The Bright Side: Is There an Optimism Gene?
Not Even Lice
Which is not to say I didn't utter the f-word when my 8-year-old daughter, Birdy, took her helmet off after a bike ride last summer and I saw something scurry along her hairline. What the...? Before long, though, we'd turned delousing the family (yup, all four of us) into a kind of ad hoc spa vacation. I put everyone in old T-shirts before massaging warm and fragrant olive oil into all of our scalps. We wore shower caps for 24 hours, which meant, apparently, that we had to stay home, rent Naked Gun, and order a pizza. ("Long story," I said to the delivery guy, who raised his eyebrows at our plastic-wrapped heads.) First Michael combed the lice out of my hair, and then one at a time I sat each person down, programmed the iPod and combed out the dead bugs and teensy eggs. I tried to work gently because, as you may already know, tearing and swearing are rarely actual time-savers. And I reminisced. You simply cannot gaze at your child's scalp without remembering the endless days of babes-in-arms. Studying those downy whorls of hair, inhaling that otherworldly infant-head smell and even picking idly at cradle cap; the scalps of my children are pure nostalgic topography. I'm not saying infestation is the key to happiness -- just that it wasn't without its pleasures.
I try to remember this every time someone sits in my lap in a doctor's waiting room: I remind myself to lean forward and kiss flushed cheeks, to breathe deeply, even if I am taking time off work I don't have, even if it's the fourth time in six weeks this child has had strep and her feverish hands are hot as dinner rolls. Even if this child is 8 now, or even 11, and fits in my lap as gracefully as a full-grown giraffe. Still. There is only ever, as the Zen folks like to say, this moment, right now: time with a beloved child, even a sick one.
My incorrigible look-on-the-bright-sided-ness may simply be my birthright, courtesy of my mother. She's English, and England is the land of glasses so rose-colored that people there can see hardly anything but roses. "There's blue enough to make a Dutchman's breeches!" my mum likes to say, squinting optimistically at an imaginary clearing in a storm-gray sky.