By and large, parenting is a pretty easy gig, if you ask me. Sure, the first few months are an evil experiment in sleep deprivation, potty training can test the patience of a Tibetan monk, and puberty turns your sweet, innocent offspring into something out of a Roman Polanski film, but the rest is a cake walk. True, there are exceptions, and it's these exceptions that keep it all so... interesting.
Quite possibly three of the most fearsome words any parent will have the misfortune of hearing their child utter are, "My head itches." For those without kids, that phrase probably carries no more power than, say, "The sky is blue" or, "I'm hungry". Any parent, however, who has heard their 5 year old son or daughter say it, is likely already experiencing an elevated heart rate and their own phantom scalp itches, just from reading it here. That's right, I'm talking about the most disruptive force from the smallest source...
Although I'm a bit of a veteran in this area, having battled the micro-invaders twice before in the past 10 years of being a single father, I was still taken off-guard when my daughter complained of an itchy head last night, right before bed. I was optimistic, however, as I went to the bathroom to retrieve a comb, thinking she was probably just suffering from some minor dandruff now that the drier winter weather is upon us.
I could only be so lucky.
About 3 minutes into searching her scalp by running a comb through line after line of fine, blonde hair, I spotted the tiniest of black spots... and it was moving. At first, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, or that it was a piece of dirt. A couple seconds of, "Hold still!" and holding my breath proved me wrong. Somehow, my daughter had contracted lice and I was about to enter the battlefield for a third time.
I wasted no time in getting to the pharmacist which, luckily, was still open. I asked the man in the crisp, white lab coat for a lice treatment kit I could use on a 12 year old girl, knowing that the stuff that works best is always kept behind the counter. He was quick to get me the product that, in his opinion, has the highest success rate (probably based on who returns to buy a second kit and who doesn't, I guess) and to give me a tip that was new to me.
You see, the normal procedure goes something like this: You wash and dry your child's hair. You apply the treatment, which is usually a creme rinse type solution that smells of chemicals. After the creme rinse has been in the hair for 10 minutes, you rinse it out and dry the hair. Then you settle in for a long session of hunting down dead (hopefully) lice and lice eggs (called nits) with a fine-toothed metal comb. It takes forever because you have to inspect every row of hair on your child's head, and the nits are attached to the hair with a sort of cement that makes them difficult to remove.
The pharmacist told me, though, to try something different before I started the store-bought treatment. He told me to soak my daughter's hair with a solution of 50% water and 50% white vinegar, to loosen the nits' bonds on the hair, remove as many lice and nits as I could with the metal comb, then wash and dry her hair in preparation for the treatment. I have to say, although going through her hair twice with the comb (once before treatment and once after) seemed to take longer, I think it actually worked better. Following the treatment, I only found a couple of dead lice nymphs in my daughter's hair, and they were super easy to remove.
However, we were far from finished.
The delousing took us until after midnight, at which point the rest of the work had to be done. Bedding, towels, clothes, and jackets all had to be collected and washed in hot water (four loads of laundry in all). Combs, brushes, and lice removal tools needed to be sterilized in boiling water. Stuffed animals, pillows, and whatever else couldn't be washed in hot water had to be put in a black garbage bags, where they will stay for the next three weeks to ensure any lice or nits that may have transferred are dead.
It's a stressful ordeal, to say the least. It is important, though, for every parent that finds themselves faced with this scenario to remember it is even more stressful for their child. The lice brings with it not only feelings of shame and embarrassment, but also a lot of unwarranted guilt. It is important to let your son or daughter know that getting lice doesn't mean they are "dirty", because it has nothing at all to do with hygiene, and that none of the work that goes into getting rid of the infestation is their fault.
It's all just a part of growing up and, subsequently, a part of helping someone grow up.