We’d lived in the US for a little over a year when I came home from school one day with lice. At the time, my parents were horrified, associating the parasitic vermin with their victims being dirty. (Fact: Head lice actually prefer cleaner hair; makes it easier for them to attach. Infestation has nothing to do with the level of hygiene in your home.)
Back in the USSR, the standard method of dealing with such an infestation was to cut the infected hair as short as possible, then pick out the remaining nits and bugs by hand. (Kerosene was also frequently employed for good measure.) Unfortunately, at the time, I had thick, golden red hair that fell past my waist. When the suggestion was made to cut it off, my mother and grandmother commenced keening and wailing in a manner rarely heard outside of Middle Eastern funerals.
So my father, he who rarely agrees with advisements by the American Medical Association, proceeded to manually remove every lice egg and larva from my butt-length hair (did I mention it was curly, too?). He put me across his lap, turned on “The Bad News Bears” movie and spent hours going through my hair, strand by strand by strand by strand. So, for those playing along at home, my father’s superhero powers include rescuing lost teddy bears and removing lice from very long hair. To this day, I cannot think of “The Bad News Bears” without feeling itchy.
Cut to 30 years later, and all three of my kids are complaining of itchy heads. I look. There are things moving around in there. That can’t be good.
I woke up my husband, dragged him over to look at our daughter’s head, and observed, “That can’t be good.”
“Cut it off,” he shrugged.
I was fine with that. My kids… not so much. After the multiple battles I’d had with my daughter’s hair we’d come to an agreement: She could grow it out, if I was allowed to groom it. She’d kept her part of the bargain. And now she balked at the idea of giving up her hard-won tresses.
Her older brother, my middle child, also has hair issues. From the time he was literally in the womb, he has played with the front lock of his hair. As an infant, he’d curl his fingers in it while he nursed and, to this day, when he gets stressed or nervous or upset, he reaches for his bangs, which he insists on keeping long precisely for that reason. So, he also dug his heels in about a crew-cut.
My oldest son was rather indifferent. But, here’s another fun lice fact. Of all three of my kids, my oldest’s hair is the most like his African-American dad’s. And even though, as my pediatrician said, “While I can’t tell you that black hair is immune to lice… black hair is immune to lice,” my oldest had the lightest infestation, and my husband didn’t get infected at all. But, I did. Again.
This being the 21st Century, there are all sorts of chemicals on the market to kill the buggers. This being the 21st Century, there are also many, many services who will come to your home and delouse your children for you.
But, as we well know, I am cheap. Pay hundreds of dollars for something I could do myself? Not very likely.
In addition, I am not ecstatic about the idea of pouring toxic chemicals over my children’s heads on a regular basis.
So, instead, we went the natural way. (Pay close attention, because if you have kids, and your kids have hair, this will happen to you at least once–guaranteed.) First, we smothered their heads in olive oil to suffocate the lice, put shower caps on the kids, and plopped them in front of the TV for several hours. For my kids, “The Adventures of He-Man and She-Ra” played the role of “The Bad News Bears.” They sat, they watched, they dripped, they complained. I agree, slimy, sticky olive oil slithering down the back of your neck and onto your shoulders is a very unpleasant sensation. I know, because I did it, too.
Then, we rinsed their hair out with vinegar. It’s acidic to kill the eggs that haven’t hatched yet, and is an antiseptic against the scalp bites. I agree, burning vinegar in your eyes is also a very unpleasant sensation. I know, because I did it, too.
And then we combed out the nits, strand by strand by strand.
We did this every day for two weeks. My husband treated the kids’ hair and then, when they went to bed, he did mine. It was kind of sexy. There I was, topless and still slightly damp from my oil and vinegar rinse (yes, we all smelled like salad) while he ran his fingers though my hair.
Okay, I’m lying, it sucked. (It didn’t even qualify as a torture fantasy. It was just torture.)
Also to be filed under sucking: Having to strip all our bedding and affected clothes and wash them in extra hot water. Throwing away all hair brushes, ribbons, barrettes, headbands, etc… Collecting the kids’ stuffed animals and quarantining them in tightly sealed plastic bags for a month in order to suffocate the lice that might have taken up residence there.
For Valentine’s Day, I wrote about how, despite not resembling any of the heroes I create in my novels, my husband was my idea of true romance. At the time, I invoked his cleaning up kid vomit. De-licing us is now running a close second.