Sunday, May 03, 2009

having a lousy time

A week and a half ago, I was playing Warcraft on the couch, unwinding before it was time to drive across town, pick up Lola in Sea Cliff, drive across town to Noe Valley to take her to her dance lesson, drive allll the way back to Sea Cliff to pick up Iris Uber Alles, and then raceracerace back home to the Castro hoping to beat my friend who usually gives Lola a ride home from ballet (shameful indeed are the days when I find Loret, her daughter, and mine, waiting on the front stoop while I hastily park my nondescript Volvo and bound up, trailed by cranky Iris, exclaiming, "Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!").

The phone rang. I let it go to the answering machine. But instead of leaving a message the caller rang my celphone immediately thereafter, and I hopped up and got that, suddenly imagining something was wrong with one of the girls. It was indeed their school calling, with the drily delivered news that Iris Uber Alles had lice and was in violation of the no lice, no nits policy.

"What about Lola?"

"We didn't find anything on her."

"Do I need to get her now?" I asked. The answer was vague. I could pick her up early or I could not, but once I did get her, she couldn't come back until she was nitfree. I decided to get her at kindergarten pick-up time, an hour early for her.

I'd never had lice as a child myself, and my children had never had it before. I was truly clueless. I called the Sober Husband and informed him, and I promised to go by the drugstore and pick up a lice kit. I questioned Iris in the car. "You didn't feel anything?"

We got a Walgreen's store brand lice kit while Lola was at ballet. At home, we washed Iris's hair with the lice shampoo. There at home Iris let the emotion of this get to her, and she cried for a long time. I tried to comfort her without a lot of success, pointing out that 13 out of forty-odd girls in her class had been found with lice. The best "it happens to all of us" example I could come up with was the "Arthur" episode where everyone gets lice from the rich girl, Muffy. This was scant comfort. I took advantage of the situation to trim off about four inches of hair. The Sober Husband tried combing out the nits with a Walgreens nit comb, but it was frustrating and unproductive. We decided to wait until morning and work on the hair in broad daylight.

On Saturday we washed Iris's hair again and set her up in a chair in the backyard, with a laptop nearby playing the Dr. Who episodes of her choice (she favors the Colin Baker Dr. Who). The Sober Husband spent nearly five hours trying to pick nits out of her hair with varying success. We looked at a louse under a magnifying glass and viewed its many claws with awe and disgust. Meanwhile Lola, who had been cleared twice at her school, danced around happily. The Sober Husband picked through Lola's hair and my hair and couldn't find anything, but Iris's hair refused to be depopulated.

The Sober Husband grew more and more frustrated. Iris Uber Alles has exceptionally fine hair, which slid through the little prongs of the nitpicking comb with nits intact. For a time he set out to just pull out every hair which had a nit on it, but that was protested by Iris and me. At some point he demanded I do some of this, but my extreme nearsightedness made me a poor candidate. Poor Iris was upset and exhausted, and I finally requested that We Just Quit and Let Me Take Iris to the Hair Fairies, Please, For the Love of God.

The "Hair Fairies" is a new service, located in New York, Chicago, L.A., and San Francisco, providing a posh atmosphere in which to delouse your child. There are personal DVD players, children's books, children's snacks, children's beverages of choice, and lots of fairy art on the walls. There is a wide variety of louse-related merchandise for sale. It costs $95 per hour to have a person treated for lice.

On Monday the Bay Area was hit with a record-breaking heat wave, and in the sweltering heat, I took Iris over to get her lice treated. Soon I felt better, watching the painstaking combing done by a meticulous young hipster wielding a nitpick (a superior nitpick to the ones offered at Walgreen's). However, Iris's abundant, fine hair couldn't be finished during our appointment, and so she'd won herself another day off school. While we were at the Hair Fairies, I got my own head of hair checked, having come around to the belief that if Iris had a full head of lice, there was no way I wouldn't have any (her hipster hair attendant asked, "Eighty percent of mothers catch it from their kids. Are you guys snuggly? Do you cuddle up?" and my mind immediately flashed to our two heads smashed up together the night before the fateful call, as we said our good nights). A ten minute check found ten nits on my head, and I booked myself and Iris to come back the next day.

Iris started coming around to seeing the benefits of lice, after seeing other families from her school getting their nits picked out at the Hair Fairies and after I took her for an upscale lunch at nearby Pizzeria Delfina, where she proclaimed the fresh parmesan and made-to-order limeade to be quite good.

Meanwhile on Monday little sister Lola was checked twice for nits by parent volunteers, as a Sibling Of A Lousy Child, and cleared by all. However, I didn't feel so sanguine, and so I took Lola along to the Hair Fairies, where over thirty bugs were found on her head. I myself had a moderate number of nits but no bugs. Iris had over a hundred bugs and over a hundred nits.

I had no idea that a person could have lice without realizing it. It turns out that if one is not allergic to the saliva of a louse, you do not feel its bite. It also turns out that most lice are very, very tiny and unnoticeable. Another thing we learned was that "a dry check", the normal combing through a child's dry hair, is very ineffective at finding lice and nits and will only turn up the more extreme infestations. A more subtle case, like Lola's, can be found only through a "wet check": the hair is coated with a cream (which helps loosen the nits), and combed in tiny sections repeatedly with a tiny metal nit comb, which is wiped periodically on a white towel, its leavings carefully examined under bright light.

Back at school, Iris was open about why she'd missed two days of school. Nearly a third of the girls in her grade had lice, but those other girls were keeping it on the down low. Iris got a bit of flack for honestly discussing what was going on... but that didn't last.

The parents of this first wave of infestees knew the school's checks were only catching the most egregious instances (Lola was not the only sibling to go undetected), so many of us requested that the school bring in the Hair Fairies for more thorough checks. When the Hair Fairies came in, more cases were found. Another check a week later caught a lot more: about seventy percent of the third grade had lice. By this point, Iris herself was bug and nit free, and her classmates, the privileged daughters of hedge fund managers, lawyers, doctors, and internet management types, were buggy. Everyone became more open about it, and being lousy and going to Hair Fairies was the norm.

On the home front, I was laundering like an OCD patient. Every day we changed all the pillowcases and sheets. Stuffed animals and blankets were bagged. Even the Sober Husband's favorite hat and my favorite jacket were bagged. The children respected the bags, although tears were shed over certain stuffed animals whom I insisted were having a party in their trash bags, but I caught the Sober Husband breaking into a bag for his beloved hat and had to sternly intervene. "You can have your hat on Friday. NOT BEFORE. I saw you let Iris wear it. You have OTHER hats."

Last Friday I took Lola to the Hair Fairies for a follow-up treatment (8 nits and no bugs) and had myself re-checked as well (no nits and no bugs. I am developing a new sympathy for psychotics, as I am continually sure I feel bugs crawling on my scalp, despite the fact that my last two checks from the Hair Fairies found no nits and no bugs. The Sober Husband has implored me to stop getting myself checked for lice at $95 a pop and to learn to accept my hallucinations of crawling lice).

While we were there, a mother from our grade came in with her lice free children. She was there to scorn the Hair Fairies, having been influenced by a parent in our grade who denounced my wonderful, wonderful Hair Fairies as spreading hysteria about lice and profiting off our fear, while much of the world simply accepts lice and chooses to live with these little insect friends. This mother's daughters were jealous of their friends who've been hanging out at Hair Fairies in Pacific Heights and really, really wanted to buy things there. I saw the little louse-free girls' eyes lusting after the special hairbrushes, combs and shampoos, lingering over the fairy paintings and large screen TV showing Pixar film after Pixar film. Truly peer pressure has swung around and made having lice the current correct experience for a private school third grader.

Although the girls may have adapted to the new, insect-oriented way of life (most of them now wear their hair up every day, with tea tree oil smeared about the perimeters of their scalps, the more extreme parents having given their daughters bandannas to wear), many of the parents have not. An email discussion of lice preventatives and whether to cancel the upcoming overnight field trip broke into a rather nasty discussion carried out into the wee hours of the night. Thankfully the head of school had a calm approach to the matter and refused to cancel the trip due to lice (the place where the girls are going was booked solid for the rest of the season, so the trip could not be put off).

Most people my age don't understand why it takes so long to clear up lice. When they had it as children (I never did myself), they had one powerful scrubbing of the head and it was over. I have learned that the answer is DDT: the DDT-laden shampoos of the bad old days were more effective than our modern, wimpy products (the lice shampoo I bought at Walgreen's did nothing). As one of the sweet, hip young things at Hair Fairies mused, "We're going back to the old days here, picking them out by hand. It's like monkeys." I agreed. "I like it that way; it's gentler." Lola, herself the subject of the simian grooming, didn't weigh in. She was busy watching "Happy Feet" and comforted by the gift of a new pop-up book for enduring another session.


Anonymous said...

Oh my. I find myself itching my own scalp while I read this! I am simply amazed that neither of my two day-care babies has brought home some extra roommates. In the good ole days, BTW, hair was either shaved off or kerosene or gasoline were used ON THE SCALP. Even DDT looks good in that light!

Anonymous said...

electronic lice comb! It works better than everything we tried. it kills the lice, not the nits (so if you have a "no nits" policy at your school then you'll be missing a few days.) But if you use it every day once the first louse is found, then it kills the freshly hatched lice before they can lay eggs. after about 7 days you should be totally lice/nit free.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Caroline, my mother (from Gorham) remembered that my grandmother used to wash her hair with kerosene when she picked up lice from her visiting cousins. Oy vey!

Anonymous said...

found that a couple of nights going to bed with your head caked in Mayo works very well also...ruins the sheets and pillowcases but helped us get rid of them

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry ... the OCD Laundry comment had me laugh, because I actually hired someone to come wash all our clothes and bag the many animals/teddy bears when my girls came down with lice. AND ... you probably well know this by now, but it's always the clean kids that get lice. Lice like clean, well kept hair. Start adding mousse or hair spray or hair gel to the hair ... most younger kids don't do that to their hair yet. But my girls both started applying product to their hair in 3rd grade, and we never had a repeat episode (although each daughter did catch lice in 3rd grade).

And in Iowa, we used mayo and shower caps for 3 days/nights -- smothered them right up! My MIL was a hair dresser, and she was the one to suggest that route, which worked very well. My aunt was a school nurse, who said either peanut butter or mayo and a shower cap (it's the oil in both which does the smothering). Both girls came down with the lice on a Wednesday (go figure they could both do that, at separate times/years), so they went back to school the following Monday.

Dear hubby thought I was being excessive hiring someone to do the laundry ... I cannot imagine paying the rate for the Hair Fairies ... but hey -- it's good bonding time with your girls!

Take care!


hokgardner said...

Man o man - we went through the "Summer of Lice" last year. Every time I thought I had the suckers knocked back, they'd return with a vengeance, no matter how much laundering and combing and shampooing I did. I would have gladly paid any fee to have Fairies here to take the kids to.

We finally got rid of the infestation when we went on vacation to the beach. The lice in the house died during the week we were gone, and any on the kids died in the salt water at the beach.

Silliyak said...

You gave me an itchy head all the way over here in Madrid!!!!

Amy said...

I got lice twice in my twenties. Fortunately, I was living alone so being really, REALLY anal for about a week got rid of them. I agree that lice shampoo isn't much more effective than normal shampoo.

And for years I had hallucinations of bugs crawling on me [[shudder]]!