Exclamation Points And Lice Letters

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I’ve been thinking about exclamation points, and how there are too many of them. It’s like loose monetary policy. The exclamation point has been so debauched by overuse that I can no longer tell what in life is truly scream-worthy. Everywhere I go it’s the same: Everything Must Go! We’re Slashing Prices! You Must Be 18 Years Old To Enter! (Whoa, did I write that last one, or just think it? This is awkward.)

Of course, I wouldn’t highlight a problem without offering a solution, unless the reason were really obvious. Like “Kim Jong-un will probably win his March Madness brackets” obvious, or “one second eye contact max with your dental hygienist as she cleans your teeth” obvious. So here it is: at birth, everyone should be given their lifetime allotment of exclamation points. We could even start counting at the age of reason. The thing is, when they’re used up, my brother, they’re used up. If you want to spend your days texting OMG!! and LOL!!! to all your totes besties, then fine. But when you join the choir invisible in a bobcat mauling that could have been avoided had you saved just one exclamation point, you’ll only have yourself to blame.

Finite exclamation points. A bright-line rule that’s easy to understand, for it’s important to me that you not be misled. I know some of you magicians out there are still a little steamed that your career choice wasn’t rewarded with a smoking-hot girlfriend the way David Copperfield’s was. In hindsight, it’s kind of on you ever to have believed you’d be walking into 21 Club with eye-candy on one arm and a red satin cape on the other. I guess that was Copperfield’s point, there can be only one. This admittedly sounds cooler in the Highlander context than here.

But enough on rogue punctuation and Lothario magicians. This world is still capable of wonder. By this I mean in spite of all the screaming, there is one population cohort that has every right to yell, but invariably remains measured and calm. I speak of course of elementary school nurses who send out those lice letters. I know I’m not the only one who’s received one, but in case you haven’t, some context. Generally speaking letters sent home by school nurses aren’t a good thing. Not as bad as finding Fabio the Pool Guy’s wallet on your bedroom dresser – and you don’t even have a pool – but not good. After all, they don’t write to say things like “gee, your kid smelled terrific today.” No, lice letters usually read something like this:

There has been an isolated case of head lice reported in your child’s grade level. We ask for your cooperation and assistance so we can eliminate this problem. Please examine your child’s scalp daily for the next seven (7) days. If your child shows symptoms of lice, such as nits on the hair shaft or live lice, please let the school nurses know as soon as possible. In that event it will be necessary to treat your child with prescription shampoo. If you have any questions, please contact any of the nurses or your pediatrician.

That’s basically what they say. Don’t you see? A picture of Victorian restraint. And yet, deep down we know they’d like to take a different tone. Something like this:

There has been an isolated case of head lice…you know what? Isolated, my a**! We’ve got an infestation problem over here at Shady Side Elementary, thanks to some slob in Grade 2! Yeah, this is what I got my nursing degree for, that I might pick mites off your precious little snowflakes! Ten silverbacks jacked up on Mountain Dew couldn’t get through all the scalps you expect us to check! Plus I have a blind date tonight, and unless Jim@livesinparentsbasement.com is a zookeeper, he’s bound to be spooked by all my head scratching.

The point of this letter isn’t to lay blame. Who knows who brought these disgusting little creatures into our learning community? Nor will we rid ourselves of the problem by pointing out that Mrs. Snodgrass probably needs to spend less time singing the “The Old Gray Mare” in class and more time cleaning the music room, which let’s be blunt is a Class Two Biohazard. We definitely don’t put this unpleasantness behind us by observing that birds literally fall out of the sky overhead whenever little Jimmy plays on the swing set. Get that kid some Ivory Soap, Stat!

I think this nurse would be the first to admit that she’d happily burn through even more exclamation points to express herself honestly. But I hope she’s saved at least one. In case her blind date turns out to be, you know, a magician.