For years, as a young teacher, then as an old teacher, and for all the years in between, I lived in mortal fear of one thing. No, not global warming. Not taco day in the cafeteria. Not even the dreaded Back to School Night Open House, come see what we’re going to do this year, give the teacher the once over in a very judgey way and then monopolize her time with an impromptu conference about your kid. Nope, not even that. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can compare to the insanity that takes over one’s entire life after being overcome with a raging case of lice.
They don’t cover lice in grad school. They don’t even really cover how to deal with a classroom full of non-infested kids in grad school. But I digress. Let me be clear that I understand that lice carry an unfortunate, undeserved stigma associated with lack of hygiene. I know that getting lice has nothing to do with keeping clean. Getting rid of lice and their little eggy nits, however, has everything to do with keeping clean.
Nits. Never want to hear that word again. You’ve got to pry those little suckers off of every hair root, one by one, while your bleary eyes are fogged with tears of exhaustion and a film of deadly chemicals that the pharmacist has warned you are “neurotoxins”. I’m no pharmacist, but neuro and toxin are two words I never want to hear in the same sentence when I am about to vigorously apply them to my scalp, wherein my brain coincidentally resides. That crazy brew will kill every morsel of vermin within a two mile radius. Now get in there and lather, rinse, repeat!
So once the combing and picking and inspecting and shampooing and swearing and contemplating a pixie cut because it looks really cute on Emma Watson are done, what’s left of your hair is left to wither and throb at the roots for the next four days. Turbans are an oft overlooked fashion option. Go for it. Meanwhile, it’s time to wash everything you’ve worn, touched, sat upon, brushed against, leaned next to, or passed by for the last fortnight. So strip that bed, burn those pillows, vacuum that couch (then replace the really old bag in there that you never, ever replace), and thank God that you have leather seats in your car. If you don’t, just never lean your head on the headrest again. Ever. You’ll be fine.
So now you are free of the pox. And right back into the hornet’s nest you go. Your paycheck is in there. You have no choice. “Hi Kids! Let’s all play put anything that looks remotely like a textile in these giant plastic trash bags!” It’s fun. Really. There’s nothing like the vision of industrial size trash bags dangling from every coat hook in the hall. There is no safe zone. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
So, rocking the granny bun is one way to go. Slathering olive oil all over your head is another. Those little buggers reportedly can’t breathe in an oil slick. Or dislike salad dressing. I’m not sure which. Some say stinky rosemary oil scented spray is a good repellent. But if your hair-type and length makes you a “good host” (my hair is the only part of me to ever earn that distinction), just run and hide. Because if you have kids or teach kids or even look at a kid at Baby Gap, you are vulnerable.
Eventually, you will begin to recover. Physically. The psychological wounds are permanent. You will forever absentmindedly reach up to scratch your head (and strangely, your eyebrows) when anyone even mentions the word lice. Pavlov originally found that to be true, but people were too skeeved out by that, so he moved on to achieve great success with the whole salivating dog thing.
So I am still in recovery. But I’m really fine now. Even when that notice from the nurse, announcing that lice has made a special guest appearance in my kid’s bunk at camp, arrives in the backpack. When this happens, I only require that my children strip down to the skin in the driveway and just leave their towels in the trash outside. In the neighbor’s trash barrel. Just to be safe.