DURING THE HOLIDAYS I LEARNED that nothing clears a proverbial room faster than announcing a head lice infestation underway.
Our family had just settled in with my in-laws at their home in Grand Rapids, Mich. — just begun to slow down enough to sleep in and laze around for a few days before New Year’s Eve — when my husband, David, sounded the alarm.
“I think I need some help in here!” he shouted from the upstairs bathroom where he had been combing Ray’s hair before our first-ever studio portrait with his side of the family that morning.
“I think I need tweezers. Quick!” he added.
We briefly haggled over if the tiny bug on our first grader’s scalp could be a louse or something else.
Then, Grandma Van fetched a magnifying glass, and we hustled downstairs to compare the bug against photos of lice pulled from the internet and magnified a hundred times.
That confirmed our suspicions and turned the house topsy-turvy as we mobilized our delousing death squad.
I laundered a dozen loads of sheets, clothes, blankets and canvas travel bags in the hot wash cycle and tumbled all of it on the hottest dryer setting.
David sprayed couches and car upholstery with a special delousing product and vacuumed all things fibrous.
He cut the kids’ hair short in the basement. I shampooed them with RID in the kitchen, and we both used special combs to pull nits — lice eggs — from their hair for a week.
We shampooed them again then with RID and followed up with more days of nit combing.
Just to be safe, David and I lathered up with this potent product that needs to sit in hair for 10 minutes, and we used the knit comb, too, on the same schedule.
But we pushed all of these frantic activities to the wayside until after the photo shoot, one arranged and paid for by my sister-in-law and brother-in-law at a studio normally closed at that time for the holidays.
I warned the kids not to roll around on the carpet. I told them this would be our only public venture until further notice, and called my sister-in-law en route.
“Oh, no,” she said and immediately following our photography appointment underwent the same head and house delousing campaign.
They also declined further contact with us at their home or at Grandma and Grandpa Van’s home where we stayed, albeit with some humor. For example, after they bought their very own delousing kit and picked through each others’ hair for nits they texted us a photo of a chicken egg sitting atop my nephew’s head as if to say that their problem with nits supersized ours.
Who can blame them for retreating?
Even my parents told us to keep our cooties to ourselves and to forget about stopping overnight, per usual, at their home in Illinois on our way from Michigan to Colorado.
All of this is to say that we will frame the family portrait, an image from that day that freezes a rare moment of together time during the 2016 holiday season.
And we feel grateful for that official version.
But per usual, the bootleg stuff — the outtakes and bloopers that happen in our family and in yours — will get the last laugh.
Such raw material puts personality into families and keeps the years from melting together into a slick of vanilla ice cream — sweet, but unremarkable.
It forces families to stay nimble in finding the sunny side of the street, and hopeful when the forecast calls for rain.
It keeps us from getting rusty about laughing at ourselves and making the best of bad situations — even deadly serious ones.
Of course, winning the lottery and sharing the spoils would overshadow lice infestation news with glorious benefits, not icky burdens.
But what are the chances of that?
Here’s to the rest of this year, come what may!
Pam Mellskog can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-746-0942.