As moms — and really as women — we are socialized to care for others first and foremost. We take care of ourselves when we have a moment to spare, which often means we just don’t.
At no other time was this more apparent to me than the time I got lice.
It was last summer. I’d been itching my head for the better part of two weeks. I figured this was the expected result of burning my scalp when I forgot to wear a hat during a recent hike in the pounding Colorado sun.
It wasn’t until I was literally an itching, bleeding mess that I asked my teen daughters and my husband to take a peek at my head. I even handed them a flashlight and showed them pictures online of what to look for.
“Looks fine! I don’t see anything but a few scabs, Mom.” I asked again the next day — still, they saw nothing.
Hmmm. Maybe it was an allergic reaction to my new shampoo? Perhaps I contracted a weird scalp fungus.
What else could it be?
Dear God, maybe I have lice. I checked my daughters, my husband. They hadn’t been itching and they were in the clear. Not trusting them to perform a thorough exam at this point I went to the store and bought a nit comb.
That night, standing at my sink I worked through my hair. I found a live one, then another, then another. Indeed, I had lice — for the first time in my entire life. And somehow no one else in my family had it!
First of all, ick. Second of all, how could it be possible that Mom gets lice but the rest of her family doesn’t? More importantly, why did I let myself suffer for two weeks? Though I was able to see the humor in this, I also saw it as a little bit sad and pathetic.
When did I decide that my own well-being was so far down on my priority list? Was everything else that I did really that important and all-consuming that I didn’t take a moment to investigate why I was scratching my head till it bled? That I didn’t take time to consider that I might have a small army of bugs and their unborn babies living there?
I’d like to say that this experience started my trajectory into a strict, more active self-care regimen. It didn’t really — life is still busy and I like it that way. But it did make me more conscious of the fact that I need to make a space for moi somewhere on the priority list.
I am glad that small epiphany came in the form of something harmless — like lice — instead of something more important such as a forgotten mammogram or a delayed colonoscopy.
So ladies, consider this a reminder to take care of yourselves too. And if you feel really itchy — particularly at the nape of your neck or just behind your ears — you probably have lice.