I've heard from other moms that this is just about the worst day of your life. They really say this. They talk about the endless loads of laundry, about the combing the special shampoo, all that. And there's real panic behind it, and a bit of shame, really. And the schools have no sense of humor about this. They are adamant: you need a special comb; you need a specialist; you need to wash every fiber in your house in hot water and dry it thoroughly in the dryer and bag everything you can't wash for two weeks. You need to go over every hair on your child's head to remove every single egg. And then you need to repeat this every day for three weeks. Or else it will never go away.
Strong stuff, huh? Welcome to suburbia, where the manicured lawns and granite countertops are thin armor against the fear that something bad might happen to you. I was given the news about my daughter along with a thick packet of information about lice and the phone number of a professional nit picker and strict instructions to call her immediately to buy a special comb. Right away. Right now. Today. Buy this comb. I'm not making this up.
Okay, so I told myself that I was not going to panic, but of course I did. Who wouldn't under those circumstances? My daughter's preschool teacher said that she would not be allowed back on the premises until every single egg (called a nit) was removed from her head. I wanted to say, "Are you kidding me? Where do you think she got it? While bathing lepers in Calcutta over the weekend? She got it here."
I called the nitpicker who recited a lengthy piece of nitpicking doggerel constructed of just really painful rhymes. (if you have lice, you won't think that's very nice) This was her answering machine message. She called back about four hours later and told me that I really should buy a comb for every person in the family because we probably all had the lice. Only $15 a pop. Okay, what am I going to say? No? I'm not going to buy the one true comb that will remove the infestation from my child? I was given instructions to her house where she would leave the combs in a bag in her mailbox. I would exchange the combs for cash. Like a drug drop.
I asked what it would cost to have her go through our hair to remove the nits. She sounded almost bored when she said that it would take two to three hours per person at $100 an hour. Wait. There are four people in our family. I wanted to say to her, "Honey, that's almost $1000 per family. That's not a treatment; that's a ransom." Instead I asked after her availability. She said she could come over in a few days, but not right away, see, because, "I want to get some shopping done." Now, you have to understand that about 15 kids have been sent home from this one preschool with head lice. They tell you point blank that your child can't come back until the skull is clean. The only phone number they give you is the woman I had on the phone squeezing me in around her shopping schedule. I imagine she did have some ready cash to spend. Talk about a recession-proof industry.
We said no thanks to that. But she was right about one thing: three of us had it. I found that out when I took one of the combs and ran it through my son's hair. We found a couple of the grown up bugs on him, and he started to cry. "I don't want to have head lice," he said. I agreed with him; I didn't want him to have it, either.
We've done the shampoo; we've done the Cetaphil. We've done a prudent course of laundry. Nothing crazy. We're combing, combing. And the kids are good about it. They don't seem to mind. I think we're ahead of this thing. After all: they're just bugs. You can kill bugs.