There is a theory that our human ancestors developed the ability to speak while checking each other for lice and other pests. This theory—called Gossiping and Grooming—maintains that speech developed during the countless hours our ancestors spent picking bugs out of each other’s hair.
Anyone who has spent several hours getting their hair cut and colored can understand the merits of this theory. Who among us hasn’t casually revealed a deep secret to a stylist just to pass the time while they’re pawing at your head?
My spouse and I put this theory to the test yesterday during yet another lice panic at her son’s middle school. Any time a kid at the school has lice, the school sends a notice to parents to scrub down their kids immediately as a preventative measure.
During the week, when we’re working and taking care of the kids, we rarely have time to chat. When we’re home, she’s in full mom-commander mode—barking orders, performing inspections, sentencing bad behavior with the removal of screen time. On weekdays, I’m lucky if I get a friendly grunt in the morning and evening.
Our main communication during the week is via text. She’ll issue one-word dictates, leaving me to fill in the verbs. “Dinner.” (Translation: Pick up dinner.) “Dogs.” (Translation: The dogs did something naughty/smelly and I need to fix it.) “Emoji of tennis ball.” (Translation: I love you. Early in our courtship, she mistakenly sent a tennis ball emoji in response to a love text from me, and it’s been our symbol of love ever since.)
Yesterday, I received a text that simply said: “Lice.” I immediately started scratching my head for phantom lice and left my office for home.
By the time I got home, the kids had already been treated with the vile lice shampoo, and then dispatched to their dad’s house for the night so we could wash every bed sheet and towel in the house. Standard lice prevention protocol.
When I walked in the door, my spouse was waiting for me with a new tool: an electric lice comb designed to detect whether you have any lice or nits on your scalp.
“The procedure takes up to an hour,” she said, reading the directions on the box. “I didn’t have time to use it on the kids. But let’s try it on you and see if it works. If it doesn’t find any, you don’t have to use the shampoo.”
Silently, she grabbed my head and began methodically combing through my hair on a lice hunt. But as my head nestled into her warm bosom and the electric lice comb buzzed across my scalp, all the stress of the workweek and the lice emergency melted away, and we started chatting.
We made vacation plans and speculated on her 17-year-old son’s college choices. She told me of some childhood adventures I hadn’t heard before, and I revealed that I like to smell the lint that I pull from my belly button. “My secret shame,” I confessed.
But mainly we gossiped about the filthy little bastards who keep spreading lice at the school.
“Kids in this town get lice so frequently, I’m beginning to suspect that it’s a new attention-seeking trend,” I said. “It’s bad enough we have to make 12 cakes for a birthday party to accommodate every kids’ bizarre dietary restrictions, but this lice nonsense is the worst! Look at that mountain of laundry we have to get through tonight.”
“Oh, it’s not so bad,” she said, gently pulling my head deeper into her bosom. “We should nitpick once a week, whether there’s an outbreak or not.”