LICE: They're Smarter Than You Think
Fighting An Epidemic
So in order to set this up, you must know that I have three children and all three attend a very nice public school. By very nice, I mean the kind of nice you find in small towns where everyone knows each other and the same kids who begin Kindergarten together walk the stage at senior graduation. Nice also means clean and fairly new and somewhat cultured. Now, take the sum of three children and attendance for an entire school year (sans one or two days due to strep) and multiply that by the collective number of years my children have been in school, which is 14. Now please note that during this marathon of successful schooling not one single child of mine has come home with that plague of all plagues, head lice.
Sure, there were times when whispers of the wee beasties blew through the halls and into the ears of carpool moms. Sometimes we discovered someone we actually knew had the vermin, but it was always ancient history by the time the culprit came clean. If a mom were to be found out, she would laugh nervously and say something like, “Oh, yeah…Forrest had a few nits, but we took care of that months ago…” It’s like someone finding out you did a stint in rehab, only worse. When a person exits rehab people bolster you with kind words and encouragement for the future. Lice, on the other hand (or head for that matter), scars you with a label of being a creepy crawly condo. I used to be a mother who fancied herself impervious to such a blight (or else I was just lucky) and I often wondered if it was the parents who were making all the fuss. In other words, did lice affect the grown ups far more than their offspring hosts? This answer, I now know, is NO. I was wrong and I am sorry. If karma is a biscuit-eater, then I brought a jar of honey.
It started when my daughter announced to me that her scalp had been itching all day. Immediately, I expertly suggested that we change shampoos. After all, she does have sensitive skin. Then I stated that the heater could be drying the air in her room and thus her skin would tighten and itch. I was on a roll with my theories when she bluntly said, “Mom, can you check my head for lice?” Absolutely, for I had nothing to fear; she had never had lice before. I checked. I checked again. “What are all of these grains of sand in your hair?” I asked. She shrugged. We googled lice and studied photos of nits...and of bugs. I didn’t know what to do! I racked my brain and remembered countless tips from various mothers – veterans in the wars of lice. Mayonnaise, vinegar, toxic chemicals, a magical potion made of lemon and eucalyptus, hair dye, electric combs that shock the little demons; the list went on and on. A late night trip to the drug store provided me with a “safe” shampoo and a plastic nit comb. The adventure began.
Before it was all over and done, all three of my children had lice at different times, and my daughter suffered through three rounds of the creatures. Why? I’ll tell you why. The school system has finally lost the war on head lice. I went from being a grunt in boot camp to General Patton when it came to my battle against lice. I bought a dog groomer’s industrial flea comb and used it to check my kid’s hair daily. I spent hours under bright lights seeking out and destroying nits the size of bacteria. I learned that wrapping a warm towel around a head soaked in vinegar for 10 minutes would render all life extinct. I learned that a tablespoon of tea tree oil in our shampoo kept the bugs at bay. It did not take me long to know these critters were hitching rides from school. I called the school. The nurse told me she would “look into it.” After round two I called the school and wrote a letter in triplicate: one for the teacher, one for the nurse, and one for the principal. What happened to the lice checks? What happened to the lady with the plastic gloves and the toothpicks, rooting through everyone’s hair? What happened to calls from the nurse’s office and letters sent home? I’ll tell you what. They were gone. After throwing a few tantrums and writing several letters, the nurse from the board of education called me. The conversation went something like this:
NURSE: “Mrs. Jackson, this is Nurse Peggy from the Board of Education…”
ME: “Oh hello! (thank God!) You got my letter?”
NURSE: “Yes, Mrs. Jackson and I do not think you are aware of our new policies concerning head lice.”
ME: “New policies?”
NURSE: “We no longer feel it necessary to perform lice checks in the classroom, as it is a disruption to the learning process and an interruption to the teachers and staff. Furthermore, lice are not life threatening and therefore we feel students do not need to miss school because of it.”
ME: (after a long pause) “Sooooooooooo spending my hard earned money on remedies to get rid of the lice and then having my children return to infested classrooms is NOT a disruption to OUR family’s life and the fact that my daughter is mortified by this dilemma and cries at the sight of the comb has no bearing on these decisions? Is the school willing to provide us with free RidX? Do you have children, Nurse Peggy?!?”
NURSE: “No head checks. Do not call the nurse, she will not do anything. Good day.”
So the lice won. Vermin vs. Board of Education: winner LICE. I started making calls to parents. I utilized chit chat to ask questions. After a few weeks of field research I learned that I was not alone. Quite the contrary, dozens of angry parents had made their voices heard when it came to the epidemic raging inside the school. It got so bad that at one point over half the school’s student population was absent for treatments of head lice. After all, no self respecting parent worth their weight would send a child to school to A) infest other children and B) suffer the brunt of embarrassment. Like my daughter said, “Today in class I saw Jose scratch his head during math. We all stayed away from him.”
When a parent has nowhere else to turn, they turn to one another. Before Christmas I believe every parent of every child in that school had been informed via the network that lice was on the rampage. Drastic measures have been taken in every household and eventually the lice dwindled to a small colony at best. We moms are continually on watch. The lice are still out there. Like the mafia, they lie in wait and plot their next victim. News of lice still surface, but so far we have managed to keep our heads clean and nit free. I still have my industrial comb and as long as school is in session, my children will have their heads checked for lice on a weekly basis. Moms pass one another in the carpool line and nod. “Still checkin?” one mom will say. “So far so good,” the other will say.
We live in a world where schools are putting in metal detectors and searching lockers for guns and handing out condoms without consent, but refuse to check a 5 year old’s head for lice. Schools no longer allow such frivolities as holiday parties, show and tell or field trips. Schools have removed art and music programs. Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance are now a disruption to the learning process. Parents want the schools to discipline their kids so they don’t have to, and schools want parents to leave them no reason to call Child Services. The lice? Well, they’re doing just fine. Like the alligator species has survived since the age of the dinosaurs, lice will continue to thrive in elementary schools. Maybe it’s time I learned not to expect so much from the schools. Were parents just lazy before? What did we expect? I wonder if Nurse Peggy has ever had head lice?