A Short Story About Lice…
Lice are For Fancy People Too
Back in the 1500’s at the height of England’s Tudor rule, (think Henry VIII, that heartbreaking head-chopper-offer) the Ladies-of-Court were some of the most wealthy and fashionable in all of Europe. It was not unusual for them to weave strands of gold through their gowns and braid precious gems into their hair. They lived in palaces the size of small cities. They feasted on the finest sweetmeats and drank ale by the barrel. They were beautiful, regal and royal.
But wait a sec…what’s that Lady-in-Waiting doing to Queen Elizabeth I? She appears to be combing her hair, but with a purpose – looking for something. Oh wait, I know. She’s picking LICE out of her hair. QEI is just sitting there playing her lute, not a care in the world, while her lady is pickin’ and flickin’. Her subjects aren’t running from the room in terror spreading ‘she’s dirty’ rumors to the court in France. It’s business as usual over there at the castle. That’s right, even the most regal of all figures in history was plagued with those little blood-sucking egg-laying nuisances. Combing for lice was a regular occurrence back then and nobody gave much thought to it. They even used gilded lice combs designed for that sole purpose.
So – scene change to present day – as I’m combing the lice out of my daughter’s hair for the 5th time this year, I comfort myself with the fact that she’s just like the Queen of England. Isn’t that grand? So fancy!
The First Time
The first time my daughter got lice, it came from her cousin who was visiting us from Connecticut. She got it from a community horseback riding helmet. I remember crying buckets while I combed her out, stifling my gag reflex – cursing the state of Connecticut and the entire youth horseback riding industry. I thought my child was above it – too good for lice. This kind of thing didn’t happen to us. I mean, we had a really big house and a Porsche!! My kids took showers every night and used all of those yummy berry-flavored shampoos and detanglers. I had a housekeeper, for heaven’s sake! Surely not us? I also kept it under wraps. The information was classified, on a need-to-know basis. I never told a soul.
The Next Time, and the Time After That and the Time After That
The next time, both of my daughters got lice. It was most likely contracted during my younger daughter’s youth theater production, although it’s not something we could know with certainty because it’s impossible to find the actual origin (caveat: we have yet to get it during soccer / lacrosse season. I’m just saying…); and then she brought it home so we could all share. I WAS SO MAD. Suddenly my shame was replaced by a fierce determination to eradicate it once and for all. I called a professional lice removal service (Hello Hair Whisperers? I LOVE you guys) and together we attacked as though at war. I called everyone we knew, including the theater company, and went the full disclosure route. It was awkward and pushing that send button on the ‘confession’ email was hard, but I was relieved to shine a light on the issue (much like the feeling when coming clean on any deep dark secret – ahhhh, relief only truth can bring).
In fact, lice has plagued our house several times on and off for the last year. It definitely appears to coincide with one of my child’s activities (ahem…theater) where lots of kids come into close contact with one another. There are wigs, costumes and make-up involved in this particular activity (ahem…theater); lots of brush sharing and collaborative grooming. They are like a pack of chimpanzees, constantly primping and prepping themselves and each other. It’s a virtual breeding ground in those dressing rooms. The lice must be happier than all of us when a new show goes into production. Maybe there is a little lice thespian facebook network because they seem to show up in droves at these things (Annie? Let’s go…). But I digress…
Lice? Ewwwwww…You Must Be Dirty
Lice has a stigma attached to it like no other childhood affliction. I mean, we are quick to set our kids’ broken bones in bright neon casts for all the world to see (he fell making the winning play in his Pop Warner game!); we tell tales of their bout with mono in hushed tones laced with the worry and weariness only the mom of a very sick kid can possess – with a twinge of pride in our voices for surviving it; but when was the last time you heard a mom talk openly about her battle with lice?
It’s a dirty little secret. There are BUGS crawling around on our kids’ heads, after all, laying eggs and making them itchy and scratchy. I understand why you don’t want anyone to know – I mean, what would the perfect moms whose kids are lice free (and always have been!) say? They will judge you. They will judge your cleanliness. They will talk about you behind your back and probably ban their kids from hanging out at your house without actually coming clean and telling you that’s what they’ve done.
I get all that. But here is my beef with the underground lice shame mongers – you are most likely contributing to the problem by keeping it under wraps! Since you didn’t tell me your kid had lice, I have no idea that my child was exposed. She then walks around her school and home taking the lice with her everywhere she goes, and it’s not until I hear those dreaded words – “Mom, my head is itchy” – that I realize we’re in it again. Off go the sheets and pillows; in comes the carpet cleaning service; gone is my evening as it’s spent running a metal comb through my daughter’s hair until I’m slack-jawed and numb with boredom, resignation and a low rumble of bitterness. Not again!!! Our freezer fills up with hair pretties, combs, stuffed animals and anything else I can’t wash (the cold kills the bugs – leave everything in there for 72 hours and you’re good to go). I write the dreaded email to her friends, coaches and school letting them know that she is ‘with bug’. Two words? It sucks. We have to break the cycle.
Confession is Good for the Soul
So moms, I implore you…come clean next time your child gets lice. I don’t wish this problem on anyone and perhaps if we all exercise vigilance we can diminish the number of repeat visits by these nasty little critters. Also, if we’re open and forthright won’t that help to lessen the stigma somewhat? Look what a little publicity did for bigtime so-called ‘no-no’s’ like same-sex couples, depression and the Snuggie (I mean, really? Leopard print?). We are not talking about a social movement here; we’re talking about a small childhood nuisance called lice.
And don’t forget – by admitting your child has it, you’re associating them with the Queen of England. See? You just knew she was a princess!