Why I’m Thankful for Lice

As we approach the holiday season, it occurred to me that among the many things I’m grateful for, head lice hold a special place in my heart. Not because they’re kind of cute on the Lice Happens M&M’s we love so much. And not because after working with them for a while, I’ve developed an appreciation for the complexity of their life cycle and the biological adaptations they’ve made over the centuries that ensure their survival for as long as mankind exists.

The real reason I’m thankful for head lice is that they provide me with opportunities to connect with families in crisis, during which I often witness extraordinary examples of coping behavior, and uplifting models of how families relate. I learn so much from observing these stalwart souls, and from participating in the process of clearing them of head lice, which are, in their own lousy way, wonderful, tiny teachers.

I don’t think I’ve ever visited a client that has left me cold, but there is one in particular that I’ll never forget because their warmth and generosity came shining through in the face of adversity that went far beyond an infestation of lice. And I’m here to tell you: I’m thankful that such openhearted folks exist.

This particular family consisted of two parents whose grown sons were on their own, and one grandparent. At a time when semi-retirement and an empty nest might have meant long mornings lingering over coffee and crosswords, and mid-afternoon tee times followed by early happy hours, this couple opted to foster two young teenage girls, both of whom had survived abusive homes and had challenges that most of us will never face.

One daughter, developmentally disabled, wore thick glasses and a cheerful disposition. She was alert and effervescent, eager to please, and she delighted me with her effusive happiness and her unfettered expressions of love. She bragged that she would get to go to high school until she turned 21 instead of just 18, and I realized at that moment how important perspective can be.

The other daughter suffered emotionally, yet was cooperative and forgiving in the hands of one of our trainee specialists, whose technique was (how to say this delicately?) not yet perfected. Her kindness flowed freely, as if she was always meant to bond with people in this way.

What struck me then, and stays with me now, is the environment of trust, love, openness, and family engagement that they had built in the six short months since the girls had come to live with them. I was honored to be invited into their home, and I am humbled by their strength and kindness.

During this season of thanksgiving, I am thankful for lice because they provide me with meaningful work that also happens to pay the bills. I might just be the luckiest, and most grateful, nitpicker on earth.