my children. The choices I make daily about what to serve them impacts their lives. I think this is a pretty big responsibility! Our food choices today will have an impact on how they eat as adults. Look, I know how to pick my battles and I truly am flexible. I know that nothing is perfect. In our home, nothing is off-limits. My kids have access to anything as long as it is in moderation. No one ever has to clean their plate. You eat until you are full. (Of course, you can’t just look at the plate and declare your fullness.) We don’t use food to take care of emotional issues. You have to try something at least once. And lastly, the one I am having the hardest time with, you have to eat what I serve you. I am a mother, not a short order cook! This idea of turning away my prepared meals in exchange for cereal, raisin toast, or a PB&J has got to stop.

Am I the only person on the planet this happens to? I know that can’t possibly be true. I do think I could possibly be the only one screaming in pajamas wielding a spatula, though. I am open to any and all suggestions! Truly, though, I do know what I have to do. I have to be a mother. I have to draw a hard line and actually do what I always say to myself that I’m going to do. I truly do have wonderful children and I love them dearly. I’m not an idiot, though. I realize that my daughter is smart enough to bargain her way out of meal she’d rather not eat. Which is where the mothering comes in. Yes, oh yes, the mothering. It always comes down to the mothering.

Happy Mothering,

Melanie

 

It Moved…

This holiday season has been nothing short of eventful. I have made several realizations about the holidays in general that I will probably save for another post since what recently happened to our household deserves a post all to itself. While what I have to report to you may make you feel a bit uncomfortable, I think the lessons that I have learned may come in handy to you, although I truly do hope you are spared…

So let’s see, the Monday before Christmas Audrey came home from school and said that her throat was hurting. She has been battling allergies for a few days so before I rushed her to the after hours clinic I continued with Zyrtec and added Tylenol. By late that evening she was running a fever and complaining that her throat was stinging. I knew we would be at the doctor that morning. Brian was out-of-town so of course I let her sleep with me. We were up just about every two hours with chills, coughing, and just plain discomfort. I held her close and tried my best to comfort her through the night. We made it to the doctor that morning and were diagnosed with strep throat and an upper respiratory infection that required breathing treatments.

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You can take one look at her and see just how badly she feels. This contraption had to be administered to her four times a day. She was such a trooper which was a good thing considering what was ahead of us…

Later that afternoon I received a text from William’s teacher indicating that he was unusually fussy when he woke up from his nap. Of course. There is no way I will have only one sick child when Brian is out-of-town. I scooped him up to find his right ear had essentially exploded indicating an ear infection. I would normally just start his ear drops but with Audrey’s respiratory issue I wanted him looked at. There we were, back at the same office the same day. William checked out fine but was put on antibiotics just to be sure. I’m home that afternoon to find my kitchen littered with prescription bags, a brand new nebulizer with about sixteen different parts – masks, tubing, straw-like contraptions that I have no idea their use, Zyrtec, Motrin, and enough pink antibiotic liquid to feed a small family. I can totally do this, just take one task at a time. And don’t forget to breathe…oh, and be very nice and loving to your children. Somehow I managed to get everyone medicated, treated, fed, bathed, and in bed by a reasonable hour. Brian came home and we all crashed for an early night.

The next morning Audrey woke up with a red rash along the back of her neck. She said it itched. I was slightly concerned because she is allergic to Keflex which is a distant cousin to the basic Amoxicillin which she is taking but she’s never had a reaction to it before. For the next two days we watched her rash and I told several people about it. “She’s got this red rash along the back of her neck…along her hairline…behind her ears.” Several family members, two nurses, one doctor, multiple friends and strangely no one made any connection about this red rash along her hairline expect that it could be related to the medication. I interrupted a lunch date with a friend to take a call from the nurse explaining to her about this odd rash that only exists on this one area of her body. How many times did I hear myself say it and still, despite what I consider my relatively keen sense of awareness, made no other consideration expect that my child is inexplicably red and itchy along her hairline?? Finally, Friday morning as my precious, sweet angel of a child sat at the breakfast table scratching her head, Brian made the winning connection. “Melanie, have we checked her for lice?” I was clearly in complete denial at the moment because I answered him without hesitation, “She does not have lice. I just washed her hair (in my tub of course) last night.” To appease him I half heartedly looked at her hair and saw what I wanted to believe was dandruff. “See, those white spots – that’s from the leave-in conditioner. She doesn’t have lice.” Brian pulled her up onto his lap in the sunlight and began to investigate. “It’s moving.” I thought I was going to faint. “What do you mean ‘it’s moving?'” He looked up from her beautiful curly hair. “She has lice, Mel. They are moving.”

Apparently all lice-hell broke loose at that very moment. We had to calmly break the news to her and grasp the idea that we are now under siege. I tried to stay calm but it’s really hard to do when you see these bugs crawling around in your child’s hair. (And falling onto her jammies) You are overwhelmed by disgust and sympathy for your precious innocent child. Keeping my ‘oh my Gods’ to a minimum we broke the news to her and explained what was happening. She did not take it very well at first. What else is there to do while you are waiting for the doctor to call you back? Give her a Christmas present! Of course! To make up for what was going to be a challenging journey, we let her open her aquarium.

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After she settled down I literally whirled into action. As a precautionary measure everyone was getting treated. Brian and I did not have it although I swore I did. Confession – I live with an itchy scalp. I have for years. So you can imagine every itch and scratch I had I just knew it was lice. At one point we were in our backyard and Brian was checking my hair (at my fiftieth request) while I was checking Audrey’s hair. “We look like a bunch of monkeys.” I had to agree with him. Of course I used the medication to treat us but I also knew of a home remedy that I was certainly using. Basically you suffocate the lice and the eggs. I coated our hair with a cream cleanser and covered up with a shower cap. One thing you need to know is that lice can live submerged under water for up to six hours! If you don’t leave the cap on for at least that long it will not work. As a family, we stayed in our shower caps for eight hours. We took a walk in them, played outside in them, and Brian even went to pick up dinner in his! God I’m so lucky to have him! Solidarity was our best support for Audrey! Need I say more?

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While we spent the day pretending to be getting perms, I began the work of de-lousing my home. Another thing you need to know about lice: they cannot jump or fly. The only way lice can move is from hair to hair. Knowing this is helpful to keep you from totally loosing your shit. I know the fear we all have. You cannot help but imagine yourself in bed trying to sleep and you are convinced that the lice are planning their attack on you. You are certain they are using each of their six tiny legs crawling up your bedskirt, traversing over down, linen, and cotton just to plant themselves and three hundred of their tiny eggs into your helpless, unsuspecting scalp. In reality, that’s just not the case. It simply doesn’t work that way.

As a mother, I find comfort in being able to control things, like schedules and laundry. I didn’t think I could control lice, though. Feeling helpless is how things can quickly turn bad. I kept reminding myself that the lice needs my kid’s scalp to live and as long as I limit access then I think we can make some headway. I stripped all of the beds. I remember quickly how much time Audrey had spent in my bed during the week. I shuttered at the thought but remembered what the salesman told us about the tempurpedic material – it is resistant to bed bugs! I rationalized that lice and bed bugs certainly have to be akin, mostly to make myself feel better. If you encounter lice in your home you will be faced with a dilemma. The pharmacist will want you to purchase a spray for all of your soft surfaces like carpet and pillows. Believe me, I bought the stuff and hesitantly sprayed the rug in the hallway. I was horrified at the smell alone! I stood there in Audrey’s doorway and contemplated spraying her carpet with this toxic substance. It’s a pesticide for crapsake! One more thing you need to know about lice: they can only survive on the scalp. If they are not on the scalp, they will only last about 20 hours, then they die. So that’s an easy decision – either spray my child’s carpet with a toxic pesticide that I have no clue what will do to the air quality in my house OR I leave the lice to die in the carpet. My choice? Let the fuckers starve to death. Besides, I knew I was going to vacuum the entire house anyway. Whatever louse is left behind will surely die. I am bigger and smarter than these pests and I will not let them win.

The ultimate key in winning the battle with lice is the dreaded nit-picking. Once you treat the hair, everything dies immediately. In a perfect world that would be the end of the cycle but unfortunately it’s not. Lice in general are clearly concerned with maintaining their species because they will lay about 300 eggs in your child’s hair. If you don’t get the eggs, they will soon hatch and you will be back at it from the beginning. I tried to warn Audrey before our first nit-picking session but clearly neither one of use knew exactly the enormity of the task ahead of us. I realized that my child has about three million hairs on her head and I have to inspect every single one of them. The first night of nit-picking lasted about three hours. She cried herself asleep on Brian’s lap. I was a total horror but my motivation was to eradicate this pest. My child’s tears were not going to deter me! I used a headlamp which I highly recommend and scissors. Even with the metal comb, pulling each one of those things out can be torturous for a child so I just said the hell with it – I’m cutting those suckers out! I was able to isolate each strand with a nit and snip it off at the base. Once into a rhythm things clipped along. Literally. I fully admit to being a bit frazzled during the next few days. I showered, but wore the same clothes. No time to fix my own hair, really. I may have looked like a mad woman but I was really just a woman on a mission. Don’t mess with this mother.

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We soon got the hang of it and after four nights we were basically done. One thing to keep in mind when nit-picking: Start with a different section of hair each session. You will ultimately tire and your vision will dull. You don’t want to slack in the same spot each time. Does that make sense? I am delighted to report that we were under control in less than a week. We went back to the doctor six days later and she basically declared her lice free! My advice to my friends is to stay clam, get a plan, and don’t listen to other people’s horror stories. Everyone wants to tell you about their cousin who had it in their house for six weeks. That does not have to be your reality!

Speaking of reality, when kids are little they often do what they know. Audrey’s experiences the week before Christmas certainly shaped the way she interacted with the white pony that Santa brought her:

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Oh what fun…

Happy Mothering!

Melanie