It was nearing five o’clock on a Friday, and I was looking forward to the weekend: soccer, errands, dinner with friends, the season premiere of Homeland. Then the phone rang. “Mommy?” my daughter said. Her voice sounded shaky. “What happened?” I asked. “I just got in a car accident,” she said. “I’m fine, but….” “Where are you? Do you need me to come down?” She did.
I arrived about the same time as the police. My daughter started to cry as soon as she saw me. She had lost control on a rain-slicked road, striking a parked car and a pickup truck traveling in the other direction. No one was hurt. But her 2004 Chevy Malibu, so proudly purchased a month earlier with her camp counselor earnings, sat crumpled on a bed of shattered glass, front bumper dangling and deflated airbags waving like white flags.
My heart broke for her, even through my irritation. What a waste: of money, of time, of freedom. Yet I felt oddly relieved–because she hadn’t been injured, of course, but also because she had just learned a critical lesson about her own vulnerability and the dangers of a wet road. It would make her a better driver for the rest of her life. Besides, I was secretly pleased that with her car out of commission, she’d be stuck at home with us.
But I didn’t realize just how fortuitous that would turn out to be until the next morning, when my my 10-year-old daughter was getting ready for her soccer game. She called me into the bathroom, where she was putting up her hair. “What’s this?” she asked, pointing at some tiny dark specks in the hair at her temples. I shrugged. “Dirt?”
“But it’s moving,” she said. “And kind of itchy.”
With mounting terror, I looked more closely. Then behind her ears. The nape of her neck. And finally, online, where Google Image confirmed it: we had lice. I groaned. We had almost gotten three kids through elementary school without ever contracting the dreaded parasites! Now we were the family everyone would shun. After a quick chat with the pediatrician, I headed for CVS–the one in the next town–and purchased the Nix “family pack” and a stainless steel nit comb, conveniently located in the “Warts & Lice” aisle.
My daughter, calm and stoic, followed the instructions on the shampoo package and then sat under a light so I could pick the nits out. “I don’t see any more!” I said after a few minutes. “Maybe we got them all?”
Her big sister wandered over for a look. “There’s one right THERE,” she said. “And there’s another.” I squinted, and even through my +1.50 readers, I could barely make out what looked like a half a poppy seed clinging to a strand of hair. A grain of sand would have dwarfed it. (Reason #127 not to have kids too late in life: you want your vision still sharp when you have to pick lice eggs out of their hair.) If you’ve ever had the misfortune of lice, you will know what I’m talking about; if you haven’t, never let your child near another child again! The prospect of finding and removing every last infinitesimal nit seemed utterly daunting, and highly unlikely.
But luckily, I had a secret weapon: an eagle-eyed, and homebound, adoring big sister. So while my husband and I took a break from filling out insurance claims and sterilizing hairbrushes to attend a dinner party, she spent the evening selflessly picking nits out of her little sister’s hair. They had a grand old time, too, listening to music, chatting and giggling as they extracted the little buggers one by one. I don’t know any other 17-year-old who would have tackled such a distasteful task with so much kindness and zeal. For that, she deserves to win the Teenager of the Year award. Especially if the prize is a new car.