My wife is a hypochondriac. Just this year she has been self-diagnosed with a dislocated shoulder, tendinitis, arthritis, walking pneumonia, pink eye, and more. God love her. If you told her she’s a hypo, she’d say she’s not. But if she spent five minutes reading the symptoms of hypochondria on WebMD, she’d say, “Oh no. I have that.”
She’s also a bed-bug-phobic. To her, bed bugs have taken on mythical abilities: They’re nearly impossible to detect, they can live for years without eating, and they’re responsible for 90% of the world’s problems.
Hypochondria and bed-bug-phobia go together like gasoline and fire. Despite the fact that we are a relatively clean family, my wife has diagnosed us with bed bugs at least five times, usually on the verge of tears in the middle of the night as she insists I help her lift the mattress so she can check for evidence. We’ve never actually had bed bugs, of course, but we never had lice either. That is, until LICE-POCOLYPSE, just days before Christmas.
Day 0 (6 days until Christmas)
After arriving home from a movie, we initiate our standard post-movie-theater routine: The entire family strips down in the laundry room and puts our clothes immediately in the dryer to eliminate the chance of getting bed bugs. Seriously. We do this every time we get home from a public place.
Little do we know, a separate kind of bug has hitched a ride on our firstborn.
Day 1 (5 days until Christmas)
It’s family game night. My 7-year-old daughter says her hair itches. My wife places her under a bright light and begins a surgical-like inspection process eerily similar to the one I am undergoing in Operation.
“I’ve found something!” she shouts. I’m not worried. At this point, my wife crying lice is exactly like the little boy crying wolf.
At the makeshift inspection station, I check my daughter’s blonde hair. To my horror, I see a small bug sneak behind some hair follicles. I look at my wife and nod solemnly. She screams. My daughter is devastated. Devastated. Instinctively I hug her close and wife darts a look at me that says, “Get off of her.”
The next moment she is gone — on her way to the pharmacy to buy as many chemicals as possible without being flagged by the DEA as a potential meth manufacturer. I seriously consider that she might have boarded a train for Idaho to start a hairless society where this can never happen again.
The rest of the night is a flurry of cleaning, treatment, and absolute panic, despite the fact that we found three bugs. Just three.
Latex medical gloves snap against wrists. Lice killing aerosols float in chemical clouds above couches. In the chaos of carrying armfuls of blankets to the garbage, my wife knocks over a floor lamp. Glass shatters. “Leave it! There’s no time!” she yells.
We throw away hundreds of dollars of sheets, blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, and clothes. We rub chemicals into hair and scalps, let it soak, wash it out, wash hair again, blow dry it, wash it again, blow dry it 3x longer than is needed, then coat every follicle in Cetaphil.
My wife shouts, “OUR ENTIRE BED! IT HAS TO GO!”
Other than several bugs on my daughter’s head, we don’t find any others. Regardless, I shave my son’s head in the dark of night like Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta.
Meanwhile my daughter rationalizes her fate. “Having lice is kind of fun,” she tries to convince herself nervously.
All plans are cancelled. Teachers, relatives, and friends are notified. We are quarantined, holed up, prisoners in our own house, held hostage by millimeter-sized bug terrorists.
We go to bed knowing nothing will ever be the same. Not ever. Not really.
Day 2 (4 days until Christmas)
Our house looks like a battlefield after a war between rival pest control companies. Sheets drape over couches. Steam rises from boiling water disinfecting specialty lice combs. There are four piping hot baskets of crisp, clean clothes that just spent 40 minutes extra in the dryer. Empty wine bottles litter the counter.
My wife listens to Michael Bublé holiday music, somberly, the way a death row inmate might listen to music from his childhood as a reminder that normalcy once existed.
It’s day 2 of LICE-GATE, and we still haven’t seen a live bug since the original ones we found the day before, but their possible presence coats our brains like a Fruity Pebble left in a bowl for 20 minutes until it becomes a permanent part of the bowl.
Our family tradition is to go to my wife’s parents’ house on Christmas day. Everyone in the family is aware of “our situation,” and we’re not sure we’re welcome within a 20-mile radius. Nobody wants to see us. For an introvert like me, it appears communicable bug infestation has a silver lining.
Day 3 (3 days until Christmas)
My wife has a nightmare that lice are crawling all over her. I, ever pragmatic, have been having lice dreams as well. But my dreams consist of radical imagined solutions to the problem. If drying clothes for 20 minutes kills the lice, what if we put our children in the dryer for 20 minutes? Maybe I can fake my death, change my name to Chad, and move to Southern California to start a new life as a surfer and call people “brah”?
Almost directly from my dreams, my wife learns about an electric comb that detects and kills lice in your hair, like a hairbrush/bug zapper. What a time to be alive.
While at Walgreens, I buy a cartload of beer. The old fellow in front of me says, “Oh man, I want to come to your house. Haha.” I fantasize grabbing the $50 of lice treatment hidden behind the beer and rattling it maniacally in his face. “Do you, buddy? Do you?!”
Day 4 (2 days until Christmas)
I dream that the Elf on the Shelf’s jovial smile has been replaced by a look of disgust. He dons a turquoise surgeon’s cap, apparently given to him by Mrs. Claus to contain the spread of lice amongst the servant elf spy population.
When I wake, my wife insists we meditate. We send the kids upstairs. Three minutes in, the meditation narrator tells us to “find our center,” when our daughter screams that her brother shot her in the face with a Nerf gun. Crying, she comes down the stairs, and I scream, “No! Leave us alone! We’re meditating!” My wife and I are feeling so very Zen.
In a desperate attempt to feel a semblance of joy, my wife creates cutesy Pinterest-like snacks for the kids. “My god, are those lice?”
I’m worried she’s lost it. Has she has developed Stockholm syndrome for our bug captors?
Day 5 (Christmas Eve)
We still haven’t found any bugs since Day 1 of LICE-MAGEDDON, but now we’re on the lookout for nits. Nits are lice eggs that could hatch 7 to 10 days after initial treatment.
“Nits are the original Hatchimals,” I tell my wife. “Maybe we can sell them on eBay.” She doesn’t laugh. “Stop being so nitpicky.” Nothing.
“Is Santa afraid of lice?” my son asks. “Will he still come?”
“Can we see our cousins?” my daughter asks. “Is Christmas cancelled?”
We text the family to feel out their nervousness about spending time with us. We get a tepid green-light.
We watch Charlie Brown Christmas together. When Pig-Pen appears, my wife and I look at each other and simultaneously say, “I bet that kid has lice.”
“‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through our house, not a creature was stirring not even a louse,” we try to convince ourselves.
Day 6 (Christmas)
Santa delivers presents after all, most likely wearing a jolly green hazmat suit.
We visit my wife’s family but keep our distance. It wouldn’t be Christmas without telling your son, “I’m sorry, buddy, we can’t do hugs. We can do fist bumps though.”
We are the black sheep of the family. Black sheep with thick, black wool filled with lice killing chemicals and Cetaphil.
It’s difficult to kill lice, but it turns out lice can’t kill the Christmas spirit. Tragedy brings families together. In the same way spending countless hours combing through your spouse’s hair like chimpanzee mates cleaning each other makes you feel like you’re in an odd sociological lab experiment, being cooped up because no one wants to spend time with you makes you feel closer as a family.
Will the nits hatch? Will we find another bug? We’re unsure, but what we are sure of is that we can get through it together as a family.
I dump a pepper shaker on my head and call my wife over and tell her I found something in my hair. She is violently unamused. My son and I fist-bump.