Yes, you read that correct: lice. I am grateful for lice.
I’m sure many people have many different reasons to be grateful for lice, but let me explain mine. My five-year-old son brought home lice at the end of his Pre-K year. I have two small children, so I had no delusions; I knew that lice would eventually show up in my life. And so they did that fateful day last year just as summer began.
Lice are probably one of the ugliest, nastiest, creepiest looking bugs on the planet. I knew we had lice, but I hadn’t accepted it yet. My head had been itching, and I had seen my son scratching his head, but I refused to admit anything. I was terrified of lice. Then the morning came when my son actually said out loud, “My head itches.” I had to look.
And there, crawling all over his head, was a terrible infestation of lice. Since I had let myself live in denial for so long, there were quite a few full-sized adults hatched and living in his hair.
I freaked out.
I properly freaked out.
Poisons terrify me, so the lice shampoos and prescriptions were not a choice. There was only one choice: shave our heads. No poison involved and lice killed instantly.
I need to back up a bit and explain that one of my best friends had just shaved her head the year before. She had dreadlocks (they were awesome!), but she was tired of taking care of them, so she shaved her head to get rid of them. And then she kept shaving her head for a couple of months because she was enjoying the very bizarre experience of being a woman with a shaved head.
I had wanted to shave my head for awhile. I wanted to go through the same experience, but I was very very chicken. A woman with a shaved head in our society stands out. So much of our beauty is tied up in our hair.
Then I got lice. Horrible, nasty, gross lice. After my husband shaved our son’s head (my husband is mostly bald and has been shaving his head for years, so he had all the equipment and knowledge necessary for this operation), I told my husband to shave my head. He said, “Are you sure? You’re going to regret it.” But I had seen the lice fall off into the sink as he shaved our son’s head, and I had seen the remaining lice crawling around his little bald head until my husband washed his scalp and removed all remaining lice. They were awful. It made my stomach turn. I said, “Just shave my head! Get rid of the lice!”
So my husband shaved my head. And I was bald. Any pretenses of beauty or femininity I may have had fell into the sink and washed away with the lice and my hair. As I looked at my bald reflection, I was mortified, frightened and really really sad. But the lice were gone.
Now, I had to go outside. I told my husband that if I didn’t go outside that day, I would spend the next month frightened and holed up in the house, waiting for my hair to grow back. So, being the unbelievably wonderful man he is, he held my hand and we all went out as a family for a meal and a movie.
I hated it. I knew people were staring at me just as I would stare at someone with a mohawk or bright pink hair. I stood out and not in a pretty way. I looked weird. I hadn’t been that crushingly self-conscious since I was a teenager.
And each day, with my bald head, I went out and did my errands. And each day, I hated it.
But in the end, the overall experience was liberating and exhilarating. I had to face fear and embarrassment every day for a month or two until my hair started growing back. And the fear and embarrassment didn’t keep from living or being or even being awesome. And I learned, in a very intimate manner, two very valuable lessons:
1) Our looks do not make us amazing. Looks are incidental to our behavior, and behavior is what makes someone amazing.
2) I can face fear. Bravery is not absence of fear; it’s acting in spite of fear. So even though I’m afraid, I can still make my feet move forward and go through the actions and make my will happen.
After my lice-induced baldness, I had the courage to face another fear. I’m 44 years old, and I’ve always wanted to learn violin. But I felt foolish walking into the lessons surrounded by all of the 8-year-olds and 10-year-olds who are also taking beginner violin lessons. I felt foolish and embarrassed.
But with my bald head, I had acted in spite of fear and embarrassment and now had the experience tucked under my belt. So I picked up my violin, and even though my face was bright red and my stomach turned with embarrassment, I started taking lessons at 44 years old, the only adult among a sea of little kids. It was embarrassing, and it’s still embarrassing as I go to my lesson every week. But I act in spite of my embarrassment and I’m finally learning the violin.
So I’m thankful for the lice and I’m thankful for the bald head. It was not a fun experience, but it was an amazing and enlightening experience.