If we are Instagram buddies, then you’ve already heard of our itchy woes this past week. I thought I’d start there, and then move on a bit from the bugs. The pictures are from recent snowy adventures around town.
We’ve had several cold, quiet weekends in a row. This past one we hosted M’s parents for a belated Christmas visit, and then M, E, and M’s dad headed to Detroit for the annual car show. M’s mom, F, and I stayed home and tried to stay warm. We were out of the house a good portion of Saturday, but we were homebodies most of Sunday, venturing out in the snow just long enough to attend one of F’s futsal games. We kept the fireplace going most of the weekend, and I spent all of Sunday deep cleaning all the linens in our bedroom – including hand soaking and washing duvet covers in the bathtub and washing and drying all the pillows and sheets and blankets and quilts. I dusted and vacuumed the room twice, vacuumed the mattress, and underneath the bed, mopped the floor, and by the end of the evening I had most of the room back together. I was looking forward to sinking into the cleanest of beds that night with a good book for a few hours before falling asleep.
F spent the weekend sleeping with me since her dad was gone, but I encouraged her to sleep in her own bed on Sunday night so I wouldn’t disturb her Monday morning when I woke up for work. She agreed, but around ten o’clock that night she padded down to my room in tears, missing her dad, and missing our snuggles in his absence. I relented, and she climbed in next to me and fell asleep. I read for another hour or so, then turned out the light. A few hours later I woke up suddenly, feeling movement on the other side of the mattress. F was fast asleep, but was vigorously scratching her head. Every time I nudged her to stop, she did, but then she’d start again a few minutes later. I finally turned on the light to see if she was having some sort of allergic reaction, or maybe to wake her from some bizarre dream, but saw nothing odd on her head. She tossed and turned, sleeping fitfully, but I never went back to sleep. She was finally still around six, so I decided to get started on my day – showered, made coffee, ate some breakfast.
When I went back upstairs to get dressed, F was fast asleep in the bed. I sat down on the edge of the mattress and brushed the hair out of her face, and felt her forehead for warmth. I noticed that the backs of her ears had red spots on them, so I started looking closer at her neck and then her scalp. That’s when it hit me – I was pretty sure what the scratching was all about.
I’ve never had lice, and have only had to comb through E’s hair once when there was an outbreak in her classroom. We’ve been lucky, particularly since we all have super thick heads of hair in the perfect shade of camouflage for the eggs. I did a quick search for products and techniques, and made a quicker decision to go to the experts. I booked an appointment for a lice removal service nearby, and waited for E to get back. The three of us went, and we were all checked – just in case. Good thing, because we all had it, and so the removal began. Two and a half hours (and a lot of cash) later, we were guaranteed to be lice-free. We returned home to wash the oils out of our heads and continue the laundry piles I had started forming that morning as soon as the first nit was discovered.
I had thought it ironic that I had devoted so much time to deep cleaning the place where we lay our heads, only to discover that the pillows weren’t the problem – it was our own messy heads. This idea floated around in my head all week, and it would resurface occasionally as a metaphor for something else I was thinking about or working through.
I started a new group session called Witnessing Whiteness the following day. For the first of the ten sessions we were supposed to read the preface and introduction of the book with the same name. I was reading the (white) author’s description of how her thinking about dealing with issues of race and racism had evolved from her initial drive to volunteer and intervene in communities of color into the necessary and more appropriate work of understanding how whiteness works in at a personal and systems level. There was a line in her writing about this transformation in her approach that I immediately connected to my thinking this week. She was in the middle of a volunteer event, and one of the women she was working with said something like this to her: “You know, we’re really glad you are here, and we like you and all. But we are working with our own people. We can do this. What we really need is for you to go and work with the white people.”
I was also following along with the story of the Covington Catholic high school group in D.C., and a well-known journalist’s suggestion that the parents and school administrators should organize a service trip to a reservation to get the students out of their bubble and broaden their understanding of the injustices present in native communities. Reactions and opposition to that was SWIFT, and deservedly so. My favorite response was something along the lines of “Do NOT bring your children to our communities. We are not a petting zoo, on display for your learning. Clean up your OWN DAMN HOUSE first.” Truer statements – both of them – have never been spoken.
I thought of my own initial reaction to the bugs in F’s hair – shock, dismay, disgust, layered on top of the fact that I had spent so much time cleaning up, and everything was just soiled again – the cleaning meant nothing. I wasn’t upset with her, it just felt so unfair that I found out this new truth AFTER all that effort. If only she had stayed in her own bed – at least it would have been confined there.
But irony is a funny thing, and no matter how much you might work to clean up the mess around you, eventually you’ve got to tackle the mess in your own damn head.
When we left the lice busting place last Monday afternoon, they reminded us that we’d had several hours of heat and combing on tender scalps, and that they would feel tender and itchy for the next five days. This was normal, and not a sign of bugs. Just a healing, healthy scalp.
They were right. My head itched all week. It itched when I thought about what used to be there. It itched as it healed. It itched when I worried that maybe they had missed something or I had missed something. It itched right before bed, just as I settled into a newly clean pillow once again. It itched as I read my book for this session. It itched at work, but I didn’t scratch because I worried others would see me and wonder. It itched when I sent messages to everyone we’d been in close contact with over the past several weeks. Today we went back for a recheck, and all was clear. The itching is all in our head now. It might linger awhile.
The house is clean again, the laundry is done. I study scalps before bedtime, and am less nervous about the next time, if it comes. I’ve been itchy all week about so many things – things that have stalled or need attention or that I just can’t wrap my head around yet. Late January leaves me feeling like this each year, and the outside itch and inside itch together isn’t the most pleasant combination. But on this Saturday I’m determined to fight against that itch and restlessness without deflecting it to outside factors – others’ inaction or opposition, fear, anxiousness, indecisiveness, etc. I’m trying to resist pointing fingers at others for what I see as their failings. I may see their bugs clearly, but I’ve been plenty clueless about my own swarming around me.
I’m telling myself that I can handle these things and more, and I’m starting by cleaning up my own damn house.