Lice: the last great social equalizer

The week before I moved from Pittsburgh to Chicago, I received a text from a friend that read: “Lice has hit third grade, time for ponytails.” It was every mother’s worst fear: a lice outbreak.  Fortunately, this time we were unscathed, but imagine my surprise when on the second day at our new school, one of my daughters came home with the dreaded note from the school nurse: A student in your child’s class has lice…


I can honestly say that my children have never had lice, but I don’t know how.  My kids have long, thick hair, are constantly around other children at home, activities, sleep overs, etc., and worst of all, seem to have no problem — despite my best efforts — to share hats, headbands and every other sort of hair-related paraphernalia with just about anyone. One thing I am sure of: it’s not because I keep a neat house and they are always properly bathed.

Let me share a confession with you. When I was 13, I had lice. I find it quite shocking now with all I know about the little buggers.  I had a major spiral perm, and I must have used a half bottle of Aussie Scrunch Spray to get my bangs looking “just right”.  Lice actually don’t like dirty hair, so maybe it had something to do with the fact I had strep throat at the time and a very hot head, which they do really like.

Like anyone would be, my mom was pretty wigged out.  We quarantined all the pillows, disinfected all sheets, and tarred my hair with Nix (we didn’t know back then about the dangers of letting a pesticide sink into my head.)  We did tell my closest friends and the school nurse, but I came out of the Lice battle no real worse for the wear.

Now that I have been through several lice “epidemics” with my own children, I have found that lice seem to be the last great social equalizer.  It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, black or white, smart or average, overweight or thin, clean or dirty — it strikes whoever looks like a good host at the time.  What I do find fascinating, however, is how we, as mothers, deal with it.  You can truly tell someone’s character by how they handle lice.

Trust me, I get it. The thought of little bugs sucking blood out of my sweet cherubs completely freaks me out.  I have an arsenal of treatments in my bathroom closet “just in case” I see a nit. I can’t even get through writing an entire sentence of this post without scratching my head.

But here’s the fact, and there’s no getting around it: Lice has nothing to do with how clean you are, or really anything to do with you in general. If you or your child gets lice, all it means is you had the unfortunate experience of being exposed to a carrier (or their clothes).  And, if you do get it, and don’t tell, your likelihood of getting it again increases exponentially, as unless people know, they are probably not checking. It’s just like catching a cold — a really disgusting cold that will make you clean like a stark raving lunatic — but like that.

What I find interesting is that, despite all of the information we now have about it, we cannot get passed the social stigma of lice.  As Moms, we will discuss all the disgusting details of our pregnancies and deliveries (I’m recalling the first mom who told me she pooped during her delivery), as well as tales of stomach viruses, breast implants, and weird things we’ve found on our bodies; but the second lice is brought up, everyone speaks in hush hush tones.

While the social stigma associated with having lice has little to do with personal hygiene or appearance, it often has the unfortunate effect of dividing friends and families, and creating animosity within school environments. I have seen first-hand the divide it can cause in a neighborhood.  This will only get more problematic as the CDC is talking about the fact we are currently having a true lice epidemic in this country, including a new strain of Super Lice.

So I ask, if we as parents cannot openly discuss lice, how will we handle the bigger issues?  More importantly, if I lose a friend because I accidentally gave them lice, were they really my friend at all?

Now, I’m not suggesting we should all put a banner in front of our houses if we get struck with nits, but we do not have to make our kids feel ashamed or secretive about it either. How we react when hearing that another child has lice also is important. Telling your kid to stay away from someone or treat them differently because they have had lice is its own form of bullying. It is so common nowadays that most kids don’t even think it’s a big deal. As with most bad behavior kids exhibit, it almost always comes from the parents who think only a certain “type” of kid would pass along head lice.

I understand once kids get to the middle and high school level, the rules of the game change a bit; however, at that point, kids can be a little bit more responsible with their behavior. But I still think as parents, we set the tone for how we treat issues like lice.

I still wouldn’t wish lice on my worst enemy; however, I hope as parents, may an outbreak of lice be the worst thing we face when it comes to our children.

What is up with the birthday swag?

Why, as parents, must we always find a way to continually one-up each other?

Last year, someone started something new at our elementary school.  One parent decided to hand out $5 Target gift cards to their child’s class on their birthday. Not at their birthday party, but to their entire class. Apparently the idea had merit, because it happened a few other times. Apparently it made me want to throttle someone.

Like many schools across the nation, our district decided to valiantly fight the obesity epidemic by eliminating cupcakes in the classroom on birthdays.  I’m pretty sure it also had something to do with nut allergies.  I’m pretty sure this is when what I call “The Era of Super Swag” started.

In the beginning, it was cute erasers or writing utensils that the kids brought in to share on their special day.  I even found cute pencils that said “Insert Name is Turning Seven!”  My daughter enjoyed handing out the glitter pencil with her name on it.  And it cost me $7.50 with my free shipping coupon from Oriental Trading, so I was okay with that.

After a few months, the swag started getting a bit bigger, with increasingly larger bags of Made-in-China junk arriving home in book bags in honor of so-and-so’s birthday. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, the Target gift cards started.

With 20-24 students in a classroom, that’s a lot of kiz-nash just to commemorate your kid’s birthday at school.  Of course, participating in this ritual is voluntary, but as parents, do we ever want to see our kids unable to be like everyone else?  What about the families that do not have the money to spend on this sort of thing….how do their kids feel?

But it specifically made me wonder: Do we really have to pay our friends to celebrate our birthdays?

The topic came up at a Friday playdate one evening over pizza.  One very nice working mom’s response shocked me: “Well, I always send my kid with huge goodie bags to school on her birthday because I never get to volunteer.  It’s my way of letting her know I’m thinking about her on her special day.”

Okay, hold the phone. She was having her kid hand out swag bags to all the other students because she couldn’t volunteer in the classroom.  Hmmmm.

In my opinion, this was one of those cases of best of intentions but wrong execution. I was trying to take my Judge Judy robe off, but it was hard. I knew her kid, and she seemed pretty happy to me already.  Her family spent a lot of time together doing really cool things, but just because she couldn’t volunteer as much as she would like, she overcompensated.

This is the essence of what’s so wrong nowadays. We don’t have enough time to do what we want with our kids, so we replace it with stuff.  Big birthday parties, the latest electronic gadgets, ridiculous amounts of American Girl doll paraphernalia (guilty!). And to add to it, now we feel the pressure to do it for other people’s children to prove what great parents we are.

Another day, when I was complaining about all the junk we had at our house after a weekend full of birthday parties, a mom exclaimed: “What are you going to do? My kid would freak out if we didn’t have goody bags at her party!”

Really?  Maybe my kids are odd, but they have never once asked about goody bags unless I brought them up first. Would they freak out if I didn’t serve cake? Absolutely.  But most of the time at the end of a party the kids are all hyped up and running around, so I believe that most wouldn’t even notice the goody-bag situation if we as parents didn’t keep buying into it.

Funny enough, I think we are all in agreement that we all hate the junk that comes home from birthday parties; yet, why do we all still do it?  When did the party — the experience of cake, ice cream and our friends — not become enough?  Are we that scared our kids will become ostracized if we don’t offer swag? Are we scared that we as parents will become judged?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any better as the kids age. At a recent birthday party my kids went to, they all came home with pool noodles and a $5 gift card to a yogurt shop. While I was happy I didn’t have to pay for our dessert the next day, I couldn’t stop thinking that this mom had just laid out about $150 for a takeaway, from a party that she just spent at least $300 on, for an eight year old.  Ouch.  Another friend told me that her son had recently come home with a brand new basketball.  Estimated price $12 per kid, with about 20 kids at the party. Criminy.

I for one am going out on a limb.  You do not have to give my kids a thing for coming to your party. You already did me a major “favor” by taking them off my hands for a few hours, so trust me, I should be paying you more than that Target-bought gift we’re bringing.  

Now, I know that sometimes there are crafty moms out there who love to do the special favor for a party, and for this I salute you and say bring it on. Sometimes there is a favor that goes so great with a theme that it ties the whole thing together. My daughter still uses a small bag with an embroidered “C” on it she received at a birthday party three years ago, and my twins have beautiful necklaces they made at a bead shop party last year. But I can promise you that any of the spin tops, laughy taffy and slinkies we received over the past 8 years are sitting deep in a landfill somewhere. In fact, sometimes they don’t even make it out of the bag.

Trying to practice what I preach, I made themed cookies for my twins this year to hand out after their parties instead of goody bags. Because I am craft- and baking-challenged, they were a little goofy looking, but the girls loved them (because they were made of sugar, not because they looked pretty.)  I was shocked when at the end of one of their parties, our “coordinator” started handing out goody bags that I didn’t order or pay for.  Her response: it just comes standard now because the stuff is pretty cheap.

Sigh. Best of intentions…

I’d love to hear how you feel about this issue!  Any good swag stories to share?

Why I Don’t Negotiate with Terrorists

I have three daughters. Twins and a bonus baby. Yes, I am blessed. Yes, this is why I often talk about wine.

Because we started our family off with twins, I was always outnumbered.  When the third came along sixteen months later, it was just about survival.

When the girls started developing their own personalities — and they have big ones — my husband and I realized that we needed a strategy to make sure we maintained control of the situation. Any mom of multiples can tell you that trying to discipline one toddler at a time is hard enough, but add another (and another), and you start to run out of time out chairs.

I also was nervous about taking the kids out by myself to places that were crowded.  I was doing just fine as long as I could put all three of them in a shopping cart, but one day I was going to want to venture out somewhere that wasn’t a Costco or a grocery store. We might even want to go to Red Robin.

My answer to this dilemma was to take a borderline militant stance with my kids, but in a fun way (well fun for me, maybe not for my kids.)  No meant no, which meant even with tantrums and begging, the answer was no. No decisions under duress, no changing the rules last second, and no going back on any threats. We left restaurants if rules weren’t obeyed, or I would stay behind with the offender while my husband took the other two out.  I’m quite sure it hurt us way more than it hurt them.

But our parenting philosophy became crystal clear as my husband explained it to some friends one day: “We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

Now, I don’t give my husband that much credit for the awesomeness that are my kids.  I mean, seriously, he is at work all day, travels, runs marathons….how much of an influence can he be? (I sort of jest.)  But in this, he was brilliant.

Just like George W. said, our resolve was being tested, and we will show our country that we will pass this test. OK, the President probably wasn’t talking about parenting, but he could have been.

Obviously, although I do think my children can be little terrors, I don’t like to equate them to terrorists; however, there are some striking similarities:

  • If you negotiate with them once, they will expect it every time.
  • The ransom for doing what you want will continue to go up.
  • Terrorists rarely honor their agreements.

Sound familiar?

Now let me be clear.  My kids are as spoiled as the next.  I let them have extra cookies or buy them something they really want for their birthdays; but it’s on my terms, not theirs. And never because they beat me down. We never make decisions in the moment based on an ask, and if the waterworks or whining start, it’s all over for them. Of course, we are not completely mean spirited, so we will at time compromise (which is not negotiating.)  For example, if we plan it out, we’ll let the kids stay up late for something they want to watch, or we let the rules slide on special occasions, but we always try to say what we mean and mean what we say.

I once heard another parent say gambling was like negotiating for kids. If you hit the jackpot once, you always think it can happen again so you keep going back. It’s the same thing when kids use nagging to wear you down.  He’s not sure how you will react, but since he doesn’t have much to lose, why not roll the dice again (and again and again)?

The truth is, not negotiating empowered me. Not in the way that made me feel like a Communist dictator, but in a way that allowed me to keep a little bit calmer because I knew I had the control. I can honestly say that I spanked my kids once or twice, but it never felt right to me and made me feel guilty, which then made me overcompensate by being extra nice to them after the fact.  Not exact the life lesson I was trying to teach.

Not negotiating with my little terrors (eventually) eliminated the nagging, the fights about every little thing, and the exhausting questions. It made it easier to go out and leave them with babysitters or family. Honestly, I think it just made them a little more enjoyable to be around, and I think, made me a little bit more enjoyable to be around as well.

And with the onset of three sets of teenage angst and hormones not that far in front of us, it’s my hope that it will help me enjoy — or at least survive — the teenage years, as I can’t imagine how many times I’ll have to say, “No, you can’t [have the car, wear that skirt, pierce your eyebrow.]  And I’m sure they will listen to me every time…

Cheers my friends!

Why I Support Wine at (my) Playgroups

So, I received my first piece of hate mail.  It was from an address I didn’t recognize with an ominous subject line:

You Should Read This

Then there was only this link.

At first I was going to dismiss it as some Nigerian Bank scam request, but then I glanced again and saw the title in the link. Of course I clicked. There was no additional message, but I could read between the lines. Someone did not think my wine at playdates was such a good idea.

The article is old, from 2009, and it details why “cocktail playdates” are bad.  My first reaction was sad (how can someone hate me so much!)  Then I was defensive (how dare someone judge my wine drinking!)  Then I forgot about it a bit because I was grocery shopping.  Then I remembered it was time for another blog post.

First, let me state that this post has nothing to do with the author of this blog, Jennifer Ginsburg. She is an addiction specialist and I’m sure she’s seen some pretty scary stuff. She’s also a mom and allowed to have whatever opinion she wants.

I also am aware that some of the first women to discuss their drinking wine at playdates due to the pressures of mommyhood via social media have now also admitted that they have a drinking problem.  Some have needed to seek counseling and entered a life-long battle with addiction.  This makes me sad, and I would never want to demoralize someone’s problem with alcohol.

Second, I am also not encouraging wine at all playdates. I once was part of a small playgroup on Thursday mornings where our extremely young children interacted in someone’s basement. This was a great way to encourage my at-the-time developmentally-delayed daughter to take part in group play,learn appropraite social interactions, and boost her speech.  While I enjoyed these women, obviously it was not wine-appropriate.

Finally, I understand I am not the only person with a blog writing about wine, my kids, and my need for more wine.  It’s a pretty common topic, particularly because I think it’s the thread that binds so many of us.  I also understand the stigma associated with upper middle class suburbanites, their first world problems, and their need to drink wine to deal with the pressures of being a housewife.  I can understand how it must look to the outside, so I thought I would take a few minutes to explain why I am okay with wine at my adult-centric playdates.

(Because I’m new to this blogging thing, I feel I should add a disclaimer here that states I never condone playdating and driving, and if you have infants, you may want to stick to just one glass.  Hoping this legally protects me and absolves me from any bad behavior due to the result of reading this blog in the court of Law.)

So here we go:

1.  Wine is just good.  If the Google source is true, it was Martin Luther who said “Beer is made by men, Wine by God.” Who can argue with that?  I’ve been drinking wine long before I had kids and my guess is I’ll keep drinking it long after they have their own.  I enjoy trying new wines, pairing it with good food and seeing if a twist off bottle can be as good as one that is corked (the jury is still out on this.) It is the perfect punctuation to a long day. Yes, like Pavlov’s dog, the minute I see a bottle of KJ, I relax a little. If loving wine makes me wrong, I don’t want to be right.

2. Wine is a great opening line. I’ve moved around quite a bit, but I’ve found out there is one universal love language that most women speak: wine. I firmly believe that I have such a great support network of women because we’ve shared a glass to talk about life. And contrary to what you may think, I do have friends that don’t drink. In those [rare] instances, I go to my next best vice, coffee. My point is: this journey through life sometimes can be lonely and making friends can be tough. You have to put yourself out there, and sometimes offering a mom picking up their kid from a playdate in for a glass of wine (or any other beverage) is a nice, non-threatening way to make a new acquaintance.  Try it.  You may make a very lonely person very happy.

3. I miss happy hour.  There, I said it. It doesn’t mean that I would trade my kids in for the two-for-one drink specials at Bennigan’s, but yes, I sometimes miss Friday night happy hours with my co-workers. It’s pretty hard to get out in the winter in places like Chicago and Pittsburgh with three little kids, and it can get lonely when your husband travels a lot. Sometimes discussing the latest plot twists on Jessie from the Disney Channel or how the tye-dyed rubber bands are the worst for the rainbow loom is not exactly the stimulating conversation I am craving. It’s even harder when your kids are younger and your thoughts center on things like where are Max and Ruby’s parents and why doesn’t Caillou’s mom just tell him to toughen up! And while I work part-time out of my home, I can go weeks only exchanging e-mails with people. Friday (wine) playgroups for me became something to look forward to; a time when I knew I got to socialize with people I enjoyed while my kids got to do something they liked as well.  To me, it’s no different from kids running around at a Super Bowl party or a 4th of July picnic. Yes, people are drinking, hopefully responsibly, but it is the social aspect that I desire.

4. Serve wine for you, not the kids.  This was my favorite quote from the article:

“Are we ready to call the cocktail playdate what it is — a lame excuse for mothers to hang out and get trashed while pretending to be doing something positive for their children? If motherhood is so challenging and difficult that the only way to cope is by knocking back a few hard ones, you may have a problem. I am not here to condemn women who drink alcohol in a safe and appropriate manner, but I believe that getting wasted with other moms and calling this a “playdate” crosses a major line.”

Yes, this made me pause for a second.  Was my Friday group a facade for a deeper problem? Do I justify the playdates as a positive experience for my kids just so I can get what I want? Was I using my children as pawns in my quest for an adult happy hour?

The answer, Doctor, is no and no, and a heck yes! First, I freely admit that the playdates were for me, but my kids certainly enjoyed them. If my children did not get along with the other kids, the experience definitely would not have been as positive (and probably would not have continued.) But thanks be to God, all the people who participated had great kids and there was rarely a problem. Second, I freely admit that playdates — the ones where adults are present and the ones that are not — are not just for the kids. Please see my previous blog post “Why I Screen…My Playdates“.  I use playdates to occupy my kids during the times I’m not doing great stuff with them, like driving them to activities, helping them with their homework, building Lego projects, playing games, etc.  Like any mom, my kids always come first.  I had to (begrudgingly) skip a lot of Friday playdates when one of my daughters had soccer practice from 5-6:30, or if we had other plans; but if I have the opportunity to sit with some good friends while my kids have a great time, well, yes, I call that a win-win (or wine-wine in my book.)

5. It’s not really about the wine.  Although this is bad for my brand and may impact the sponsorship deal I want to negotiate with Kendall Jackson, we all know it’s not really about the wine. It’s about getting together with your friends. An adult playdate. Despite my alter ego on this blog and on Facebook, I probably don’t drink as much as you think (gasp!)  Wine is a very social thing for me, something that sets the mood and tone for an enjoyable time. I would give it up in a heartbeat though if I had to make a choice between wine and my friends (well, probably depends on what friend, but it’s basically true.) If you are drinking regularly because you can’t deal with your life, then yes, get help. If you are looking for a friend, then yes, I’ll fill your glass with whatever you want.

And bring your kids along for a good time.  The grape juice is on me.

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