‘This’ is a nit date. Ever had one? Oh, you should, everyone should. It’s the pinnacle of life I never thought I’d reach. Spending two hours with an equally hirsute friend de-lousing each other’s hair – it’s exactly what I left work to do. Followed closely by spending 30-60 minutes nit combing my daughter’s similarly long, thick, wavy hair every other day for two weeks and counting.
On reflection, I see this joyous initiation into primary school life in two ways. On a bad day, dealing with nits is yet another rung in the never-ending hamster wheel of life with young children. As if there aren’t enough mind-numbingly dull, repetitive aspects to the average day, now I have to add this to our bedtime routine? Where do I rustle up that extra time – oh yes, of course, out of my own, post-bedtime adult time. The time when all parents I know take a deep, relieved breath, often followed with the clink and slurp (sorry sip, of course, sip) of the all important ‘I survived’ glass of wine. Right now, it also eats into my exercise time, which makes me grumpy. If nothing else it means I can’t have chocolate after supper ‘because I deserve it’.
Don’t let’s forget the gross-ness of them either. Having never seen a nit, when the letters from school started coming through I asked a few friends what to look for. Tiny grains of rice that are stuck to the hair seemed the best indicator. That didn’t quite prepare me for increasingly obssessively combing about 20 brown, 2-3mm bugs with recognisable legs out of my daughter’s hair. Boy was my head itching after that. Every time I see girls in my daughter’s class with their long hair flowing in the wind I feel like finding their parents and giving them a good talking to.
On a good day, (or in a good hour – let’s be honest, days with kids are never wholly good, are they), it is a mark of friendship that we trusted each other to do a really thorough job and not be too grossed out by the whole thing. For some people it could sit the same side of the line as not closing the door when you wee or talking about your sex life.
Mostly though, I think it’s an example of the most unexpectedly valuable, enjoyable and treasured things I’ve gained through stopping working – the fun and support of really wonderful, local friends, for me and the kids. Friends whom we would never have been able to get to know anywhere near as well if I had continued working.
Although I was lucky enough to make one or two great local friends when I was working, I know now how valuable and nourishing a broader support network really is. I wonder if this modern friends-based set up gives us even more support than families provided when the norm was to have grandparents, siblings, cousins a few doors down. These are people I’ve chosen to spend time with, with whom there are no family role issues or baggage to deal with, just trust, respect, friendship and joint knowledge that in a fix we will do whatever we can to help each other out.
I think not having access to this is one of the most difficult parts of being a working mother, unless you are lucky enough to get it through existing friendships. You can’t be there for play dates to get to know your kids’ friends. You feel you can’t ask too much too often because you know you can’t reciprocate. You’ll never be one of the gaggle loitering at the school gate because you have to drop and run, if it’s even you who drops at all. You might meet people at the occasional organised evening out and 5 mins chats at school pick up time, but you know you don’t have the time to build proper relationships. What a shame, there could have been nit dates, pox parties and everything.
You give up a lot to keep a full-time career going in my opinion. Nit dates are the least of it. Even on my worst days I don’t regret stopping, or not feel thankful we can make it work financially for a year or two. When I’m cleaning wee off the floorboards for the nth time, or hearing myself shout ‘will you stop shouting’, I have of course wondered if it was really the right decision for me or indeed for the kids. But out of the heat of the moment, I know this life is infinitely more rewarding on so many levels.
So maybe in a funny way, the nit date wasn’t so bad. My friend was happy she has finally found someone who has more hair than she has. And it could be worse. She told me some of the nits cases she’s seen at work were so bad the sufferers had nits in their eyebrows. Now that really is gross.