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Parenting Imperfect

April 28, 2012

A parenting phobia that will leave you scratching your head

One of my two worst parent phobias came to pass last month. Even simply typing its name makes my head all swimmy. The Diva, as happens to kids her age, succumbed to lice, passed along by one of her fellow fourth-graders.

I'm going to pause now and let this sink in: my kid was infested with a parasite that was feeding on blood sucked out of her scalp. That very sentence makes me want to start scrubbing every last surface in the house with bleach and a wire brush. Again.

For the record, I have zero idea which kid passed the bugs on to my kid. And I wouldn't wish him or her any ill will, no matter what I might have mumbled during the fifth round of combing lice eggs out of the Diva's hair.

Lice are a fact of childhood, I'm told. When I was a kid, we were brainwashed to believe they were a product of a dirty home and neglectful parents. At least, that's what parents of the time said until the day when their little angel picked them up, then lice became just one of those facts of childhood.

In our more enlightened times, we know that they should cause as much stigma as a cold.

Our house had been passed over for nearly 10 years. Every couple of months, a note would come home from pre-school, then school-school, informing all parents that one kid in the building was louse-y. We would all keep an eye on our respective kids' heads. Yet both of mine seemed immune.

Which of course led to my wondering if that was because they were too anti-social to catch a pest that can only be passed on by contact with other human beings. The parenting mind is a wacky place.

And, yes, the same note had gone out about a week before we were stricken. So, really, I can't say that there wasn't some warning.

What those letters failed to tell us is how tenacious lice are. The individual adult critters are relatively easy to kill off. But long before your child's frantic itching lets you know what's on her head, the lice have laid about a billion eggs. These are what will make you weep.

The sesame seed-sized eggs are attached to your hair shafts near where they spring out of your head. They stick tight, too, like two teenagers in love. Every single one of these wee, bonded nits has to be removed. By hand.

Once I processed the fact that the Diva had bugs that I could easily see living on her head and spent the bulk of a day washing everything that would fit in the machine and bagging what wouldn't, not to mention dousing her skull with all manner of chemical, I was faced with hours of literal nit-picking.

Reader, this is what nearly did me in.

There was crying. Also: wailing. Teeth were gnashed. The Diva was a champ; I was a mess.

Follicle by follicle I investigated my child's hair, pulling the nits off with either a special comb or my fingernails. The first pass took two hours. By the end of it, I could just barely un-crouch myself. My back still hasn't recovered.

The next morning, the nits were back. And so two more hours. This time, we sat outside, since it was a nice day. This did nothing for my back, however.

More were on her head that evening. I admitted that it might be time for bifocals.

The next day, armed with a half-dozen new products that promised to kill the pests but leave the child intact, I combed again. If nothing else, one of the products smelled like licorice, which was a nice change. Or I was starting to hallucinate. I'm not certain I want to know the answer.

In between combings, there was more laundry, including her backpack, every coat she has ever worn or might think of wearing and every sheet, pillowcase and towel that had touched any of us during the last 12 hours. Because the only thing worse than one kid with lice would have been all of us with lice.

That was what kept me up at night. Every single time the other three people in the house would scratch, I was certain that the pestilence had spread. The rest of my life would then be devoted to combing each of our heads, strand by ridiculous strand.

My husband assured me that if he picked them up, he'd just shave his head. In a sick way, I'm sad I didn't get to see that.

Five combings later _ one of which was done by said husband because he feared for my mental health -_the Diva was declared nit-free and allowed back in school.

Our fingers are crossed that she remains blissfully unitchy.

I'm not going to tell you my other huge parenting phobia. No need in tempting the fates. I promise to let you know, however, should it come to pass.

Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of "Sweater Quest." Her columns can be found at parentingimperfect.

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