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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Author: Elizabeth Laing Thompson VIEW ALL AUTHORS POSTS

Elizabeth works from home as a writer, editor, diaper changer, baby snuggler, laundry slayer, not-so-gourmet chef, kid chauffeur, floor mopper, dog groomer, and tantrum tamer. She is always tired, but it's mostly the good kind.


  • Jeri March 30, 2015 at 2:47 am

    love, love, love this!

    • Stacey Robinson March 31, 2015 at 6:37 pm

      Oh Elizabeth…I”m laughing as I read this post. I love it! We had the lice fairies generously come to our house last week and I wish I could say we handled it as gracefully as you both have done. There wasn’t a party or donuts, but there was a little wine involved!! Love you guys:)

      • Elizabeth Laing Thompson April 1, 2015 at 12:07 am

        POOR YOU! Ugh. Next time, call Kevin. He’ll bring the party…

  • Amy March 30, 2015 at 3:21 am

    Oh, I feel for you. I’ve gone through this both as a mom and as an adult! My husband and I got lice as adults from the movie theater seat when we went out on a date. It was one of the most annoying and enduring ordeals that I’ve ever gone through. I ended up having a very severe allergic reaction to the OTC meds and had to go to the ER because I had severe chest pain, trouble breathing and hives everywhere. I was sick and itchy and battled both the lice and the physical repercussions of basically poisoning myself with those meds for months. Thank heavens my husband was there to be my rock and help me through it just like yours helped you through. I’m glad you’ve got a good one. Hope that your kiddos are all cleared up soon!

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson March 30, 2015 at 12:11 pm

      Aaaah what a NIGHTMARE! You’re making me itch, just THINKING about all of this! 🙂 Thankfully, we are in the clear . . . this story happened a while back, and I didn’t want to blog about it until way after the fact, so our friends wouldn’t think we were contaminated, HA!

  • Geri March 30, 2015 at 4:42 am

    I am laughing out loud, and now, very close to crying. This has to be my favorite story and blog ever! You have described so beautifully the craziness of raising a young family. What wasn’t much fun at the time became one of your most special memories! And, yes, you do have the most amazing husband!! Love this!

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson March 30, 2015 at 12:13 pm

      Aw, thanks, Mom! 😀 It really was insane, and yet . . . I really did fall so much more deeply in love with Kevin! I could never have predicted that lice (or lice combs and donuts, anyway) could be romantic. 😉

      • Van March 30, 2015 at 11:29 pm

        Those real moments are so much better than the storybook romances. Great story.

        • Elizabeth Laing Thompson March 31, 2015 at 2:19 pm

          Thanks, Van!

  • Jen March 30, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    Love this-so great and hysterical!

    Side note… I have witnessed his Marty Poppins-esque ways with a handful of 2nd & 4th graders, late night….he’s like MacGuyver and the Baby Whisperer rolled into one 😉

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson March 30, 2015 at 12:50 pm

      That describes him perfectly, Jen! And the crazy thing is, he had only held a baby like twice before we had kids! He’s a natural.

  • Delaney March 30, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    wonderful story that is a glimpse into the heart of family and love!

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson March 30, 2015 at 4:39 pm


  • Teresa March 30, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    Thanks for this laugh-out-loud read this rainy, Monday morning!

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson March 30, 2015 at 4:38 pm

      Tee hee!

  • Susan March 30, 2015 at 1:59 pm

    I could so relate to this! I’m mom to 6 kids (all grown now), and I can’t remember a vacation when something didn’t go “off.” Though I have to say that the lice invasions usually happened at our house in the midst of a normal crazy week rather than a vacation. Your husband is a saint … is he on loan for lice parties?

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson March 30, 2015 at 4:38 pm

      Hahaha, Susan, I should probably hire him out for this kind of parenting emergency… “Lice Parties. We make house calls.”

  • Kat Watson March 30, 2015 at 2:21 pm

    This actually happened to us! We were going on a family vacation, and as I saw the sun glinting on my child’s hair at the airport, I saw nits. What a horrible downer. That night in the hotel room everyone had olive oil in their hair and shower caps on. (We’d struggled before with resistant bugs, and found recurrent doses of oil works best.) It’s funny now to think of the crackling sound everyone made every time they turned over in bed.

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson March 30, 2015 at 4:38 pm

      Oh my goodness, I can hear the crackling. So glad we are not the only ones who have had this happen! I will say: The ONLY good thing about this happening on vacation was that I didn’t have to do all the laundry myself! All we had to do was call the front desk and whisper “lice,” and in marched an army of housekeepers, ready to burn all our bedding and replace it with new sheets and blankets! 😀

  • Clare Speer March 30, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    Oh my goodness – brings back similar memories (my kids are young adults now) – I love how you candidly and gave such great descriptions of your trip!!!!! Goodness – so glad your husband was supporting and helpful!!!! That makes all the difference in the world!

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson March 30, 2015 at 4:36 pm

      It really DOES!

  • Jeanie Shaw March 30, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    I think this is my favorite post! Perfect! I am reliving this. I have not yet had the nerve to publicize our last family vacation this past summer. All 16 of us together in one house…and at least half of the time was spent treating and nit-picking. The other half doing laundry…washing sheets, towels, everything every day. Amazing. I can laugh now (and did a little then since I was the grandmother and not the mother) And crazily enough…it was still a special time. The vacation pictures are crazy. We made lots of “crazy hair” designs. The water bill for that week must have been rough for the landlords. Love this (and you)

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson March 30, 2015 at 4:43 pm

      Oh my GOODNESS! Sounds insane. I actually thought of you and all your crazy stories when I wrote this. I thought, “This is like Jeanie-level of chaos here!” 🙂 And yes, it also took me a long time to get the guts to tell this story—I saved writing about it till I’d stopped twitching over the memory, AND because I didn’t want our friends to think we might still be infested. 😀

  • Emma March 30, 2015 at 2:55 pm

    I laughed until I cried! So glad these kinds of vacation disasters aren’t unique to my family 😉 You describe beautifully the hilarious chaos of family life, but what I love even more is the depiction of your moments of insight into the true nature of love– messy, faithful, and breathtakingly beautiful!

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson March 30, 2015 at 4:41 pm

      Oh, you can always count on us for vacation disasters (really, for daily disasters)! And I love that description of family life—”messy, faithful, and breathtakingly beautiful.” And such strange situations in which we find that beauty! xoxo

  • Amanda March 30, 2015 at 4:46 pm


  • Meg March 30, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    Thanks Elizabeth! This is hilarious!

  • Amanda March 30, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    SO funny! (says the girl who WASN’T there dealing with eye-and-hair bugs on a family vaca). And such an inspiration to find happy, fun memories even in the midst of seeming disaster. Thank you for the laugh!

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson March 31, 2015 at 2:23 pm

      Always glad to provide a laugh… 😉

  • Tara March 30, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    Wow Elizabeth! I laughed out loud! You (and Kevin’s) reaction is sooooo encouraging! I’m sure I would have had a meltdown and told Glenn to turn the car around and just go home. I hope I am able to react with love and optimism when our next family hiccup/issue/emergency happens 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson March 31, 2015 at 2:22 pm

      Haha, glad we could help prepare you for the next family emergency!

  • Lacy March 30, 2015 at 9:03 pm

    I can sooooo see this happening. I laughed so much that Tim came and looked over my shoulder to see what was so funny. You have a way with words and I could see this happening to our family. Knock on wood quickly!

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson March 31, 2015 at 2:22 pm

      YES, knock on every wooden thing you can find!

  • Karen March 30, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    Is that an actual picture of Kevin treating said child’s hair?? What a great post 🙂

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson March 31, 2015 at 2:20 pm

      Haha no, not Kevin! 🙂 I might have thrown up if I tried to take a picture of the lice-combing . . . not for the faint of heart!

  • Bonnie Lyn Smith March 31, 2015 at 2:49 am

    You had me on the edge of my seat. This was so beautiful! I’ve been there…and those really are some raw moments, but how awesome to hear how you redeemed them. These are those “in the trenches” moments nobody tells us about, but in them, love deepens just as you say! LOVED this!

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson March 31, 2015 at 2:19 pm

      Thanks, Bonnie! It’s true . . . no one really tells you about these times at your baby shower! 😀 But they’re real, and they’re life, and they either make us or break us! I’m so glad my hubby is good at laughing at the chaos when I kind of want to cry.

  • Greta'Gigi' Smith March 31, 2015 at 2:56 am

    How hilarious and frustrating for you. I have been laughing out loud over here. You and your husband turned lemons to lemonade- that is so awesome that even in the ‘worst of times’ you can still have the ‘best of times.’

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson March 31, 2015 at 2:17 pm

      I must give the lemonade-making credit to my always-positive husband! I’m so thankful I married someone who doesn’t let me spiral down when lice (and life) attack!

  • Erin March 31, 2015 at 7:33 pm

    I’ve been in both these situations with my kids, and my eyes and head itch just thinking about it!! Great story!

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson April 1, 2015 at 12:08 am

      Mine, too! I’ve been itching ever since I wrote this.

  • Christine Carter May 23, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    OMG WHAT A STORY!!!! I could not love this more. I mean the both the hilarity and the beauty of it all. Not the pink eye and lice. No no no…. *Where’s my paper bag*

    I ADORE this kind of love… THIS is where the good stuff happens…. amidst the messes.

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson May 23, 2017 at 1:28 pm

      Thanks, friend! It really is where the good stuff happens, if we can stop hyperventilating long enough to appreciate it. 😀

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