All the chairs around the square table are taken. Voices fill the room as the documents spread out on the table are discussed. Questions are asked. Positions are defended. I sit back in my chair listening, waiting for my turn to raise my concerns.
I also stare. I stare at the long, thick hair of the woman leading the meeting and wonder if she has ever had lice. Her hair is so lovely. It falls past her shoulders with a straightness I decide is assisted. I try to picture her hair damp with lice treatment and wrapped up in saran wrap. What a shame, I think.
I glance around the table and find myself wondering how many of the people sitting with me have combed eggs out of their own hair. Were they calm about it, maintaining the poised attitude I see now, or did the presence of lice cause them to freak out like it did me all those months ago.
A misdiagnosed lice sighting in the girl’s hair recently has me on my guard. I check her hair nightly. The boy’s too. I scratch my head absentmindedly throughout the day, always aware of the slightest twinge of my scalp. The tea tree oil shampoo has a place of prominence in the shower.
I multitask throughout the day. Going to work. Reading to the kids before bed. Thinking about lice.
My hand hovers over the row of paper cups. The stainless steel mug I sip from every day has been left behind on the kitchen counter this morning and so a choice must be made.
I reject the orange cups. I don’t need that much coffee. Not so late in the day. I free a red cup from the stack but it looks pitifully small. It won’t hold enough coffee for a Wednesday afternoon. I finally settle on the green cup. Just right.
I search the coffee pots for the French Roast label stuck to the arm. As I eagerly pour the dark liquid I calculate the volume of the cup against the decreasing quantity left inside the pot. Satisfied, I replace the pot for the next person to drain.
The carton of 1% milk is already open at the coffee bar. I am transfixed as the white milk disappears into the black coffee, waiting for the tipping point when it all turns a caramel shade of brown. Then I sip the hot coffee. Burning my tongue, but not minding.
The soft whirl of pages emerging from the printer fade into the background of jumbled conversations drifting down the hallway while I lose myself in thought. For a moment I am free of tasks, waiting emails and the long to-do list scratched out in black pen on the lined note paper on my desk. I turn my head back and forth quickly, all for the feel of the dangly silver earrings swinging from side to side.
I stare at the outdated map hanging on the beige wall, calculating distances from here to there. I marvel at the vastness of our country and bemoan the friends that are too far away.
I am antsy. Nervous about the meeting starting soon and worrying about the phone call that just came. The school called me, the husband said. The girl says she is sick and insists on going home.
I am full of gratitude that the husband can leave work to get her. And guilt that it isn’t me.
The map is gone suddenly, leaving behind the shadow of decades old tape. I have nothing to stare at, to distract my mind as the machine beside me churns out the words I have written. Instead I shake my head from side to side, comforted by the familiar feeling of the heavy silver earrings.
I pull back the top stands of hair with my right hand while reaching behind to grab the rest of the shoulder length hair with my left. I twist and twirl until one hand is free to grab the brown clip lying waiting on the desk. I drag it tight against my scalp and pull it across the mass of hair that is increasingly threaded with white. My hair secured into my workday version of a ponytail, I release the clip.
My computer hums as it loads. The Blackberry vibrates from where it rests on top of my notebook.
In the kitchen, the fridge is already full but I squeeze my food saver full of leftovers on the bottom shelf.
I peer at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. My hair is still smooth; no stands have yet to slip free. I squint. My face seems pale. My eyes are bloodshot. From the exhaustion of herding two kids out the door and onto the school bus on a cold winter morning or the recycled air of the office building, I never know. I contemplate a smear of red across my lips in an attempt to revive my complex but I am too lazy to hunt down the lipstick at the bottom of my purse back at my desk. Later, I tell myself.
The flakes fall around me as I trudge onward. Swirling and whirling, the snow whips through the air. I lean in, sometimes I lean back, but my feet keep moving. There is no time to stop.
I replace my black boots with black heels. I hang my black coat in the small closet. The world outside my window is blindingly white.
The white lights of the tree sparkle from within the green branches. I can’t smell the scent of pine from where I lie cuddling the boy on the couch nearby. The lingering cold has morphed from hacking cough to congested sinuses over the last three weeks. But at least the stomach flu that ravaged all four of us over the period of a week is gone. The girl has my eternal awe for beginning and ending the week hunched over a bowl.
On the other side of the black coffee table the husband sits reading to the girl. The large book was part of the girl’s present to her brother. She seems to like the superhero stories as much as he does. I watch her following along in the book, imagining that she is searching for words she recognizes.
The presents that spilled out from under the tree have all been put away or taken back home by our visitors. Despite appearances the gifts were not excessive. Just enough for each of us to feel thought of and remembered by those we love.
Our couch is narrow but the boy and I manage to squeeze close together. I close my eyes and listen to the husband’s voice. Thinking about this last year and the new one to come.
I felt hacked. Inside and out.
That morning the first email I read informed me that my blog had been hacked. It was gone. Disappeared into the virtual ether. Obsolete.
I read the email, disbelieving. I clicked on the site in despair. I gulped deep breaths as the husband rushed out the door to work and I fed and dressed the kids. I managed to feed and dress myself as well.
There was no time to think. No time to ponder how to fix the blog. I got the kids to school. I got myself to work. Thinking all the while that it didn’t really matter. I would grieve it, but all that I lost were the stories. The memories were still mine.
We rushed the kids into their Halloween costumes so that we would be ready when our friends arrived. The boy happily pulled his Batman pajamas over leggings and a long sleeve shirt, necessary padding for an Ottawa evening at the end of October. The girl refused to wear the ornate princess gown we had recently bought in an attempt to distract her from the less age appropriate costumes that seem to fill the store.
I want to be Anne of Green Gables she declared catching sight of an old-fashioned looking dress that had been a gift from her grandmother. Ummm I moaned until I remembered the wig and hat my aunt had sent the girl years ago after a trip to the Island.
With the hat in place, the long red braids spilling down her back and matching red face paint freckles, the girl was ready to lead the way down darken streets in search of confections and chocolates.
Bed came late that night. I promised myself that soon enough I would sit in front of the computer and figure out how to restore and rebuild my blog.
Is this a bug? I asked the husband confused as I brushed the girl’s wet hair before bed. I don’t think so the husband replied. I frowned. The husband’s poor eyesight made him an unreliable accomplice. But when I pulled a live bug from the girl’s head and the husband peered closely at it under the bathroom light, he had no choice but to nod.
I scratched my own head. Then scratched it again.
The girl was crying she was so tired so we tucked her into bed with a head full of lice while I went to the pharmacy in search of a remedy. I stood confused in front of shelves full of boxes looking for something to kill the critters living on my scalp. The pharmacist provided little help, but in the end I selected a treatment based on the fact that it promised a chemical-free solution.
The husband rubbed the liquid into my hair first. Sitting at the dining room table I took deep breaths trying not to think about how much I hate bugs. All bugs. All kinds. But especially the kinds that like to feed off of people.
We woke the girl at 10pm and made her sit at a small table in the upstairs hallway while the treatment was massaged into her hair. A video kept her awake while we worked. Her bed was stripped. Any laundry removed from her room. Fresh pajamas were selected after the treatment was washed out and her hair had been combed. Finally we tucked her back to bed.
The next two days are a blur. I existed in a heightened state of hysteria in which I washed, combed and checked the kids’ hair repeatedly. (We found lice on the boy Thursday morning.) I washed, dried and folded laundry continuously. I occasionally thought about my blog in rare moments of sanity between staring at my own hair in the mirror.
Phobias are not rational.
I spent much of Thursday googling “how to give yourself a pixie cut.” In the end I stilled the scissors before they reached my own hair, but not before cutting four inches from the girl’s shoulder length hair and running the husband’s clippers across the boy’s head. I know now that I didn’t need to cut their hair. But I was overwhelmed by the thought of missing one little egg and having the cycle start again.
The kids enjoyed their time with lice. Well played kids, well played I kept muttering under my breath as they consumed more then usual amounts of Halloween candy while watching a Max & Ruby marathon. Can we have one more? they’d ask dipping their hands into the shrinking bags of candy. Okay, okay I’d say peering at a scalp and wondering if the time would ever come when I could look as hair as something over then a louse house.
The husband spent an hour combing out my hair Thursday night hoping to pull out whatever nits he could. I cursed the male pheromones that respells lice form men’s’ heads but my bitterness was nothing more then jealousy.
Friday afternoon, after much discussion and deliberation, a woman arrived at our house to professionally remove the lice eggs from our hair. We paid her a good amount of money. More then I would have agreed to before I had a head full of bugs. Sitting there I had the epiphany that I was not working to buy shoes or purses, but to pay for strangers to run metal combs through my conditioner covered hair looking for small off-white flecks.
I had never felt more like a mother.
By Saturday our house had slowly begun to return to normal. All the laundry was clean. I stopped checking the girl’s hair every few minutes. I began to relax. Just a bit.
I remembered that my blog was gone and felt overwhelmed again.
I have trouble asking for help. I fear rejection and the hurt that comes with being denied. But being hacked left me so defenseless and lost that I found myself reaching my hand out to anyone that could offer me hope. And they did.
A dear friend spent over an hour picking lice eggs out of my hair. (That is beyond the call of duty and I know the favour will one day happily be repaid.) Friends offered advice and suggestions by phone, email, text and Twitter. We bonded over shared misery. Some just listened and commiserated. All helped.
An amazing friend took time and energy from her busy life to rebuild my unsaveable blog. She gave me back this space that I was, in my exhaustion, ready to walk away from.
Thank you all.
It’s been weeks since my life was hacked. I still scratch my scalp. I still feel off balance. But I am also more prepared. I know now how best to kill a louse and pull an egg from a strand of hair. I know who will be there for me when I need help the most.
I have a post syndicated at BlogHer today. The email asking to syndicate it arrived in the midst of an otherwise overwhelming day and brought me a smile. For that I am grateful.
If you haven’t read it already, please check out Catch toss throw.
the bus stops
you climb on
scaling the steep steps
like a mountaineer
I watch from the sidewalk
waving to you both
as you head back
searching for a empty seat
with room enough for two
the door closes
you are gone
around the corner
down the street
I adjust my backpack
pull on my sunglasses
walk into the rising sun
Within ten minutes of walking through the door the boy slammed his finger and stood sobbing in the sunroom. On the couch the girl howled in frustration as she tried to yank the newly purchased baroque-like Halloween costume over her head.
It itches she yelled help me.
Do you not see me? I asked her as I held the weeping boy on my lap. Your brother is crying. I’ll help you in a minute.
You are the … the girl started. My sharp look curtailed the rest of the sentence but I knew it went something like …meanest mom ever.
I have been back at work for eight weeks. I was both right and wrong about being a working mom. A (paid) working mom. A paid in money working mom who wears heels and jewelry and, occasionally, remembers to swipe lipstick across her mouth in the office bathroom.
Those ten minutes spent with the kids after picking them up from the bus stop after school, a task usually performed by the husband, reminded me that being a stay-at-home mom is much harder than my work. Being with the kids full-time can be both physically and mentally exhausting in a way that my paid job is not.
At my paid job I sit at my desk. I read. I think. I talk to my colleagues. I write. I go to meetings. I know that while I may be good at what I do, and what a relief that was to realize after four years away from the job, I don’t do anything that someone else couldn’t. I do not hold the safety or health of the world in my hands. The work, the actually working part of my job, is much easier than my day-to-day as a stay-at-home mom for four years.
But I still find working hard. Harder than I thought. The first few weeks I acutely missed the physical presence of the kids. It was like they had just slipped beyond my arms reach, but when I’d look around for them I was reminded that they were at home with their dad for those last few weeks of summer. And I was ensconced in a small partitioned area away from windows and sunlight, weaning myself from their constant company.
Then they were at school. Waved off by me each morning on the school bus. Off to new classes with new teachers and new routines. And, sometimes, please oh please, new friends.
It’s the juggling I find hard. I am not even going to pretend to be striving for any kind of balance between my work and home life. The scale has been taken off the kitchen table and kicked to the curb where it sits in the pouring rain waiting for garbage day. Weighing nothing but the air that settles on the two empty trays.
No. I am juggling. Catching balls as quickly as I can in my right hand, tossing them to the left and throwing them back up in the air. Catch, toss, throw. I move swiftly, staggering under the unexpected weight of some balls (when will the girl stop crying every day at school? should I be doing more to help her? what?) and dodging new balls as they fall at me from the sky (the boy did what at school? No. really?). Some days I have been known to duck, wrapping my arms tightly around my head and letting the balls fall where they may at my feet.
I am not a good juggler. I am awkward and stiff in my movements. Uncertain about my skill. I complain about the balls. Sometimes loudly.
I keep juggling. Every day.
Catch. Toss. Throw.