When I was in grade school, I had very long, thick hair. I would love to wear my hair in pig tails and then a pony tail and if the mood was right, I would even braid my hair. As I hit my teen years in the eighties I was not immune to the influences of pop culture (who could resist Wham?!?) and my hair went big and a lot of hairspray was used. All that to say, with the exception of a few years of short hair à la Princess Diana, I never had issues with my hair. Fast forward to being a mom of two kids. I noticed a change in hair culture when my kids started to go to day camp. My daughter came home from her first day and announced with a huge smile that she was lice-free! What? Stop everything and hold the phone.
I grew up in a time when lice was regarded as a dirty person’s problem.
You had lice if you looked like Fantine from Les Miserables when she’s really down on her luck.
Lice was disgusting and didn’t happen to people like me. People in our neighborhood didn’t think of such things and to prove the point, we never had lice checks. It was unheard of. Ignorance was truly a state of bliss.
My first reality check came at the worst possible moment. At the funeral for grandmother, my then 8 year old daughter sat in the same chair as me and spent the service with her head on my shoulder. Four nights later, as we’re about to leave my aunt’s house where the family had gathered every night, my daughter says her head hurts. I assumed it was a headache because we had been eating meals on such an irregular basis. My daughter said her head didn’t quite hurt, but it itched, right here – as she pointed to behind her ear. From that moment on, everything happened in slow motion and my daughter started to look a lot like…. Fantine? We left my aunt’s house and drove straight to the pharmacy to pick up a lice kit (just in case). By the time we were at the hotel and I looked at my daughter’s hair “just to see”, there was no doubt. Lice!
If you’re squeamish, too bad – keep reading, because this can happen to you.
Let me clarify by saying with full confidence and the backing of everyone who has ever known me that I am the least squeamish person you’ll ever meet.
But lice is gross. Lice starts out as tiny little sesame seed-like nits. At that stage of the game, lice is just a pain in the butt. If you miss this stage and the nits hatch – yes, hatch! then you are stuck combing out full size bugs that can crawl off the comb or the paper towel that you’re wiping them into. At the louse stage, I’m repulsed. There is something horribly disgusting that anyone’s head can be a breeding ground for bugs. Bugs that move and crawl around, bugs with lots of little legs (I’ve seen them!) that are blood thirsty enough to crawl from one head to another with one goal – to feed off a human head. Give me any other bug on the ground or under some damp rock, or give me mosquitoes or bee stings any day. Lice is gross.
That first incident with lice was traumatizing. The over the counter treatment and useless plastic comb only seemed to move those little creepy-crawlies around. When we got home from the funeral, I made two phone calls. The first was to Montreal’s lice fairy. Thank goodness she exists! Her motto is “it’s not nice, but it’s just lice”. The second phone call was to my aunt to inform her that my daughter, my son and I all had lice and we hoped that none of the fifty-plus other members of the family and friends who visited her house (who we hugged) would get it. That phone call solidified my hatred of these useless little beasts. At least mosquitoes are food for bats. Lice is just gross.
From that moment on, I was a lice vigilante! I would check my kids before each school year, make my daughter put her hair up all the time, check them before trips, after sleepovers – I was on lice high alert. Then my daughter went off to high school and I became complacent. But I learned very quickly that lice does not only stay in elementary school. Just before the start of this school year, my daughter came to me to say her head hurt, actually maybe it was more of an itch, just here behind her ear. Here we go again! This time, I was ready! I immediately put my hair up in a ponytail and got to work with the treatment and the combing. I felt very accomplished when, 2 hours later, I was able to declare that I had combed through and gotten everything out. We would comb again for the next week but I was confident that she would go to school and pass the lice-check test!
The next day I went for a run. When I finished my run and I was sweating from everywhere, I knew I had lice too. I could feel them move on my head. I could feel small, almost twitch-like movements on my head and in my hair that left me itching and my scalp hurt.
I immediately called the lice fairy, pumped my head with the last bit of lice treatment product and threw my pillows into the laundry machine and hit the setting “sanitize”.
Die you little fiends!
During that first week of school, as my daughter sat patiently for yet another comb-through of her long beautiful (lice-free) hair, she implored me to tell her how not to get lice. From the lice fairy, I have a few tips: don’t wash your hair a lot because those little suckers stick to clean hair, don’t share brushes, hats, headbands or pillows. And…no more selfies with friends!