We are in the car and E has casually mentioned that his head itches. My heart goes cold. Nits. Please no. I am way out of my comfort zone with any medical predicament that cannot be solved with Calpol, and highly nervous of any that involves tiny creepy crawly things. I explain that I will have to have a look at his hair when we get in, in case he has nits.
“What are nits?”
How can I explain that tiny insects set up home on his head, eating his blood and laying eggs without making it sound like… well, like tiny insects set up home on his head, eating his blood and laying eggs? I mention insects, and eggs and purposefully do not go anywhere near the whole blood-sucking thing.
“What do the beetles eat?” See, I knew it would freak him out. I mention insects, and he has imagined a hoard of armoured beetles marauding around his scalp. I scratch my head.
“They’re just insects, sweetie. They don’t hurt you. Just itch a bit.” I think I will change the topic of conversation soon, this is all a bit taxing. I might mention Rice Krispie cakes, that should divert him sufficiently.
“What do they eat?”
“Ermm…” I am not going to mention the blood. Rice Krispie cakes? “Well, just crumbs of skin…” Crumbs of skin? Crumbs? Since when did crumbs of skin exist? Is that really the best I could come up with?
“That we don’t need any more?”
“That’s right. Our skin is always getting old, and tiny bits drop off…”
“Errr… yes, crumbs.” Poor sod. He’s going to walk around thinking he’s shedding like a loaf of bread.
“…and new skin grows in its place.” Please, please do not ask for further clarification. I feel woefully under-qualified to discuss skin regeneration in any further detail.
“Why do nits live on your head, mummy?”
I sigh and silently pray for the line of traffic in front of us to get a sodding move on.
“Because your head is nice and warm.”
“Because the blood is close to the surface of your skin on your head.” I have absolutely no idea whatsoever if there is even a grain of truth in that statement, but at this stage in the conversation I am working on the Parent’s Plausibility Rule: if it doesn’t sound ridiculous, they’ll probably buy it. It is certainly an improvement on ‘because your head tastes of chocolate’ which was my first thought.
“Does your heart pump the blood to your head?” Damn, I knew buying him a book on how the body works was a mistake.
“Yes, it does.” Please. Enough already.
“What happens when your heart stops?” You see, this is what bloody happens. You are having a perfectly nice conversation with your offspring about something innocent like nits, and suddenly you are in Death Territory.
“Err… well. You die.” Just brazen it out, I think. It is pointless flim-flamming around, he’s like a child with a stick and a stranded worm: he just can’t help poking and poking until the inevitable happens.
There is a long pause in the conversation and I breathe a quiet sigh of relief.
“Can your heart start again?” Bugger.
“No, once it’s stopped, it’s stopped. Well, that’s not strictly true. A heart can stop for a few minutes and then start again. But generally, no.” Why do I have to complicate things? Just a straightforward no would have sufficed, for chrissakes.
“Are your eyes open when you die?” I try not to laugh. This is nearly as good as when he asked if you could still hold a fork when you die, prompted by a concern that if he does die he might miss lunch.
“Why?” Of course he was going to ask why. I ask him to brush his teeth and he bloody well asks why.
“Well, it depends on what you are doing when you die.” That is a shit answer, I am sure, but I can’t think of a better one.
“Can you move when you die?”
At last, I see our house up ahead. “No.”
We arrive home and E gets out the car silently. He left nursery happy and carefree and in the space of a five minute car journey I have left him with the thought that there are insects crawling all over his head snacking on his skin crumbs, and that if his heart stops he only has a few minutes to get it going again before he dies for good, immobile but with his eyes wide open. We go in the house and I switch the television on. Let him watch some crap TV, it’s a lot less dangerous than a conversation.