Riiight. Lice.

Looking for the Holiday Marketplace? Click here! (It’s much nicer than a story about lice anyway).

When I lived in Israel, I was forever hearing these horror stories of kids getting lice. My friends recalled their own tales of parasitical woe, and as we grew older and got married and some of us procreated, some began relaying tales of their spawn’s parasitical woe. I would shudder, instinctively scratch my head, and praise the heavens that I could in no way relate, because in America, kids don’t get lice.

Oh, youthful ignorance!

When the girl was a toddler, she got lice, we all got lice, we got rid of the lice, and she got lice again. At the time, she had very curly hair and, let me just say this again: she was a toddler.


“Getting rid of lice” involves not just spraying down unwashable upholstered furniture, not just washing loads and loads and loads of laundry, not just sealing stuffed animals and favorite pillows and blankets-that-will-disintegrate-if-they’re-washed-one-more-time in plastic bags for 3-4 days — it  mostly involves putting smelly insecticide shampoo on the affected scalp, leaving it there for ten minutes, lathering and rinsing, and then very slowly and methodically combing out sections of hair (with a special gel, if you have it) to get as many as the nits (eggs) as possible. And then doing that again in a week, because you almost certainly missed a few nits.

So again, let me repeat: The girl had curly hair and she was a toddler. It was hellacious, and I got into a fight with the husband because when it happened the second time, I said something about “if this happens again, I mean it, I’m shaving her head!”

Honestly, this is what mothers of boys with lice do all the time! Why the hell not do it to a girl? He maintained I would scar her for life; I maintained she was a toddler and wouldn’t know the difference; he maintained that he might just up and leave me if I went ahead with my nefarious plans. Well, ok, maybe he didn’t really threaten divorce, or mean it if that’s what he said (it was a pretty big fight. The details may be fuzzy!), but thankfully, we were never tested again.

Until Saturday.

By Saturday, however, years had passed in the meantime, so when I finally had to admit that her scratching was clearly something other than dry scalp (this realization dawning in no small part because I, too, had started scratching, and in a way that I remembered all too well) and found nits along the hairline at the base of her neck (that’s the place to check first, kids! They look like dandruff but can’t be flicked away. They cling like grim death to the strands of hair), I merely sighed heavily, sent the husband out for the full compliment of lice killing accoutrement, and commenced to gathering sheets.

But what had really changed (I realized as I went through the hours-long song-and-dance) was not the girl’s hair, but my attitude about lice.

Back in Israel, I was genuinely horrified each time these stories would arise, and would literally shudder as the tales unfolded. When we were infested the first and second times, all that horror remained, plus I cleaned like an insecticide-loving fiend, spraying virtually every piece of furniture to within an inch of its (or, more likely, our) life, washing anything and everything that had come within 6 inches of our heads, and generally freaking out. (Upon reflection, it’s possible that said freaking out may be best illustrated by the “I’m shaving her head!” story).

This time though, I just looked at the girl and said: “We have lots of bugs on us. It’s just that the lice are the ones that bother us.”

Somewhere along the line I’ve realized that this is the essential truth: We are walking bug habitats. I once read (and goddamn it but I have no idea how to even begin to Google it) that we have somewhere in the vicinity of 10 million foreign organisms living in and/or on us (or, as my sister once said: “I know I’m never alone!”), and I also recently realized that “bugs” (bacteria and viruses) are essentially our only natural predators, the only animals that consistently bring us down in their savanna. All lice want is a little sip of our life juice!

And furthermore, as I took to telling the girl when she was at the height of what I believe was a peer-induced “ewwww! Ants and gnats and spiders and mites and anything-that-crawls-in-my-backyard are gross and creepy!” phase: It’s the bugs’ world. We just live in it.

So I sprayed the couch cushions on which our heads most often rest, stuffed a lot of plush things into plastic bags, and changed the sheets. The dirty sheets and winter hats and various hair accessories got left in huge piles in the basement, so that the lice and their babies can die horrible starvation deaths over the course of a few days before I launder everything, thus obviating the need to use boiling hot water and super high drier heat as my anti-lice weapons (this approach works on so many levels for me — it’s better for the environment, less damaging to the articles in question, and very appealing to my natural laziness!).

And then I washed two heads of hair (and oh my God but mine is about 12 times longer than the last time!), and that was it. The husband combed my hair, which was kind of lovely in a chimpanzee sort of way, and the girl played on her new Bop-It (and got her highest score yet!) as I combed out her’s.

Not fun, but — meh. The bugs that made her vomit a few weeks ago were probably way worse, all told. Parenting: It’s one grand adventure after another!

So, yeah, lesson for today: Lice. Not our friends, but hey! At least they don’t want us dead.

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  1. kloppenmum

     /  December 16, 2010

    LOL Vomiting bugs are definitely much worse…

  2. And yet lice gave us the word “lousy.”

  3. Loved the anti-illustration!

  4. dmf

     /  December 17, 2010

    for the love of bugs and friday:

    My Work Among the Insects

    The body of the lingerneedle is filled
    with hemolymph unconstricted except
    for a single dorsal vessel. A ventral
    diaphragm bathes the organs of the head,

    undulations drawing the fluid back through
    tiny holes called ostia aided by the movement
    of a Napoleon within each abdominal segment
    pacing his Elba exile, muttering la Russie

    la Russie as the snow squeaks beneath
    his boots. All through the night
    the temperature drops but no one
    knows where the lingerneedle goes.

    Yet it emerges each spring like
    a baseball team. Gertrude Stein
    may have been referring to this when
    she wrote, A hurried heaving is a quartz

    confinement, although what we normally think of
    as referring is brought into question by her work.
    A hive of white suching. At the time
    of her death, she owned many valuable

    paintings renowned for ugliness.
    Gertrude Stein grew up in Oakland
    but an Oakland as we know it not. No
    plastic bags snagged in the trees. Semi-

    automatics had yet to reach the fifth grade.
    A person could stand in a field, naked
    and singing. Sure, there was blood but
    there were rags for wiping up the blood.

    Deciduous trees, often confused by California
    dimes, just bloom whenthehellever like how
    people have sex in French movies. Here,
    during the cool evenings and hot mid-days,

    the mild winters and resistive texts,
    the lingerneedle thrives. Upon the ruddy
    live oak leaves appears its first instar,
    spit-like but changing shortly to a messy lace

    erupting into many-legged, heavy-winged
    adults that want only to mate. Often in July,
    one finds them collapsed in the tub, unable
    to gain purchase on the porcelain that seems

    to attract them mightily. It is best not
    to make everything a metaphor of one’s own life
    but many have pressed themselves against cool
    and smooth, in love and doomed. Truly

    the earth hurtles through the cosmos at
    an alarming rate. Recent research suggests
    a gummy discharge of the mating pair

    has promise as an anti-coagulant. Please,
    more money is needed. The sun sets. The air
    turns chilly and full of jasmine.

    Dean Young

  5. I applaud your equanimity, but I can’t do it. Hell, I flipped out when my CATS had fleas. . . .

  6. I live in Florida. Lice is expected. Also fleas. We try to avoid ticks as much as possible.

    Luckily I never got to having my whole head hair shaved off. I had more problems with a fungal growth on my face when I was a kid… ah well.

    Thanks for the reminder though. I forgot to change bedsheets this week.

  7. zic

     /  December 17, 2010

    We are not individuals, we are habitats.
    Sometimes for nasties. Like lice.
    Or AIDS.

    We are not individuals, we are colonies.
    Our stomachs they team
    A team.

    We are not individuals, we’re planets.
    Whole universes of Whos
    Make you.

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