The school office number appeared on my phone and I caught my breath.
‘We’ve got Lola here in the office…’, the voice on the other end of the phone said with concern.
Before I could process the rest, my mind raced back to the school alert email I’d received earlier that day letting me know that lice had been found on a child in an elementary classroom. It went further to inform me that “…lice do not transmit any diseases, they are, nevertheless, a nuisance and can cause intense itching and discomfort.” I had experienced itching and discomfort simply from reading the email.
I braced myself for the pending lice-bomb on the other end of the line and instead heard ‘She has a fever. Can you come and get her?’
At this joyful news I high-fived an invisible Orkin man and did a silent and impromptu lice-free end zone dance to celebrate. A fever is fleeting. A fever is treatable with cherry-flavored medicine. A fever doesn’t evoke the side-eye from fellow parents. A fever gets her the hell away from those human critter-hosts she calls classmates (not that there is anything wrong with them...except lice).
On the phone, I feigned disappointment with an ‘awwww, I’ll be right there.’ I wasn’t happy that she was feeling poorly, but I knew a dose of Tylenol was far less concerning than days of prescription shampoos and nit-picking. I put on my Hazmat suit and made my way to her school.
I arrived to fetch her within a few minutes and found my 5-year-old sitting on the lap of a women in the office who had one arm around Lola and the other typing on her computer. Lola had sick eyes and a tear running down her cheek. This stranger was speaking softly to my daughter whose head was laying on her willing shoulder.
I guess she wasn’t exactly a stranger. I had seen her before in the office and I thought her name started with a C. I was sure I had received emails from her with school lunch order reminders or uniform vendor information before. She always had a smile and seemed to be doing 8 things at once. She was the one whose desk my son had been playing Legos on when I went to gather him from preschool early one day after an office alert about a ‘number two’ in his pull-up (a number two that as it turned out smelled like rancid Chick Fil-a).
It occurred to me that C. deserved some serious acknowledgement for caring for my kids (and lots of others), and doing so with a smile. This woman was clearly a gem in the world of school personnel. A treasure who worked tirelessly without the SARS mask and nose plugs she rightly deserved.
Thinking back to my own elementary school days, I remembered vinyl-covered sick-chairs placed at least 15 sneezes from any office personnel. I remember an icy typewriter-wielding woman with an unwelcoming lap, untouched by any student, sick or well.
I certainly don’t remember a warm and friendly woman willingly greeting me in the office. I remember being asked from afar to wait while she rifled through colored index cards to find my home phone number.
Thirty years later, here was my daughter with a potentially contagious fever and a more-than-slight potential of being a bug carrier and C. was unphased.
After a quick ‘thank you’, I grabbed my daughter and headed home. I thought about how I should thank her and what I should have said. I thought a lot about the lady who was a superior mom stand-in for those 20 minutes, and about how I could be more like her in similar situations. My common ‘didn’t give birth to it, not my problem’ approach to other people’s kids seemed less appealing and I felt like I had a better side to show now that I had seen it done so expertly.
When I got home, I gave Lola some medicine and she was feeling better within a few hours. Seeing C. in action helped me brush up on my own empathy and gave me a great reason to reflect on the little unexpected gifts that others can offer us. It made me more aware of offering my own compassion to others even at the risk of inconvenience or worse.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that some day I will probably be on the receiving end of the lice call. On that day, I’ll be the comforting shoulder and I won’t think twice. And on that day I better get to school in a jiffy.
Because no one wants that kid sitting on their lap.