The demanding beeping sound of the washing machine catches my attention, indicating its time to switch to the dryer. I rush to the task, knowing evening is quickly approaching, and we can not safely enter bedtime without their friends dried and ready for snuggling.
Today we had the great pleasure of being indoctrinated into a new category of parents—those who can tell you about the time their family battled lice. It is amazing it has taken us this long. Our three children ages seven and under have all attended childcare at some point, a place that encourages the life-long lesson of sharing, including the myriad of diseases that go along with that.
So here we are, in the midst of the sanitization process for what will always be referred to as the Delousing Saga of 2019. We’ve treated the children, vacuumed the furniture, stripped the beds, and now we are down to the most cherished of items, the lovies, the stuffies, the bedtime friends.
He sleeps with Puppy and Beary. There are other rotating guest appearances in his bed, but these are the regulars. When we go to check on him at night, we find them still tucked under his chin, one in each arm like a headlock from your great aunt.
For her, it’s the Daniel Tiger she received when the pacifiers went away to her younger cousin. It was a quid pro quo that I didn’t expect to be as successful as it was. There is also the Tigey Santa spent late-night hours crafting with love and insecurity of how it might be received. It was all for nothing because there has not been a time since that Christmas he wasn’t by her side. Daniel and Tigey might be celebrities on your TV, but in our house, we are friends IRL.
The baby has yet to take to the stuffed animal we placed in his crib when the internet told me it was safe to do so. It’s a lion we forced upon him, a fluffy one Nana and Papa gave him at their first meeting when he was only four weeks old, a nod to his name, Leo. We’re not at all sure if he will live into that name, if he is a King-of-the-Jungle type, although he does do a mean roaring sound. While the youngest isn’t showing any signs of lice yet, we chose to take all precautions and throw Lion into the wash. High heat, they said. It’s the only way to kill them. But apparently high heat also turns a fluffy mane into a 1970s afro. I’m worried the baby won’t take well to the change in hairdo. Lion may be evicted from the crib soon. I make a note to hunt for a new friend. Sorry, Lion.
These are their dearest friends—the ones that lull them to sleep. They get proper noun status in our home, referred to by their given names. It seems our children could be a little more creative with their naming strategies, but we know better than ever to question the name one gives to their beloved. And they are beloved members of our family. They provide company when the dark looms over their small beds at night. They comfort when traveling to a strange place. For when with their friends, they never feel alone.
I have that comfort friend too. For me, it’s my husband. It’s in his arms that I find rest.
I fight it, though. I’m an adult. I shouldn’t need a comfort item to get me to sleep. That’s what my peppermint tea and skincare routine are for. That’s why I use a sound machine and a heavy down comforter and keep the thermostat at a temperature comfortable only to penguins. I’m a grown woman that can care for herself, thank you very much. I don’t need a comfort object to rest well.
Physical touch is a struggle for me these days, too. I live in an introverted body surrounded by boundary-less children who, when not asleep and surrounded by their comfort animals, seek refuge in me. It is one of those “other duties as assigned” in motherhood—the constant touch, pull, press, weight against my body. I give in to them, as long as I can, until I pass the role over to their stuffed friends, offer one last physical presence with a kiss, and wish them goodnight. It is only in these next precious hours of freedom that I can finally just be me in my body.
But sometimes that’s not enough. Sometimes the self-care routines I label as grownup and independent don’t feel adequate for rest. On the really hard days, my soul requires more than facial serums and cozy pajamas. It needs a hug.
Tonight, after a long and unwelcome journey of cleaning and scrubbing and brushing and cleaning, again, I am beaten down. My heart rate still races from the anxiety of infestation, my mind distracted by the guilt of my children’s pain, my body weary from the irritation of duties I did not plan. The exhaustion weighs heavy on me from the outside in.
And then there he is, my delousing partner, my comforter, my husband. He sits on our bed, in its freshly washed, infestation-free sheets. When he smiles at me, he looks as tired as I feel. I collapse into his body as his arms wrap tightly around my back. My breathing matches his, slow and deep, as the anxiety and guilt and irritation leave me with every exhale.
“There is no one I would rather tackle lice with than you,” he whispers. It is the sexiest thing he can say to me in this moment.
And also the most comforting. I may be capable of caring well for both my children and my self, but it sure brings me solace to know I don’t have to do it alone.
The physical contact is welcoming tonight. The struggles of the day do not linger. Sleep finds me quickly in the comfort of his arms.
Rachel Nevergall, mom of three and wife to a man who is WAY better at cleaning the kitchen, is a Minnesotan newbie, curator of family adventures, builder of epic train tracks, lover of all of the library books, and writer in the in-between. She shares about the confluence of her child development background and the realities of parenting on her blog and Instagram.