On Pinkeye, Lice, and Love

learning to love your husband through the unexpected

“Mommy, my eye itches!”

The whiny voice came from the back of our minivan. We were trundling slowly down back roads, halfway to our vacation destination, loaded down with so many towels and flotation devices and industrial-sized bottles of sunscreen that the bottom of our van nearly scraped the highway.

“I’m sorry, Sweetie,” I said, not turning around. “Just close it and let it cry a little. Maybe you have an eyelash in there.” From the driver’s seat, my husband, Kevin (a.k.a. Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome), gave his silent nod of approval, renewing our secret pact: Keep it moving, stop for nothing. If we show even a moment’s weakness on road trips, then our four kids take turns declaring a bathroom or medical emergency every fifteen minutes.

Minivan madness

“No, Mommy, it itches and burns!” The last word warbled dangerously close to a wail.

I plastered on a patient expression and twisted around in my seat. After a long search, I found my seven-year-old daughter’s eyes peeking out from behind a purple suitcase and three Pillow Pets. Her left eye was glowing red, Terminator-style. She hadn’t looked like that when we left the house.

“Oh,” I said. “Um.”

Kevin, who after 14 years of marriage had become an expert interpreter of my meaningful ums, tuned in, his voice tipped with worry. “What? What’s wrong?”

“Um, it’s pinkeye,” I said, my mood plummeting.

And in the blink of a crusty pink eye, poof went my glittering plans for a week of sand castles and shell-collecting and long afternoon naps in which all four children, exhausted from swimming, would actually sleep at the same time, allowing Mommy and Daddy to also sleep or . . . not sleep. My mind flooded with words like miserable and contagious and quarantine.

“We need to stop now,” I said. “Like, before we even get there and she contaminates the hotel room. We need to get her on those eye drop thingies, and bathe her in bleach, and wrap cellophane around her hands so she doesn’t scratch her eyes or touch anyone, and then maybe—just maybe—no one else will get it, and we can salvage some sort of family vacation.”

“Um . . .” Now it was Kevin’s turn for the meaningful um. “We’re in the middle of nowhere.

Out came the smartphone. I typed in, “Urgent Care in the Middle of Nowhere,” and we found our target.

Minivan rerouted.

Detour to Urgent Care underway.

At the Urgent Care in Podunk-ville, North Carolina, Kevin and I kicked into let’s-do-this-thing mode. We both agreed that because Kevin is taller and capable of being both charming and slightly intimidating to medical personnel, he should take on the role of Parent Who Will Charm and if Necessary Threaten the Doctors Until They Prescribe the Strongest Medicine Allowed. Without complaint, I accepted the painful role of Lucky Parent Who Gets to Entertain Three Bored Kids in the Overloaded Minivan.

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After eighteen rounds of Categories and Eye Spy (oh, the irony), Kevin and our daughter climbed back into the van, prescription in hand.

“And now, let the Thompson Family Vacation begin,” said Kevin, cranking the engine. He put his hand up, inviting me to give him a high-five. “If we all wash our hands, maybe none of us will get it.” His optimism was infectious. The kids cheered and I laughed. Kevin is right, I thought. I am overreacting. After all, it could be worse. At least it’s not a stomach bug.

We spent the afternoon in a flurry of unpacking and happy-dancing, accompanied by the kids’ giggly, giddy soundtrack. We were on vacation! Who cared if one kid had Pinkeye? Pinkeye, Schmink Eye! Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome and I even convinced the kids to go to bed early, with the promise that if they got extra sleep tonight, they’d swim better and have more fun in the morning.

We had just snuggled up on the couch, wine glasses in hand, when Little Miss Pinkeye wandered out in her nightie.

“My head itches,” she said.

“Honey, we already know your eye itches. The medicine should help it feel better soon,” I said. “Please go back to bed.”

“No. My head itches. My hair. Like, really, really bad.” She demonstrated by frantically clawing at her scalp.

A low-level alarm started pulsing in my head. No. Please, God, no. No no no. We all have our parenting fears, and lice is pretty much number one at the top of mine, even above amputation and loss of spleen.

She scratched her head some more.

I sat frozen. Maybe if I close my eyes, it will all go away. She will go back to bed and the Lice Fairies will come rescue us, and we’ll forget we ever had this conversation. And we can still have our Thompson Family Vacation.

My daughter screeched and collapsed in a writhing heap on the carpet. My alarm leapt from low-level to imminent nuclear threat.

I began to negotiate with God. I’m sorry I complained about Pinkeye. Please don’t punish me for complaining about Pinkeye. I LOVE Pinkeye! Please, if you just give us ALL Pinkeye, AND a stomach bug, I promise I will never complain again for the rest of my life—just please, I beg you, no lice. ANYTHING BUT LICE.           

“Mommyyyyyy!” she wailed, jumping to her feet and doing a violent ants-in-her-pants dance around the room. Only it was very clear that the bugs weren’t in her pants.

Casting Kevin my best save-me-from-the-firing-squad look, I handed him my wine glass and summoned courage from some mysterious inner maternal spring. I ushered my squirming daughter into the kitchen, under the fluorescent lights.

“Um,” I said.

“No,” Kevin said. “Please, no.” He was still sitting where I’d left him on the couch, clutching our two wineglasses in his fists—preacher or not, he was eyeing both glasses with a dangerous gleam in his eye. “Don’t say it.”

“Okay. But you’d better come look.”

The horror etched on Kevin’s face confirmed my diagnosis.

All reason abandoned me. I started hyperventilating. “I did this,” I moaned, “it’s my fault. I’ve been so terrified of lice that the bugs heard me, and they targeted us and tracked us down. And they did it on purpose on this week, to ruin our vacation.”

When I started scratching my own head and babbling about curses and how my fear of lice must have caused the bugs to spontaneously generate on her head and possibly on mine, Kevin started riffling through the hotel kitchenette, searching for a paper bag for me to breathe in. He handed me the bag, and I made him check my head. Meanwhile, our daughter stood there scratching and yawning, a strange smug smile on her face. “I have pinkeye and lice,” she exclaimed. “On the same day! Wait till everybody at school hears about this!”

I screamed into my bag. My husband combed through my hair.

When Kevin pronounced me bug-free and I finally started breathing normally again, we debated strategy. We decided there was no use staying up all night de-lousing an exhausted child. The bugs would still be there in her hair when we all woke up in the morning, plus a few cute new baby lice. We might as well get some sleep. Kevin, who has the blessed gift of compartmentalizing his life and “letting tomorrow worry about itself,” snored blissfully all night. I tossed and turned and itched and scratched my way through lice-haunted dreams.

As is their custom, our kids woke us up at the crack of no-one-except-night-nurses-should-be-awake-right-now. While I stumbled toward the coffee maker and cereal, Kevin grabbed the car keys. “I’ll go buy the lice stuff,” he said. I tried not to cry.

Half an hour later, he made a dramatic reentrance, his baritone voice booming. “All right, all right, all right! Who’s ready for a lice party?”

I gaped at him. From his arms swung grocery bags filled with a hundred dollars’ worth of every de-lousing tool and gel and shampoo ever invented (none of which work, by the way), and in his hands he balanced two cups of steaming coffee, teetering atop boxes of donuts. “Okay, everybody, we’re all taking turns eating donuts and getting our hair brushed with these fancy new combs!” The children squealed with glee and tackled him, as if this was the Best Way to Start a Vacation Ever. “A lice party and donuts, a lice party and donuts!” they sang.

Tears threatened again, but now a different kind.

I watched in awe as my laughing husband paraded across the hotel room, holding donut boxes aloft. Two children swung from his elbows; another clung to his ankle, her bug-infested head covered in a shower cap; the baby clapped and cooed at him from the floor.

In fourteen years of marriage, I had never been more in love with my husband than I was in that moment.

Maybe later that week, if we were no longer a threat to society, we might break our quarantine to swim and search for shark teeth and brave the local aquarium—but I knew that I had already experienced my favorite vacation memory. Eventually I might take some pictures to memorialize sandy baby toes and happy sunburned kids . . . but this was the picture I’d always treasure.

This, I thought, is love. This is family. This is real. I have married a man who can take pinkeye and lice on vacation, and turn it into a party . . . now that’s a good man. That’s a good life. And this might just be the best vacation ever.

finding joy in chaos


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how to find confidence and courage in God

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Across the room you catch my eye,
bouncy curls bobbing, glinting sun,
chubby hands clutching, waving spoon,
secret laugh bubbling, casting joy,
and I want to stop time,
freeze-frame your innocence,
your toddlerhood,
this moment,

So I try.

I pick up the camera.
Adjust the lighting.
Try another angle.
Snap again
and again
and again.

But I cannot capture
the way the fading sun fingers your golden curls,
painting a second sunset in my kitchen;
the way the twinkle in your honey eyes sparks,
and I see my grandmother winking there;
the way your coy giggle spins and curls and winds
across the room, around my heart.

At last, suddenly wiser, I stop trying.

I put down the camera,
and sit down across from you,
and drink you in,
and share your secret joke,
and we laugh,
and I know, somehow,
that I have finally caught the moment,
and my heart will always remember.

poetry about motherhood

Parents Vs. Zombies: 26 Questions Every Parent Should Ask About Technology

helping children navigate technology and social media

Every other day, my kids come home from school talking about the Next New Thing in technology:

“His dad got a smartphone, and it has this cool app!

“Their mom got a tablet, and she lets them play on this awesome website! 

This game system does this . . . that video game does that!

The ever-changing technological landscape is one of the greatest challenges modern parents face. The number of decisions we have to make about our kids’ access to devices and social media is staggering, and it changes so fast it sets our heads spinning. Just when we think we have a handle on our kids’ relationship to technology, some new device comes along. Every time something new comes up, we have to reevaluate what works and doesn’t work for our family, and for each of our kids as individuals.

When our son became obsessive about playing iPad games last year, we learned a hard lesson about the importance of being proactive and strategic about devices and technology. And the thing is, it happened all of a sudden, and completely by accident. We didn’t give our son a tablet of his own; we weren’t trying to introduce something new—it just . . . happened. My husband got an iPad for his birthday, and one day he played a game of Plants Vs. Zombies with our son. And before we could say, “The zombies ate your brains!”, we had a problem: Within a matter of weeks, our son had become a zombie! These 26 questions were born out of our family’s quest to bring our son back from the land of the Walking Dead, take charge of technology in our family (instead of the other way around!), and establish the kind of family atmosphere we wanted to have.

Here are 26 questions every parent should consider about technology use in your family, including smartphones and cell phones, mp3 players, handheld games, video game systems, tablets, laptops, and computers. (If you’re married, you’ll want to discuss these questions with your spouse to make sure both spouses are on the same page.) The first 13 are questions to ask about the devices and technology your family already uses. The second 13 are questions to ask before you introduce a new device to your family.

When can kids use the computer?

13 questions to ask about devices and technologies you have already introduced:

1. Has this technology brought our family closer together, or pushed us apart?

2. Do we have clear guidelines in place?

3. How does this game/phone/computer/tablet benefit our family?

4. Has the way we use this device changed or harmed our family in some way?

5. Can our child disengage easily from using this device?

6. Has this device changed our child’s behavior, personality, or mood in any way?

7. Has our child lost interest in other activities or relationships since we introduced it?

8. Can our child entertain himself/herself without this technology . . . in their free time? at a restaurant? in a waiting room? while riding in a car?

9. Have we set up age-appropriate parental controls and blocks on this device?

10. Does our child understand and respect the parents’ obligation to monitor the device, and respect our right to take it away if need be?

11. Does our child view usage of this device as a privilege, or a right?

12. How does our child respond if we tell them to put the device away, or if we limit their time?

13. How would our family change if we took away this device altogether?

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13 questions to ask yourself before you introduce a new device:  

Before you introduce a new device to your family, or—and this is the one we forget to think about—before you buy yourself a new device that your children will have regular access to, ask yourself these questions:

1. Why are we introducing this device? What is its purpose?

2. Is it age-appropriate for our children? Is it age-appropriate for some of our children, and not others? How will we handle that discrepancy?

3. Can our kids handle this device/game mentally and emotionally?

4. Do we have a child who tends to be obsessive about games? If so, are we prepared to monitor their behavior and mood and usage to the extent they will need? Are we willing to do this long-term? Are we willing to reevaluate how our child is handling this game/device/technology at different points, and adjust our parameters and guidelines as needed?

5. What guidelines do we need to put in place before we introduce this technology?

6. What conversations does our family need to have before we introduce this technology? What does our child need to understand about himself/herself before we put this device in their hands? What do they need to agree to before we put this device in their hands?

7. How will we know if things are not going well? What will we do if this device is not having a positive effect on our child or on our family?

8. Does one parent have misgivings or strong feelings against introducing this technology? Have both perspectives been fully heard?

9. What days and times is it okay and not okay to use this device? What places is it okay and not okay to use this device? Is it okay to use this device when friends or family come over to visit?

10. How much time are kids allowed to spend on this device each day/each week?

11. How will we track our child’s time on this device?

12. How will we monitor our child’s behavior on this device (websites they have visited, pictures they have taken and posted, messages they have sent to friends, new friends they have added to social networks)?

13. Are we willing to get rid of this device if it harms our child or our family in some way? Does our child accept our right and responsibility to make this decision?

As you make decisions about your family’s relationship to technology, remember these five principles:

  1. Be an example. (Parents’ habits with phones, computers, and devices will influence our children more than anything we say.)
  2. Be intentional. (Think. Engage. Discuss. Plan. Monitor. Adjust. Don’t let your family’s relationship with technology “just happen.”)
  3. Be proactive. (Anticipate issues. Have discussions and set expectations ahead of time.)
  4. Be flexible. (Adjust as the technology changes, and as kids change.)
  5. Stay engaged. 

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How We Helped Our Son Overcome a Gaming Obsession

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13 Reasons Moms Never Get Haircuts

My new book, When God Says “Wait”

When God Says Wait: Navigating Life's Detours and Delays Without Losing Your Faith, Your Friends, or Your Mind










13 Reasons Moms Never Get Haircuts

Scheduling a haircut is never easy, but once you have a child, getting a haircut takes divine intervention, planetary alignment, and a whopping dose of good luck. Here are thirteen reasons moms hardly ever get their hair cut: 1. First, you have to call ahead. This requires having the wherewithal to think multiple thoughts in a row:Huh. I could probably sweep the floor with my hair. I guess I need a hair cut . . . I should call and make an appointment . . . I should do that today.” (Meanwhile, the baby cries; the potty-trainee tinkles on the floor. All hair-related thoughts fly from your head.)

Fun Friday Post: Bouquet

a child's bouquet


Elizabeth Laing Thompson

Weeds upon my windowsill,

tickled by a breeze,

gifts from chubby, grubby hands,

picked with pride for me.

Bruised by clumsy, eager fists,

petals all askew,

still they bob and wink and wave

and whisper, “She loves you.”


Poetry for mothers...when children pick flowers


When children pick flowers