Saturday, January 16, 2010

making friends in the insect kingdom

I ran across an interesting Carolyn Hax advice column today, where an aggrieved mother-in-law complained about a disastrous Thanksgiving visit which had led to an estrangement with her son's family.
On Friday morning, the new wife said she had bug bites. I said that twice in the past I had bites also and thought they were from bedbugs. We had done some Internet searching and gone to my dermatologist and discovered bedbugs are not medically dangerous and not the result of uncleanliness. We gave her hydrocortisone and sympathized with her.

That evening, they moved into the hotel. Our son said his wife was absolutely adamant that they get out of our home as soon as possible. She has the reputation of being a "strong" woman, and she earns a very high income, so she is able always to get her way.

My husband and I felt embarrassed and disappointed that she reacted that way, but we are aware that a first-time, 45-year-old mother probably had mother-bear hormones at play, and we don't blame our son too much for giving in to her demands.
Leaving aside the spellbindingly unsubtly veiled hatred of the "new wife", this letter fascinated me due to the accepting approach the writer took towards bedbugs. She "discovered bedbugs are not medically dangerous and not the result of uncleanliness", and so she decided to do nothing about them but instead live with them peacefully. This reminded me of someone I know with the same live-and-let live attitude about parasites.

Last year there was a major lice infestation in Iris uber Alles's class at school. Iris did not go unscathed (by the end of the year, 70% of her class had lice), and there was a lot of sturm und drang at the school. There were many parents who took a very common sense attitude and just worked hard to eradicate the lice without drama. There were other parents who also worked hard to get rid of the lice, but who had some drama along the way (some wanted a scheduled overnight field trip canceled). And there were some parents whose children (allegedly) did not have lice, who you would think would be happily sitting on the sidelines, but had a lot of drama anyhow regarding those of us who did and got it treated. Several parents weighed in that those of us using professional lice treatment clinics were idiots.

Most memorably one mother sent a couple of angry emails to the class email list, rather condescending emails about how she is a medical professional who "could not remain silent any more", so anger-provoking were our emails back and forth about the status of treatment and preventive measures. We needed to know that lice were not considered a disease in many countries, and that many schools do not check for lice, and we should just let the lice go. (It is true that some public schools in our area no longer check for lice, but it's because they cannot afford to stay lice-free. Schools get funds based on each day that a child actually attends, and a child who must stay away due to lice causes a little cessation of state funding. Additionally, one district determined it would no longer bar lousy children because the lousy children would perform poorly on tests if they missed a lot of school, and this could result in a loss of school funding and local administrative control under the No Child Left Behind laws).

At school one day I had the misfortune to run into that angry, louse-loving mother. The conversation amongst the parents waiting for their third graders turned, naturally, to the ongoing lice epidemic, and that mother glared at me angrily, and, with a loud, raised voice and with veins visible in her forehead, ranted, "LICE IS NOT A DISEASE!!"

"I never said it was," I said firmly. "But it's a disgusting parasite which I don't want to live with. You can live without parasites." The louse-lover was disgusted and furious, and she stomped off. Another mother whispered to me, "She thinks we should all just learn to live with them. She thinks that's the right thing, like those countries where they do that."

"Where do they do that?" I've lived on three continents but had never met a louse-lover before.

"England. I think she used to live in England."

13 comments:

hughman said...

england? well that explains it. they also eat weird and never brush, everyone knows that!!!

omg, how do these people leave the house?

the Drunken Housewife said...

Please note, readers, that every British person I have ever personally met had no visible head lice, and I didn't pick any up myself the two times I visited the British Isles.

snowqueen said...

Having got my two children through the English school system for the last 12 years I feel I am in a position to comment on the lice situation! The only reliable way to keep lice at bay is to comb your child's hair through with a lice comb at the conditioner stage of hair washing. If every parent did this there would soon be no lice in a classroom. There are two reasons there are lice. 1. parents do nothing. 2. parents use chemicals to treat lice. The reason the latter doesn't work is because the lice are now pretty much immune to them and it gives a false sense of security - yes, the lice are dead but the very next day they go into school and pick up more from the child of the parents who do nothing so all you've achieved is putting pesticide on your child's head (while washing it off apples???). So there is little point in developing a moral panic about headlice which are totally harmless, disgusting though they might be. If you comb regularly then you pick the adult louse up before it has a chance to lay eggs so all you're dealing with is one or two in each hairwash. like all terrible things associated with small children, it passes - by the time my girls were in secondary school the problem ceased.

Anonymous said...

I remember that time Hogwarts was practically a ghost-town when the dirty little Weasley's brought in lice. They were running on a skeleton crew. Dumbledor's beard was a disaster.

Silliyak said...

Maybe if you established a "Lice Rights!" club at school, she would be happy. You could have signs and rallies... "Save the Lice!" "Lice wanna live too!" "Long Live Lice!"

the Drunken Housewife said...

Snowqueen, that was how we ended up going: picking out the bugs. in calif the pesticides used most places in lice shmpoos is illegal; the shampoos they do sell here are useless. I also bagged up all the stuffed animals and a variety of other possessions.

my problem is that my eyesight is not good enough to get lice eggs out. Therefore I ended up paying a professional to do it.

Fortywinx said...

Hehehe, oh dear not only does the cliche of having crap teeth follow us around, are we now also being saddled with a love for parasites?

I and my sister had headlice a few times as a kid, sounds like pretty much the same happened at my school. Quite a lot of drama, particularly from some of the richer families who seemed to believe their kids should or were immune. Conditioner and combing seems to work best, that and having shorter hair helps too (especially if you have very thick hair like I do; my mum gave me the wonkiest bob ever ^_^).

Anette Moore said...

I gotta say here before I drive away all the English readers: I am an Anglophile! I named my daughter after Iris Murdoch! I have had sex (repeatedly) with an Englishman! (who incidentally had no head lice. He had a shaved head with that thuggish lower class British look, so sexy to a middle class American girl).

Anette Moore said...

p.s. Of course that was me, the Drunken Housewife, suffering again from Iris having gotten into the laptop and logged herself in.

Claire M. Johnson said...

Oh yes, nothing brings out the "love" like lice (hmmm, that sounds like it should go on a tee-shirt). After our own "lice is hell on earth" episode, I was amused at those parents who treated my son like a leper (which was the norm and one of them a teacher!). He was getting them from (repeatedly) trying on hats at stores.

NonymousGoatsePants said...

http://www.funnyordie.co.uk/videos/cac06b7c7e/paul-mccartney-head-lice

Missy said...

Yeah, I've met this attitude. Unfortunately, it seems to be a prevailing one among school nurses and some medical personnel. They blithely overlook one of the side effects of lice--extreme irritability. That was one of the nastier side effects; not to mention that having small bugs crawl through your child's hair tends to make them a social leper.

We went through three bouts of this with our daughters. I have to say that only the pesticide treatments and nightly comb-outs were effective. Yes, we did the organic treatments, to no avail. That just stretched the ordeal even longer.

I find it amazing that someone would become so personally enraged over a health issue where clearly people have differing opinions. This is a control issue for that parent--not a lousy hair issue.

Missy said...

Yeah, I've met this attitude. Unfortunately, it seems to be a prevailing one among school nurses and some medical personnel. They blithely overlook one of the side effects of lice--extreme irritability. That was one of the nastier side effects; not to mention that having small bugs crawl through your child's hair tends to make them a social leper.

We went through three bouts of this with our daughters. I have to say that only the pesticide treatments and nightly comb-outs were effective. Yes, we did the organic treatments, to no avail. That just stretched the ordeal even longer.

I find it amazing that someone would become so personally enraged over a health issue where clearly people have differing opinions. This is a control issue for that parent--not a lousy hair issue.