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Uninvited guests (scratch, scratch)

A few months ago, I arrived earlier than usual to pick up Sunshine from school. Her class was out on the playground in the late afternoon sunshine, so I decided to get her things from the classroom while she had a few more minutes of fun with her friends.

Upon picking up her bag from the cubby (curiously already in a plastic garbage bag), I was confronted with the dreaded note. There was a case of head lice in her classroom


I gathered up Sunshine’s things quickly and left the room, only to almost collide with the father of one of the other kids in her class. My face must have had quite the expression because he said to me, “What, did someone vomit in there or something?” He was joking.


“Vomit I can deal with,” I said, then, holding up the note, “Lice.” I wasn’t joking.


In the split second that his facial expression changed, we both reached up and started scratching our heads.


Retrieving my daughter from the playground, I asked her teacher a few carefully worded questions. I knew full well they wouldn’t tell me who had lice, but I could learn more about our relative risk.


First, I asked if the infested child is a child with whom Sunshine plays frequently or even regularly. The answer was, “No.”


Next, I asked if their cubbies are near one another. Again, “No.”


Finally, “Are their nap mats near one another?” Once again, “No.”


Phew, phew and phew. While our risk was not negligible, it was a little reduced. Still, an evening of laundry and vacuuming and head checking was now replacing my evening plans to knit, just to be safe.


I had to deal with lice once. The boys picked it up from some playmates on vacation in Ireland one summer. Our friends were sure they were rid of the little critters when we arrived for our visit, but, well, not really. They didn’t exactly tell us until we were already unpacked in their guest room (I can’t blame them, really). Thankfully, I caught it before school started and we were able to get it under control relatively quickly.


Within a few hours of the discovery of the uninvited guests, I had started the first round of treatment, first round of laundry – and first round of cocktails for the adults. Then I went online to educate myself on the vermin.


I was pleased to learn that these little (literally) suckers were not fatal. No one was going to die unless it was from embarrassment.


I learned that head lice probably like clean hair better than dirty hair as it’s easier to glue the eggs (nits) to the shafts of clean hair. They attack clean households just as much as they attack dirty households. They are equal-opportunity, egalitarian and indiscriminate; they never met hair they didn’t like.


I learned that they are much more endemic in other countries, and much less a social stigma.


I learned that current treatments based on harsh chemicals are becoming less and less effective. There are some alternative treatments, some of which work and some of which don’t.


I learned I needed to be really meticulous and vigilant over the coming two to three weeks if we were going to be rid of them.


I read about people acquiring lice from places like the seats in movie theaters and I asked my husband for a second cocktail. Then I started vacuuming.


I vacuumed everything every day for a week – the furniture, the carpets, the curtains. Everything I could think of. I vacuumed the car with the same frequency. I washed everything I could twice, and what I couldn’t wash went into plastic bags for two and a half weeks, and then got washed. I combed through the boys’ heads with a nit comb twice a day, every day. I made sure my husband and I were treated and had combings of similar frequency.


And still we scratched our heads. Just the thought of them. You are scratching your head right now, aren’t you?


We got through it that time. We didn’t die. We didn’t even have to tell too many people (thank goodness). But it’s not something I want to go through again. No way, no how.


I try to be vigilant with the kids. I remind them not to share hats, or even batting helmets. I bought some hair care products for the kids from a company that claims their products help repel head lice (Fairy Tales Hair Care). I can’t tell you with 100% certainty that they work, but I’m glad to feel like I’m doing something – and the products smell really nice, too.


I’m under no delusions that it can’t happen again.


(Scratch, scratch)


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