Liam wanted to talk about something that had been bothering him.  He’s increasingly unwilling to do that these days, so I was delighted to sit with him in the bedroom and listen to the story of a fight he had with his dear friend, who we’ll call Luther.  He and Luther had words about some soccer rule, Luther got really angry, started to cry (hugely embarrassing for a ten year old boy, of course), and for the rest of the day was furious with Liam. Wouldn’t sit next to him in class, the whole deal.

“I tried to think about it from his shoes, mommy, but I just don’t know what I did that made him so mad.” Liam climbed onto my lap, which was delightful not only for the sheer snuggle factor but also because –parenting points!—he’d actually tried to imagine his behavior from the perspective of someone else.

True, he failed, but hey. At least he tried.

So we’re in the middle of this snuggly moment and Caleb waltzes in, drops a letter on the floor next to me and makes a clarion announcement:  “I almost have lice!”

Almost. Have. Lice.

You call it: do you dump your emotional 10 year old on the floor, grab the 6 year old and head for the sheep dip?

Not quite. But close. I patted Liam for another few minutes, then opened the entirely unhelpful note from Caleb’s school lice checking service. The note did not say what had or had not been found on my sweet darling’s parasite-riddled scalp, nor did the note speculate on whether plagues of boils and locusts would soon be forthcoming.

Did you know that there are people whose job is to circulate through schools checking kids for lice? I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing a new reality show here, maybe on the Discovery Channel (it could replace that Palin Alaska show that got—sing it with me—cancelled tra la la).  Or maybe the Nature channel? Or Bravo, where the angle could be, you know, something like see who spots the most nits in a minute? We could call it Nit-A-Minute.

So let me guess? Your head’s a little itchy right now, yes? Maybe a little flicking sensation around your neck or behind your ears? Don’t worry. It’s probably just a stray hair.  Heh heh heh.

We’ve not had lice before, which is something of a miracle, given the number of kids I know who have had lice multiple times. I’m also wondering—kids must have had lice when I was in elementary school, right?  I mean, lice is not a new thing.  They’re a classic parasite, always in style. So is this lice a resurgence, some kind of super-lice?  Or was lice just not a public thing, back in the day? Maybe your mom found it, she smacked some carbolic acid on your head, killed the fuckers, sent you back to school, nobody the wiser?

Anyway, when I called Lice Angels (yes, really, that’s the name of the lice checking service that Caleb’s school uses.  It’s quite a visual, isn’t it? I mean, are you seeing lice floating around, all harps and wings?)  the woman said Caleb must have eggs, not actual lice. This differentiation does seem a tad arbitrary, doesn’t it? Chicken, egg; louse, egg? But the DOE says live head lice get you sent home; nits you get to stay in school.

My Lice Angel tells me that all I have to do is: vacuum everything, wipe down all surfaces, wash all bedding, fine-tooth comb my kids’ heads, and bag anything that can’t be washed in black garbage bags.

Okay, sure. That’s totally fine. Because it’s already 5pm and you know that kids are really just beacons of sunlight and cheer by 5 on a school day.  It’s not like I need to make dinner or help anyone with homework or anything.

I begin to assemble my lice-checking tools by going to Walgreen’s and consulting with the sales clerk about the best—ie, most lethal—lice-killing potion they sell.  Get home and start the first of eight thousand loads of laundry, then begin to bag the forty-two stuffed animals who live at the end of Caleb’s bed, as he wails that he will never, ever be able to fall asleep without his animals.

It’s at that point I realize that what looked like box of big black Hefty garbage bags under the sink is in fact an empty box of big black Hefty garbage bags.  I don’t have the stomach to face the endless  line at Walgreen’s again, so I shove animals into small plastic grocery bags and figure I’ll black bag ‘em tomorrow.

Then it’s time for a little nit-picking!  You think family game night is fun? Not compared to nit picking! Truly there’s something in it for everyone. I can see why monkeys enjoy it.

Here’s why it’s just so much fun: you turn on the TV (we watched the DVD of “Great Migrations,” because lice seem more bearable when you watch a great white shark rip into a migrating sea lion), put one kid on a towel in front of the TV and start combing through his hair. He yelps and moans (sort of like the sea lion) and asks every 30 seconds “are you done yet?”  At the same time, the other kid dances around singing “we’ve got li-i-i-ice, we’ve got l-i-i-i-ice.” The song stops briefly while the singer sticks his nose down towards the brother’s head and says “DID YOU FIND ANY,” as if shouting is somehow going to make the lice run away in fear. Play this fun game for about two hours, until you have combed through each boy’s head quarter-inch section by quarter-inch section. Then shampoo the goo out of each kid’s hair, a process that needs to be repeated twice. That’s four shampoos.

See? Isn’t that fun? Everyone gets to play!

You know what’s even more fun? We get to do this great game every day for about a week!

And wait–it gets better!  Now the boys are sleeping (clean sheets, clean hair, clean pillows), and I’m sitting here with a  shower cap over my hair, which is covered in a goopy combination of baking soda and Pantene (lice-related factoid: everyone recommends Pantene as part of the lice-evicting process. Wonder why they don’t mention that in the commercials?)

Husband and I are about to bond over a little nit-picking time of our own.  Isn’t that sweet? Did you know 4 out of 5 marriage counselors surveyed say that couples who nit-pick together, stay together?  We are thinking of this as “our time.”

Thank god the kid “almost” has lice. I’d hate to think what “having lice” would look like.

Although as my friend Suzie said (Suzie, who is going to lend me her magic lice-enders comb tomorrow), at least it’s not bedbugs.

Knock wood.

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9 Responses to Bugs

  1. ellyn January 14, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    Only you could have a sense of humor about this!! I am impressed once again about your ability to take things in stride and find the dark comedy. And if you ever lose that funny feeling, just think about the fact that you still can wear size 6 jeans!!! (from last column). Keep on writing. . . your endless array of topics and lively writing always brighten my day.

  2. a guy January 14, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    One of my family’s (by which I mean my mother’s) meaner expressions was: “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” Send Liam to school with a harvested nit in a pill-carrier, and tell him to slip it onto Luther’s head in a friendly tussle.

  3. Deborah Quinn January 14, 2011 at 11:02 am #

    @a guy: that is a BRILLIANT idea. Of course, Luther’s family had their own nightmarish encounter this fall,with bedbugs. And b/c I really like Luther’s mom (even tho her son is a bit of a pill), I can’t quite bring myself to execute this diabolical plan. But I may hold a louse in reserve for some future eventuality… heh heh heh

  4. Ann January 14, 2011 at 3:34 pm #

    Oh God. I’m having a flashback, and not the good kind. All five of us in my family had lice, and not just eggs, but actual crawly lice (which I must point out Liam must have had at some time because the eggs don’t just drop out of the sky) — about 5 years back. It was hellish, especially because one of my kid’s hair is basically a super dense Greek afro. The chemicals worked on everyone but her, because apparently some lice now are resistant to the “first tier” of chemicals. (I think the second tier is, like, lime. Or turpentine). I spent night after night after night for a MONTH under hot lights picking nits and lice out of her hair. HELL. Our family undergoes a collective shudder when we discuss it. So — take it from me — any kind of hair product (spray, gel, even mousse — remember mousse?) makes it harder for the little buggers to stick to the hair follicles, so using product is a good preventive measure. Just brace yourself — it probably ain’t over.

  5. Halala Mama January 14, 2011 at 8:16 pm #

    Ugh ugh ugh… Lice.


    But ewww… Lice.

    But Sarah Palin…

    You have created this loop now in my brain where I alternate between the itchy heebie jeebies and my soul singing out in joy. This is an interesting Friday night.

  6. Ingrid January 15, 2011 at 8:04 am #

    Very funny blog and response. My guess is that if it ever crops up again you will not jump through each and every hoop that Lice Angels recommend. The garbage bags is the most ludicrous one! Lice need blood to survive and can’t live without it for longer than a few hours. So if any HAD jumped off your boys heads onto beds, furniture or cuddly toys, they’d have died during said head’s absence.

    Sadly, my lice-wisdom is hard won — can’t even tell you how many times I’ve done that nitpickin’ thing (I mean the literal one, not the figurative kind — which, actually, I’ve also done countless times). Haven’t had to do it (the literal one, that is) in a while, but I can tell you I was never so grateful to have blonde children as during those endless hours of looking for tiny black dots attached to the hair near the scalp. Damn those curls of V’s though… I don’t remember having lice or knowing anyone who had them when we were kids. Must have been the infrequency of hair washing (lice can only get a grip on very clean hair) combined with sufficient resources to have a separate bed for each child (unlike many earlier greasy-haired generations). Hooray, public health. Boo, freakish obsession with cleanliness. And TRA LA LA!

  7. Melissa January 28, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    Have you heard about the garlic trick? Apparently liquid garlic on head after a shower is supposed to keep them that bay. Lice and vampires. Go figure.


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