Note from Dan: While my family and I are away at the beach this week, I’m treating you to some columns from the past year. This one appeared Dec. 18, 2011 and generated many letters and emails, including a couple from Massachusetts and California.
Friends and relatives have long pondered the Casey family tradition of dining at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve.
The truth is, it was all because of head lice. Hopefully, this will be the last time I have to tell that story.
It began on Christmas Eve 1993 when we lived in Annapolis, Md., which is pretty much the place I grew up.
We had three daughters at the time (our son, Zach, came along later). Caitlin, the eldest, was 6 (she’s now 24) and in first grade. Erin, now 21, was 3. And Anna, now 18, was 5 months old.
Our church had a late-afternoon Christmas Eve Mass for families with young children. We were in the process of getting ready for that. Donna was in the upstairs bathroom with Cait, whose hair she had washed moments earlier.
I heard a blow dryer go on for a moment, and then it shut off and a piercing shriek filled the house.
“Oh, my God!
“Dan — get up here!”
I rushed up the stairs and into the bathroom.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“She has bugs in her hair!”
Donna parted Caitlin’s damp brown locks and showed me a tiny dark speck on her scalp. It was barely visible.
“Are you sure?” I shrugged. “That looks like dandruff.”
“Dandruff is white, you idiot!” Donna shouted. She rooted around further in Cait’s tresses until she found a second, then a third. And a fourth.
“Here’s another!” she cried. “And another!”
There was no Internet to look up bugs in the hair. So Donna called our pediatrician’s office. (Back then, live people actually answered the phone in doctors’ offices.)
A nurse said Cait most likely had lice. She told Donna the name of a lice-killing shampoo she could buy over the counter.
Yours truly was dispatched to the pharmacy and got back about half an hour later.
The shampoo came with this odd, very finely toothed comb. The directions said to wash the hair and then use the super-fine-toothed comb to go through each and every strand.
That’s because the tiny lice lay even tinier eggs — they’re called nits. The shampoo won’t kill those. You’ve got to comb them out, strand by strand. It’s a pain in the butt.
Cait had long and thick hair, so the combing process took something like an hour.
It seemed like we could still make it to church, though. Until Donna washed Erin’s hair, and discovered lice on her head, too.
“Oh, my God!”
Alas, the insecticide shampoo I’d bought for Cait’s bugs was single-dose. So I ran back out to the drugstore to buy another box for Erin. Thank goodness they were still open.
After I returned, more hair-washing and nit-combing commenced. And when Donna concluded that frenzy, she read all the fine print on the shampoo box closely.
This was when we learned that the kids’ clothes, bedsheets, pillows and stuffed animals probably were infested with nits, too.
Every bed linen in the house and every piece of kids’ clothing would need to be laundered, then dried at high temperature.
All of their stuffed animals too — we had many in a house with three little girls. As an option, we could store the stuffed toys in sealed plastic bags for a month.
Donna and I would have to fumigate our hair, too. The lice or their eggs could be anywhere.
Oh, my God, I thought.
“There’s no way we’re going to make church,” Donna said. We also canceled our after-Mass dinner plans.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough laundry soap to do all those loads, or enough large plastic bags to store the stuffed toys, or any more lice shampoo.
So. I went to the store again. Amazingly, it was still open. Besides laundry soap and garbage bags, I bought up the rest of their bug-killing shampoo.
After I returned, and we had washed our own hair, the washer-and-dryer work began. We stripped the beds of all the sheets and blankets and emptied the kids’ closets and bureaus of all their clothes.
As Donna washed those loads, I humped laundry baskets from the laundry room to upstairs and vice versa. I also rounded up and bagged all the stuffed animals.
We finished all of this about 9:30 at night. The kids were still up, and all of us were starving.
“Let’s go out to eat,” I suggested.
“What’s open at 9:30 at night on Christmas Eve?” Donna asked.
“I don’t know. But something must be,” I said. So we loaded the kids in the car and started driving around.
We found one place on the outskirts of town: The Court of Shanghai. It was Chinese dinner for Christmas Eve.
It was the most delicious Chinese food we’d ever eaten. And so the Christmas Eve tradition began.
The wait staff always gives us a funny look when the wine arrives, and Donna and I pick up our glasses for a toast.
“Here’s to head lice,” I say. She just laughs.
We hope yours is lice-free.