When I said my prayers last night, I forced myself to give thanks for liquor and lice.
Yes, liquor and lice; indisputably the two greatest challenges of my weekend.
I had discovered on Friday that my 17-year-old son had recently gotten drunk with his high school buddies. But before the disappointment and incense from his lapse in judgment even had a chance to sink in, my 6-year-old came home from kindergarten with bugs in her braids.
As a result, it had been a very long and taxing weekend, made exponentially worse by the fact that my husband was out of town for four days.
So alone, I reprimanded my son for his indiscretion, arguing across the kitchen island with this 6’4” man-child as he ridiculously reminded me that he will soon be 18 — and “an adult” capable of making his own decisions. I mulled over potential punishments and consequences. Mostly, I wallowed in despondency while struggling to pinpoint where I had gone astray in my parenting.
And alone, I attempted to eradicate our uninvited creepy-crawly infestation — shelling out $60 in lice treatment shampoo, repellant spray and new brushes. I painstaking pulled a miniscule comb through my daughter’s thick tresses in search of microscopic eggs. I washed load after endless-freaking-load of towels, sheets and clothing, then bagged pillows and comforters and stuffed animals, exiling them to a two-week-long quarantine in the garage. I vacuumed and scrubbed and cussed under my breath —all the while unable to stop scratching my head and scanning the mirror for traces of life on my own scalp.
And so on Sunday night, as I collapsed in bed— brooding and bitter and utterly exhausted — for a split second I thought to myself, I wouldn’t wish this weekend on anyone.
But just as quickly, I realized that wasn’t true.
I would wish it on Parker’s parents.
A year ago, my daughter’s 6-year-old friend was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), a childhood brain stem cancer with a survival rate of less than 1 percent, and a median life expectancy of just 9 months past diagnosis. Parker’s inoperable tumor has stolen his ability to walk, claimed the mobility in his right arm, and left his speech muffled at best. Yet his brain activity remains unchanged. Essentially trapped within his own body, which refuses to perform as asked, he battles on with a determination and courage that will simultaneously break your heart and leave you in awe.
And then there’s the incomprehensible resiliency of his parents, who have taken leaves of absence from their jobs, logged thousands of miles flying cross-country for trials and treatments not covered by insurance, and endured a rollercoaster ride of pain, hope, despair and helplessness that most of us, thankfully, cannot even fathom.
The gravity, the magnitude of it all, swiftly slaps my own trials — liquor and lice — into proper perspective.
I know, with absolute certainty, that Parker’s parents would give anything for the privilege of facing my weekend woes. They would welcome the opportunity to ground a teenage Parker for underage drinking. They would rejoice in annihilating lice from a 4th grade Parker’s mess of blond hair. None of those struggles could cast the slightest shadow on the pure joy they would possess if only to be granted this precious parenting time.
The bane of my weekend would be their bliss.
All of us deep in the trenches of parenting understand that it can be exasperating, grueling work. And there are moments — at every stage, from toddler to teen —when it just plain sucks. Days you spend 2 ½ hours plucking lice from your daughter’s waist-length hair, only to discover the bugs are resistant to over-the-counter Nix. Nights you lay awake agonizing about whether your teenage son will make the right choices, if you have instilled in him the proper values, if he will stay safe. Weekends you pray for nothing more than the wisdom and the strength and the capacity to get this parenting gig right.
But the alternative to mucking through these unpleasant interludes — the unsavory gifts that Parker’s parents will never have the chance to experience with him — is unthinkable.
Sometimes what matters most is simply perspective.
And so last night, I compelled myself to appreciate — to be thankful for — liquor and lice. With a little luck, and a lot of attention, both ailments will likely pass. Almost certainly, they will be replaced by new snags, which in turn will give way to yet another stitch in this vast tapestry we call parenting.
But when I falter under the weight of it all, I can’t help but be inspired by the unwavering bravery and determination of a 6-year-old little boy. And I can’t help but remind myself of the fierce love of his parents, who would give anything for the prospect to experience —with him —weekends of liquor and lice.