There are few things in parenthood that have given me the heebeejeebs quite like I had a few weeks ago. Few things in life, actually. Ever. I can deal with vomit on my sheets in the middle of the night. I can deal with blood dripping off of someone’s knee and down their ankle. I can deal with watching my four-year-old get stiches under her eye, the skin of her face pulled taut by a fishhook shaped needle. I can deal with dead animal parts brought to my front door by my loyal canines and I can deal with month old salmon dip hidden in the back of the fridge but the one thing I’ve recently discovered I cannot deal with (or deal with very well) is lice.
We got an email. Doesn’t it always start with an email? From the school. Saying there had been an official, reported case of lice in the first and second grade classroom. One case. We’ve gotten these emails before and have never been affected. I didn’t think much of it, preferring to think that we were somehow immune from such an affliction. Then I got a call. From the mother of one of Eliza’s besties. She’d found a few in her daughter’s hair. She just wanted to let me know.
I quickly looked in Eliza’s tangled mane but didn’t see anything too concerning. Then I left for three days for a work trip to Portland. And I couldn’t stop thinking about the lice. I scratched and twitched. I wondered. I even dreamed Eliza had lice. Some may call this anxiety, I prefer the term intuition. I did the mental math and calculated the possibility that she didn’t have it. My answer never rang true. So when I got back from Portland between scratching my own head every thirty seconds, I peered a little deeper into Eliza’s hair and what I found will haunt me for the rest of my life.
I can only describe what happened next in a few select words: I freaked the fuck out. It was, as one friend described it, like finding mouse poop in your silverware drawer only a million times worse. I have a completely irrational reaction to mice so this was the perfect analogy. Living in the country, we have our fair share of little brown buggers skittering across the kitchen in spring and fall. Every time I see one I have, what we call in the South, a conniption fit. I jump onto chairs. I refuse to open cabinet doors for weeks. But this, this was so much worse. That eek feeling lasted for days and sent me scrounging the medicine cabinet for anything that might calm my frazzled nerves. There were insects living in my child’s hair.
Putting aside any inclination to go at this eradication with a natural remedy, I went to Target, pleaded my case to the most amazing pharmacist and she pointed me to the correct aisle where the lice killing poison lives. She told me to comb out my daughter’s hair everyday to look for nits and she whispered. God love her. I bought two giant bottles of RID and doused everyone in the family when we got home. Eliza had it, Lucille had it, Seth and I seemed clear but we weren’t taking any chances. We all took the poison.
Just as I was about to step into the shower to rinse my hair of insecticide, I heard a knock at the door. A potential renter, and I had totally forgotten in my heightened, bug killing state. Seth was in the shower. I nudged Eliza and Lucille into the bathroom with him, wrapped a towel around my head and answered the door. She must have thought I was crazy. But she went with it. She moves in in August.
Later that night I spent three hours picking dead lice and nits out of my childrens’ hair. Lucille’s case was mild and her hair is straight. Eliza’s, well, not so much. I tugged and pulled at her long, thick hair wondering how in the world we were ever going to figure this out. We did the best we could and went to bed, me with the anti-anxiety meds I’d found in the cupboard.
The next morning, I cut four inches off Eliza’s hair to make it easier to comb out. Lucille got a bob. Seth took the kids into town and I unleashed my inner Virgo on our house. I washed every sheet in hot water, I sanitized every pillow, and I wiped down every surface. I hope we are almost through with this whole episode. I’m not sure my nerves can take a re-infestation. Every night, after a bath, I take the nit comb to my daughters’ hair. I pin each checked strand with bobby pins and when I take them down my girls have pin curls. I stand hunched in a June sunset pulling strands of auburn curls through my fingers and Eliza and I talk about my mom and when she’ll visit. Lucille asks me esoteric questions about frogs as I pick through her baby fine sandy blonde bob. The freak out is mostly over and what I’m left with is my girls, their soft hair in the June light and my fingers running through it, mothering them down to the last nit.