‘They stay close to your scalp because they need the heat to survive,’ said stay-at-home dad trying to show vast internet-researched knowledge on lice infestations.
‘Why don’t they just move to Palm Springs!’ replied our exasperated youngest in treatment, suggesting the hottest alternative she could think of, as I raked a tiny-toothed metal comb through her greased hair.
In addition to learning how hot Palm Springs is in July, I’ve learned a lot about lice this last year. More than I would have ever cared to in my former life. More than I care to in this life for that matter.
The Internet is a great tool for accruing vast amounts of useful and not so useful information on any given subject and lice treatment is no exception. Lice can’t jump. They can only live for a day without close, warm body contact and a yummy source of blood. Lice prefer the continuity of chapter books as bedtime stories as opposed to picture books because a. they can’t see the pictures too well through all that hair and b. that gives them several evenings’ opportunities to make their way to your head from your children’s. As mentioned previously, they can’t jump.
However, the Internet is nowhere to be found when you discover that now all too familiar fuzzy-haired bird’s nest of a head, created overnight or throughout the course of a school day from hours of repeated, absent-minded scratching.
‘Does your head itch, sweetie?’ asks dad, hoping to elicit a negative response, so that he can bury his head and avoid another round with the nit-comb.
‘No, not at all,’ replies youngest child with that tentative, plaintive tone that only comes when they know they are skirting the truth, or asking for something they shouldn’t be, like a third treat or a third-straight viewing of Moana. She, too, is hoping to bury her head and avoid another round with the nit-comb. Not Moana, my youngest daughter. But who knows, maybe that quest to find Maui and restore the heart of Tefiti is just an elaborate nit-comb avoidance tactic.
I had never dealt with lice before our second child went to primary school. I suppose we had been lucky, I saw the warning notes in our children’s trays at nursery. I dismissed them with the sort of ‘not on my watch’ disdain of a parent who had never previously been mired in an all-out battle of wills with a tiny breed of insect. A losing battle, I might add.
Coping with recurring infestations has stages, a bit like the Kubler-Ross model of grief:
- Shock & Denial – My kids are perfect specimens of humanity, like small versions of me. They cannot have nits! They have just been itching their heads into fuzzy tennis balls for days because they have a dry scalp and need a good bath.
- Isolation & Guilt – We will just home school. I am a terrible parent for not cleaning the girls’ hair/room/clothing/bedding often enough. There is no way I have the tenacity to home school. I can’t even beat these nits.
Eventually after cleaning all of the above at scalding temperatures, repeatedly, to no avail, the feelings project outward as:
- Anger – Someone at school is a terrible parent for not treating their children to the wonders of the nit-comb, or at least home schooling, which at this point seems like an easier option. Or even worse, some kid is constantly coming into close contact with my previously pristine child with all that friendly hugging and tagging and sharing of personal space. Can’t they leave an arm’s length on either side, like they do on those bike safety posters?
- Bargaining – Usually with a higher power like god, ‘If you get rid of these nits for good, I will stop drinking alcohol (this evening)’, or the NHS pharmacist, ‘If you give me another dose of lice treatment, I promise this time I will do the second application in seven days time’, or with your wife, ‘I did the second application last time…’
- Depression – We are going to live with these lice forever, there really is no point in the second application or stewing all the bedding, or making dinner, or anything else for that matter.
- Acceptance – We are going to live with these lice forever, I might as well go ahead with the second application and stew all the bedding, and then make dinner, and enjoy everything for that matter.
I personally feel like this last stage should be called resignation. But maybe, that is because, I am not there, just yet.
Currently, I am spending some of my free afternoons when the children are at school, between white washes, planning a return trip to the States for my sister’s wedding this summer. I am contemplating, swinging by Palm Springs in the hottest part of August, to see if we can’t convince the lice to jump ship. At this point, my daughter’s plan is as good as any we have tried so far. And at least we could all enjoy the waterslide and poolside service while we bargain.