How to Kill Lice and Save your Marriage

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Your child has lice. It is Sunday, because that is when lice permit themselves to be discovered -  in between the window of doctor’s offices being closed for the weekend and school starting the next morning after a long, endless summer. Somehow you survived the 1980s and sleepaway camp with nary a louse, but there it is, a microscopic nasty who is using your precious child’s scalp as their own Air B&B.

You immediately google. You immediately regret it. So. Many. Photos.

But you dive back in.

You have not read such hotly contested mommy battles since the great breast vs formula debates of the 2000s. It is reduced down to this: To lather your child’s sweet, sweet lousy (that word!) head with pesticide or not? Not is defined as apple cider vinegar, regular vinegar, coconut oil, olive oil, kerosene (kerosene?? Please don’t try this at home) rosemary, tea tree oil, face wash, mayonnaise, army-grade buzz clippers. School is tomorrow. And your friend tells you about how she won the battle by slathering her hair with a jar of mayonnaise and suffocating the fuckers inside a shower cap. Overnight. The squuuuuiiiiiissssssh.

You choose the nuclear option and head to Walgreens.

Eeenie, meenie, miney, Nix. You also buy the RobiComb that glows red and purports to kills lice on contact, like a plastic Terminator gunning for lousy John Connors. The cashier rings it up and you say it, you say the words out loud.  My kid has…lice. No shit, her eyes tell you. She’s the one charging your debit card for the $12 terminator comb and $30 in shampoo and hair clips and shower caps but you see her twitch. She scratches her head.

The power. You are scratching your head right now, aren't you? Savor it. It is the only power you will ever have.

At home you marshal your defenses.  Lice shampoo, boiling water, towels, the hilarious, plastic nit comb that came with the shampoo box that is about as effective as asking your toddler to get himself dressed, shower caps, DVDs, and a stiff drink, because you are about to coat the heads of your obedient, sweet seven year old and her three year old brother, who may or may not be the prince of darkness. You promise him cookies.  He promises nothing.

You strip the beds, the stuffed animals, the pillows, anything that was in proximity to louse HQ and shove it all into the washing machine with enough bleach and heat to turn any stowaway critters platinum. You read that stuffed animals are to be bagged and kept in an attic for 2 weeks so that the lice will die screaming, gasping deaths.  You also read that lice can only live away from the scalp for a few hours so this bagging/attic instructions sound like the fetishes of a kidnapper sadist.

You will soon wholeheartedly agree.

You get to work, lathering gunk, washing out gunk, trapping little critters with the worthless piece of shit comb and 45 minutes in, you lose the comb, the gloves, and you are nitpicking – you are officially nitpicking – teeny tiny lice eggs (nits) stuck to tiny individual hairs with a substance that the government wishes it could reproduce in a lab because nothing – except your wicked fingernails – is getting between that egg and its new home.  Oh and that flaky cradle cap on your sweet baby’s head you ignored as those wispy curls grew in as helpful camouflage? It has now morphed into adorable tectonic plates of dandruff and you get to play a super fun new game – Is it a Nit or Is it a Microscopic Flake of Dead Skin Because They Look Exactly Alike! You discover two hours in that you are good at nitpicking. You discover that – gasp – you might actually enjoy it. You fantasize about starting a lice busting business. Nitpickers. Adorable! There will be cute swivel chairs and pickers that go by codenames like Roz and Shasta so if you are spotted out in public later by a former client and she’s all Bubbles! The chick that de-loused my kids’ hair! and you’re all I beg your pardon, ma’am, but my name is Linda. Because I care about your dignity. 

After the third or fourth hour of combing your daughter’s long, long hair that you couldn’t bear to cut because your mother kept your curls so closely cropped that you resembled Pat Nixon well into middle school, you care less about Nitpickers and more about the stabbing pains in your hunched back and the viscous blob that now passes for your vision. Your son – or some blonde with a blob for a face – seriously, your vision is fucked - asks for another cookie. You open up a package of oreos and another bottle of wine. Finally you collapse into beds with damp sheets and shower caps and dream of nothing because even your subconscious has short circuited from the psychosomatic twitching and scratching and OH MY GOD THEY ARE ON YOUR PILLOW. No that's just crumbs because somehow in the past two minutes one of your children decided to eat an oreo right where you lay your face.

For days you will obsessively examine your child’s head, grabbing her in grocery stores and the playground and the kitchen and peering at her scalp as if it might offer up the answer to life. She will obediently freeze as she has learned it’s better if you don’t fight. You will start to feel confident, dare I say, smug, that you tackled the lice infestation in one sitting. Day 7 will arrive when you are supposed to repeat the lice shampoo treatment and because you are smug, you will choose to coat your family’s head in coconut oil because it is kinder to the earth, your child’s scalp, and those now coconut-scented lice.

Because somehow you missed one.
One tiny microscopic nit and suddenly that stuff that you swore was dandruff is now spreading. And naturally, today is Sunday. The afterhours operator at the pediatrician gives you the lowdown: Cetaphil. Like how a virulent strain of food poisoning makes ladies foreheads resemble baby butts, coating your kids hair in generic face wash can end the plague. So it’s back to Walgreens and the refrigerator and liquor cabinet for provisions and your husband opens the oreos this time because he feels like shit that he has to work on another Sunday, leaving you to battle creepy crawly Satan. Before he goes, he submits to a nit check, your fingers running all through his scalp and his dark, dark, hair and you wonder why brunettes had to be your type because you could have lost Jimmy Hoffa in this dark mess, forget about finding a microscopic bug that matches his same exact hair color, and you feel his body relaxing, his body leaning back into yours.

And then it is your turn. He runs his hands through your hair – you assume it’s him, I mean you are completely blind at this point – and you can’t remember the last time you focused this kind of attention on each other. Oh wait -you do!  There was that time when you were dating, long before children, when he actually drew you a bath and washed your hair by candlelight, indulging a Pa from Little Hour on the Prairie fantasy you didn't even know you had - and now he is bitching about your terrible dandruff problem, I mean it's everywhere he is telling you - and he's massaging generic facewash into your scalp, and maybe it’s the wine or the oreos, but this is the best vacation you’ve had since the second child was born. And then he is washing his hands and he's out the door but you suddenly you don’t feel so bad, even when that second child dumps the entire bowl of live lice you scavenged onto the carpet and rolls around in it. 

Second children are adorable. So is that husband.


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