"You need to come to the school right away. Your kids have lice."
I never thought I'd hear those words -- ever. I can take on icky child-rearing challenges with the best of them, but nits -- no way.
"How can my kids have lice?" I ask the school nurse indignantly.
"It's going around. But don't worry," she says. "They like clean hair so it's not a reflection of your hygiene."
Oh, that's helpful. Now I feel so-o much better.
As the nurse runs her fingers through my older daughter's hair looking for lice, it hits me: there could be hundreds of them, and I have to remove every last single one. Wishing I would just be swallowed up on the spot, I hustle my kids out the door and head straight to the pharmacy. What I wouldn't give for a portable siren to plunk on the top of my mom-mobile. I'd let it rip to show everyone I mean business.
An embarassing curse
At the drugstore, I feel like my kids have neon nit signs on their heads. I ask the pharmacist for lice shampoo in a hushed voice, checking over my shoulder to make sure no one has heard. It's just the way a teenage guy must feel when he lays his first pack of condoms on the counter.
Back at home, as I put the shampoo on my six-year-old's head, she shrieks hysterically. "It's burning, it's burning!" I lose it and call my husband for backup.
"The girls have lice," I scream. "The shampoo is b-u-r-n-ing their heads. You have to come home right now."
"Lice?" he asks incredulously. "How can my kids have lice?"
"They do. But it doesn't mean they're dirty. I just don't know how to get rid of them. I'm going crazy!"
There's a long moment of silence on the other end of the line. I wait for him to tell me that he'll take care of everything. No such luck.
"I wish I could come home, really, Hon," he coos into the receiver. "But I have clients coming soon." (Oh, how convenient!)
"But what am I going to do?" I scream again.
"I don't know. What are you supposed to do?"
Ahhhhhh! Thanks for nothing. I hang up. Now both girls are crying. I'm crying. Even my almost two-year-old son, who doesn't have lice, is crying, though he has no idea why.
Pick pick pick
I tediously pick live lice and the occasional dead carcass from strands of hair and silently scheme at ways to get back at my husband who's sitting in a clean office.
"Ouch, Mommy. You're pulling my hair," sobs my younger daughter.
I tell her I'm sorry but secretly wish I could just shave their heads.
When I finish searching scalps, we all hit the sack, exhausted from the ordeal. The next morning I give my kids their cereal and check their heads -- again. As I listen to the news, I hear of human misery: job losses, poverty in Third World countries and diseases that affect millions of people.
Suddenly, I'm somewhat ashamed but also amused at how I've blown those little buggers (the nits, I mean) out of proportion. I was terse with the school nurse, shrieked at my husband (OK, well maybe he deserved it) and lost it with the kids. (Maybe I'll blame it all on PMS.)
I'm not saying that I don't care if my kids get lice again, but if they do, I'll try to envision the bugs with adorable little animated faces. At least that should keep the shrieking down to a minimum.
Shelly Sanders Greer, writer, mom and experienced nitpicker, is happy to report her family has been living lice-free in Ontario for more than a year.
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