As you recently read, W had his first round (I’m sure there will be more)
with head lice this past summer (cue: itching). Upon reflection I realized I actually
learned a few things from the experience.
Because, as you have also read, I don’t quite work in the most pro-parenting/supportive
office environment, I didn’t miss any work as a result of the lice. Honestly, you may be
thinking, “Well, obviously, who would take a sick day for lice?” Really it would have been
a much-needed mental health day for me (reminder: I am pregnant and cranky and it
was about 45°C here in Toronto during the incident).
One day, on the walk from the parking lot, one of my co-workers from another
department came running up behind me yelling out my name. I was in the middle of
composing a text message to one of my single friends and holding back tears as I
congratulated her on something but inwardly cursed her joy (not very nice, I know).
When this co-worker (who has two pre-teen kids) saw my face she said, “What’s going
on?” with a tone that implied she could tell I was about to have a full-fledged melt-down
on the sidewalk. I burst into tears about lice, and mouse shit, and how my husband
wasn’t checking my hair well enough, and how the daycare wasn’t posting signs about
the lice and, oh, just about everything under the sun. She listened totally patiently as I
said cliché things like, “I know every kids gets lice, but…” and “I know it doesn’t mean
that our house is dirty, but…” and when I finally stopped, she told me a story.
She told me that when her son was three months old, she got lice from her niece. She
said she was postpartum and had to have her mom come over and do the lice treatment
on her TWICE. She also confessed that while her baby never got lice (thank god!), one
time a bug fell from her head onto him while she was changing his diaper! She said
she was bawling and bawling and felt miserable and terrible. But you know what? Her
story made me feel better, and she knew it would. She trusted me enough to confide in
me about a time when she felt like a shitty, out-of-control parent, and was able to laugh
about it now. It made me feel good enough to actually make it to my desk and move on.
Which really was the most anyone could have done for me in that moment.
This is the kind of support women and co-workers need to give each other. Just
compassion and understanding. When I told my boss why daycare was calling, I caught
her in the bathroom ten minutes later checking her head for lice in the mirror. I kid you
not — this happened. I swear, who could make that shitty act up?
When I caught her, she turned beat red. Yeah, as if I could say the word “lice” and a
million microscopic eggs would jump across cubicles from my head to yours. (And for
the record, I never did get lice myself.)
Thanks to that supportive co-worker, and all the people like her who know how to listen
and comfort without one single ounce of judgment. I wish there were more people like
you out there.