Monday, March 24, 2008

Lice Scare

Back in the day, when we were hippies, we had lice every year. I mean every year, every hot Baltimore summer, we had lice and I duly freaked out and washed all of our heads with Nix, over and over again, and washed all the sheets and the blankets and the pillows and the curtains and the hats and the coats and every single goddamn piece of clothing in the house and sprayed what couldn't be stuffed into a laundromat heavy duty washer with Nix Lice Insta Death Spray. And then, after that, everyone's heads tender from the Nix, which is honestly only one small step off from DDT, I would sit and comb their tangled, thick, long hair with the tiny blue plastic comb that came with the Nix. Which was not cheap, either. And there were tears. Many tears, a lot of them mine.

We repeated this ritual pretty much every Baltimore summer for years, sometimes with variants, like the year I shaved young M's head in despair and then cried for days since he looked like the world's smallest convict. I told my friend Michel that I thought there were latent lice in the curtains and he poo pooed me with rigorous French laughter and medical journals but you know, I still think there were. "Dormant!" I insisted, "Until summer! Like fleas!" and he said, no, not possible, but jesus, those were some itchy summers.

Then we moved to North Carolina, where the mountains are apparently too high for bugs to climb. Since we moved here we haven't had roaches, we haven't had lice and we've only incidentally been troubled by fleas, which, for a girl who spent most of her life in Charleston and Baltimore (bug capitals of the US, both) is nothing short of miraculous.

Then my head started itching the other day in those dangerous areas, right around the nape and behind the ears. Good lord, I thought, I can't even imagine the conversation I'll have to have with poor M - I've been sleeping with him - and he doesn't have kids. Forget breast feeding and discipline - lice is the true measure of those with kids and those gleefully without.

When one person in a house has lice, everyone has them. You have to go with a total scorched earth all death nuke them from orbit approach and actually, the best way to do it is to treat everybody's hair, wash everything, spray everything and then get the hell away for at least 48 hours and preferably more. Lice starve to death in 48 hours. Or so they say, but honesly, after you've gone through the terrible maelstrom that is lice, you need to get away anyway and pretend that you're a nice family who never, ever got something like lice.

So I called in A to check our heads. A is probably the premier lice checker in all the world; her services used to be highly in demand. Me, I can never see the little fuckers until I'm brushing my hair and suddenly there's something waving legs at me. This is never a good moment. A can spot a nit from a mile and has had this talent since I named her Official Family Lice Checker at age 7. She is good.

So I sat down tonight and A went through my hair and then I went through hers and it was shiveringly familiar. Turns out , thank you baby jeebus, I don't have lice and neither does she. We have new shampoo, which we think perhaps we should toss, since it's making our heads itch in bad places.

And here is my last thought on lice, which I give you, new parents, gratis. Never admit to having lice. Never, ever, ever, whatever happens, should you admit it. If you find lice on your kid, send an anonymous email or make an anonymous phone call to the effect that you suspect, somehow, from your cabin in the Yukon, that there migh just be lice in the third grade. Then hang up before they can trace your call and when the nurse calls with the terrible news, you can happily scapegoat another family. Just trust me on this one.


Anonymous said...

oh how I wish I had received your advice 2 years ago when we had our first scare.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to tell from up here in the Yukon, but it appears there may be lice amongst Asheville's 3rd graders.

Great piece, funny as hell!


I do remember the days of lice so well.

Arwen said...

I itched just reading this (and yes, I am a month behind on blogs, thank you very much). Noone ever told you about the mayo fix for Lice? I guess smothering your scalp in mayo kills the nasty bugs. My friend has a daughter at a prestigious day school and there was a lice outbreak there. Who knew elite children got lice...

Anonymous said...

I got a nasty case of lice this past summer at age 55! They are gone but I have nerve damage on my scalp from overusing the chemical shampoos. I'm going to a neurologists for Treatment. My scalp burns so badly I cry at times. This is new after the lice. I now also have a terrible fear of getting them again.