By Gregory Keer
With dozens of other anxious parents, my wife and I wait for our son to return from a month at sleep-away camp.
“It’s good for him to be independent,” I rationalize to a nearby dad. “The kid could barely pour his own milk before he started overnight camp two years ago.”
“The last two weeks were awful,” Wendy says to a fellow mom. “But the last few days actually hurt because we missed him so much.”
“Are you kidding?” another mother chimes in. “It was such a pleasure to get a break from parenting a preadolescent for a month.”
Wendy and I smile knowingly. Yes, there were days when we enjoyed the absence of our son’s random crankiness. Still, a month without our usually sweet-natured first born was too much.
The buses rumble toward the lot and all but the most jaded parents cheer its approach. The children wave wildly from the windows. As each bus parks, Wendy and I try to see which one our son will disembark from, jostling with other parents like crowd members at a rock concert.
We finally find him. He looks tanned, tired, and so happy to be home.
Back at our house, Wendy takes his duffel bag of grimy clothes straight to the laundry room while Benjamin heads to his room. He flops down and sighs heavily.
“I missed my bed,” he exhales dreamily.
Over the next week, our son tells tales of outdoor adventures, late-night chatter, and deep friendships he made during his month of living in Never Never Land.
But Peter Pan references are not the only things flying around my child’s head, as we soon learn when we get a phone call from our friend Karmi.
“Jaime has insect eggs in his hair,” she proclaims.
Benjamin is with my mom-in-law that day, so we call her to check his head.
“I don’t see anything in his hair,” she says. “But, tell me, was the other little boy dirty?”
Brushing aside generational misunderstandings – and the reality that Jaime is hygienically sound — of what really causes lice infestations, we immediately re-check Benjamin. When I pull back his follicles, I notice the animated activity of several winged bugs.
Along with lifelong memories, my son has returned from camp with lice.
Somehow, in seven days of walking around our (relatively) clean house and taking more regular showers than his one every two weeks that he did at camp, Benjamin failed to notice his noggin was a playground for tiny insects. I look more carefully at my boy’s scalp and notice his skin is raw, even bleeding a little from constant scratching.
“My head has been kinda itchy,” he confesses as Wendy looks for herself. She freaks out as if we’ve been invaded by miniature monsters from the third ring of hell.
After calming down a bit, Wendy and I set to work on the relentlessly complicated task of ridding our house of lice. It turns out that all of us have bugs or eggs living in our hair following a week of Benjamin hugging us and sitting around the house. Because my wife looks at this crisis like a platoon leader, she marches all of us through a regimen of medicated shampooing, hot water laundering, and top-to-bottom house scouring.
At the advice of our pediatrician and friends whose kids have come home from the same camp with a similar scalp affliction, we then call in the heavy artillery, an expert from a company mystically called the Hair Whisperer. This woman comes to our house armed with a variety of combs as well as a cocktail of tea-tree oil and other secret ingredients. She proceeds to nit-pick her way through each of us, rooting out the enemies and extinguishing them in bowls of scalding water.
For more than a week, we scrub everything and check our heads for return attacks. Wendy and I have to juggle our summer work schedules because the kids cannot go to day camp until they are lice-free. Barbers refuse to touch us. Friends politely decline playdates and dinner plans, waiting until we are given the all-clear.
Mercifully, our follicle fiasco ends and Wendy and I sit with our big boy, the scent of tea-tree oil lingering in the air. We go over next summer’s plan to shave and disinfect Benjamin before he steps foot in our house.
“But we love having you back from camp, Benjamin,” I say.
“I miss my friends,” he responds wistfully, then laughs to himself. “Just not the little ones with the wings.”