It’s back-to-school time, so parents should make sure we’ve got everything checked off our kids’ shopping lists. Backpack? Shoes? Notebooks? Crayons? Anti-lice shampoo?
Oh yeah, better make it a double on that last item. Because nothing says back to school like a head full of disgusting, tiny, crawling, egg-laying, reproducing, itch-making parasites. Luckily, so far (knock wood, cross fingers, skip over the crack, burn incense to the gods, or any other superstition that might please, please work) we haven’t had any infestations. But it’s only been four days.
Last year we got notes sent home on a regular basis: We’ve had a report of lice in the class – please take proper measures. First one son’s class, then the other, then back again. Because as with many disgusting creatures, like cockroaches, rats and drunken frat boys on spring break, where you have one you might eventually have thousands. Maybe millions, or gazillions. Only a zero tolerance policy can completely get rid of them and that’s a tough thing when you’re talking about near-invisible eggs and the live bugs themselves that scoot around the scalp at the speed of light.
I figure lice are some kind of plot by the family values crowd, because nothing ensures family togetherness like night after night of trying to pick every single little egg out of your kids’ hair – yes, under the category of “knowledge thrust upon me that I never would have asked for,” place a full understanding of the term “nitpicking.”
And who needs couples’ counseling when instead you can just spend hours looking for parasites in each others’ hair? I mean, it works for gorillas, right? How much more traditional can you get than a behavior that pre-dates our Homo sapiens status?
For us, it was nightmare on hair street. Because once you have lice, they can stick around, and around, and around. And then when you think you’re finally done, they pop up again. Maybe you missed an egg, or maybe some louse-ridden classmate shared a new batch. Who knows? I didn’t bother with the DNA testing.
Some schools in the U.S. apparently do egg checks after an outbreak, barring kids from school until they show themselves clean of every lousy louse. That’s nice, for kids who want to have to repeat a grade because they missed so much school. Our school relies on individual responsibility.
To treat lice, you can choose between the chemical attack with over-the-counter lotions or a variety of alternative methods using home remedies, some of which sound better than others. For me, when it comes to visible parasites living and breeding on my families’ heads, my first instinct is to go with heavy duty chemical weapons and lots of them. (DDT? Bring it on, and let the birds look out for their own babies.)
Before our recent experiences, I assumed that the trade-off in applying a nice dose of toxins to your child’s head is that it does get rid of the lice without any further effort. But, as we discovered, it doesn’t. Some lice might be drug resistant these days, and in any case the key seems to be in nitpicking away too. So if the drug remedies aren’t going to save me time anyway, there’s really no reason to use them.
Instead, we spent many an evening applying lots of conditioner or olive oil or vinegar, or everything at once, to our family locks. Lettuce and tomato were optional. And then combing and combing (try a doggie flea comb – sturdy and cheaper than a metal lice comb) and mainly looking and looking for any nits we missed. Oh, and doing lots of laundry too, to make sure there weren’t any creatures hanging out on sheets or pillows or clothes.
One mother at school recommended tea tree oil as a preventative – a few drops when you shampoo. But when I saw her recently she mentioned that her kids had picked up head lice in summer school. It’s almost enough to make you want to homeschool.