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February 18, 2019

Lemon, it’s Wednesday

“Lemon, it’s Wednesday,” so goes the 30 Rock meme after Liz Lemon comment on the week that’s been, which is the way I was feeling last week about the month of February, when we weren’t even two weeks into it yet. We’ve had stomach bugs, and kid emotional turmoil, disturbed sleep, terrible weather, and so much snow shovelling. We have a provincial government whose sheer incompetence is the only thing between it and the destruction of our public institutions, and so last week I was out at two community meetings with galvanizing plans and discussion for how we can stand up for public education. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that most of my neighbourhood is covered in a thick and impermeable sheet of ice, which means that any walk down the street is a hobble, and I’ve got leaks in my boots. I’m feeling discouraged and sad about how my writing career is panning out, with a novel rejected in November and the one I did publish prominently featured in the chain bookstore clearance bin. And I’ve reached that inevitable point in my own plans for exciting things this year where I wonder if I’m fooling myself and everybody thinks I’m a total idiot. I was so tired last Thursday after running around taking everyone to their swimming lessons, and also having dinner ready early so that everyone could eat around their swimming lessons. “I’m sorry I was cranky,” was the text I sent home while Iris was practicing her flutter kick in the pool before me. “I think what I need is to just come home tonight and take a bath.” But of course there would be no bath, because before the night was out it would become clear that I have head-lice. Head-lice was the one thing my February had been missing.

My brain is still teeming. The itch. It doesn’t require proof or evidence. Thought is enough. You do it yourself. Lice. Imagine them crawling on your head. Claws touching skin. They pass over us, across this family. —Alexander MacLeod, “Wonder About Parents”

In the last few days, we’ve spent over a hundred dollars on expensive shampoo and a lice comb, and my husband has spent hours picking over my scalp with attention to detail. And it makes me wonder what the women who end up with lice who don’t have partners do? Let alone the women who have lice who don’t have a spare $80 lying around to buy the shampoo necessary to treat the whole family (and for best results, repeat the process in seven days). I feel outclassed by the people who are able to call in the lice-trepreneurs (this is a thing!), but at least I can afford Nixx. And it makes me think about the “Bug Economics” essay in Carissa Halton’s wonderful book, Little Yellow House, which I read in January. She writes about how many families are unable to afford the “kill-these-damn-bugs shampoo,” which might not even work anyway. She goes on to write about another inner-city scourge, bed-bugs, but the principle applies to lice as well: “While everyone can get [them], the poor are most likely to have to deal with the creatures longer than most.” I am lucky: I am not poor. Also, I don’t have bed-bugs. (Yet? February has a lot of steam left in it still.)

Lice. The third week. Head checks in the morning and head checks at night after the baths. You need to go slowly. A separate bath for every person. New water. Fresh pillow cases every night. New sheets. New blankets. The washing machine is going to die. Hats and T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts. Brushes and combs and hair elastics. Water boiling in the kettle. Everything that touches us needs to be scalded. —”Wonder About Parents”

Lice is a metaphor. Lice is also not a metaphor, which is the unfortunate part of this story, or at least one unfortunate part. (It is February. There is very little fortune.) But still, lice is a metaphor for the secret shame that creeps around your head, and makes you unfit for others’ company. It marks you and makes you less than, and everybody tells you that they’re attracted to people with clean hair, but nobody believes that anyway. You start contemplating pixie cuts, crew cuts, buzz cuts. The chance to be somebody different. Because what if I’m completely hopeless, and I’m just the last person to realize it? It’s taken me almost forty years to contact lice, and I’d always kind of thought that I was immune to it all, just like how I thought I was immune to failure. Or dared to hope my story would end up different than most people’s, is what I mean, that it could even be a story of triumph. Everyone gets lice sometimes (although usually it’s when they’re six and not thirty-nine), and everyone’s book ends up in the clearance bin, but still, who wants to be everyone? Necessary humility, certainty, but insufficient consolation.

The only way out is through.

Which is true for head-lice, and Februaries, and any period of unhappiness. It’s never easy, because you get to March and you’re still carrying February inside you, and maybe you’ve still got nits (although I’m really hoping I don’t). And to be honest, I don’t any advice that is better than that, to just keep going, in addition to washing one’s hair with vinegar, which might not even help, but I like that there is something else I can do—in addition to the chemical shampoo.

6 thoughts on “Lemon, it’s Wednesday”

  1. theresa says:

    You are not only *not* an idiot but an amazing and extraordinary writer. Generous, kind, funny as anything, smart, smart, smart.
    And lice? No fun. But at least you have the right shampoo. I had scabies in grade 5, passed on to me by my seatmate Andrew Elliot, and the treatment was standing naked in a bathtub (my mum kept the heat low in our house to economize…)and have stingy lotion painted onto the entire body, genitals included.

    1. Kerry says:

      THE WORST. Happy to report that I have been deloused. And now I can be grateful that at least it wasn’t scabies.

  2. joanne says:

    I find your way of putting thoughts into words- quite lovely. I like coming here to read what you write. Perhaps your editors are not getting your books onto the correct reading shelves? I find people want a real paper book less and less. They read on a tablet or on their phone. I like a paper book and read quite a lot of books and I admit-50% or more are garbage. A waste of paper and ink. I was just at the library and not one thing in the new section tempted me to even try reading it. I will look for your book.

    1. Kerry says:


  3. Nathalie says:

    You are a bright spark in my life, Kerry Clare. I love your writing and your passion for all your passions. You make my world a better place in which to live. I’m sorry about the lice. I’m also now itchy.

    1. Kerry says:

      Oh, Nathalie. Thank you. I feel much better now and also lice-free. You are great. xo

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