I’ve had lice as an adult three times, in three countries. I hate to brag but it’s the truth.
Maybe I shouldn’t admit this so readily but I’m sharing with you now so that if you ever contract lice, you will know, I feel your pain. I’m well-acquainted with your scratchy village. When you, literally, get the itch, you can call me and I will comfort you. And then I’ll submerge myself in tea tree oil in case the vermin can spread via phone waves.
I blame my kids. When they get lice, I get lice. The tiny bugs that infest their scalps must spot me from the corners of their beady little peepers and tap each other on their exoskeletons. “Hey, check out the extra-large, color-treated playground on that Big Lady over there,” they must say, “Here, take hold of my creepy parasitic insect claw, let’s leap joyfully into her coiffe together!”
The first time I had lice as an adult was in Bali. We moved there for a few years when our oldest daughter was 1 ½. She got the hair critters from one of her tiny buddies at preschool. It always happens like that. We get caught unaware by people who look so innocent. One moment, small children are frolicking happily and the next, BAM, bug-riddled chaos has arrived, introduced by some miniature cutie patootie fresh into sparkling new big girl panties. And even though it’s not her fault, you can’t help but hate her a little for the cageful of havoc she has just released into your life. Friends, please try to remember, these small people are too tiny to hate for an extended period, and definitely don’t hate her as much as you hate the next two days of your life.
We had an awesome local helper in Bali. Her name was Ibu Luh (She and her family are now my friends on Facebook so TERIMAH KASIH BANYAK, IBU LUH!) When she got word about the unwelcome noggin visitors, she lit up some kind of Balinese bat signal and immediately, ten helpers from the neighborhood hustled through the gates and clustered around our fish frog pond. They maneuvered us onto large cushions and then proceeded to scour every last millimeter of our scalps, all while giggling and gossiping in dialect. They smeared the remnants of all critters and eggs onto a pile of wet rags. The infestation was eliminated in forty five minutes of neighborhood chit chat, all while my head was tickled. Like most things that happened in Bali, contracting lice there was nearly fun. I almost wanted to get lice again the following week. Come on, no I didn’t. Having lice is a huge pain in the ass. That would have been insane.
The 2nd time I contracted lice we were living in China. I was 17 months pregnant with my third child. We lived in a tall and super skinny lane house at the time. I had to drag my enormity up 47 floors to go to bed at night. This may surprise you, but in those dark days, I was often not cheerful.
When I figured out we had lice in China, I immediately slow-waddled to the local pharmacy. I hollered, “Shee-tzzzz!” to the man in the white coat, and when he looked at me in bewilderment, I did the head scratch dance.
“Ah, shee-tzzzz!” he hollered back at me and ran to the back room. I wanted to bellow, THAT’S WHAT I JUST SAID!, but I didn’t, because daily charades were how I survived there. Plus, what if I needed more pharmaceuticals the next day? I certainly felt terrible enough to wish for more pharmaceuticals, so I kept the peace and grabbed my medicine, handed the man the twelve cents it cost, and shuffled on my grumpy way.
As soon as I got home I rubbed the medicine into the head of my first child, let it sit, and then rinsed it out. I whipped out my shiny metal comb (because the plastic lice combs DO NOT WORK so don’t use one just because it came free with purchase. YOU WILL FAIL). After several hours, I was confident she had been cleansed of all beasts. It wasn’t until I was ready to apply the same medicine to my own head that I glanced at my massive belly and thought, gee, I wonder if this stuff is toxic? The label was in Mandarin characters, which I couldn’t read, so I trudged up two skinny flights to my desk and sat heavily in my pleather chair, plugging the English name of the medicine/ pesticide into Chinese google.
My first click gave me the only information I needed– BANNED IN THE US. My eyes almost popped out of my skull and rolled away. This cannot be true, I thought. What must a substance do to get banned in the US, where you can dine three meals a day on foods that have long been banned in the EU? Excuse me ma’am, would you prefer your pancakes genetically modified or partially hydrogenated? How about a side of glyphosate to sprinkle on your salad? Don’t forget to dip your hormone-riddled chicken wing in this food dye!
I skidded down to Mia’s room to see if she had dissolved yet. She looked up as I heaved myself through her door and blinked her huge eyes at me.
“Are you feeling okay, honey?”
“Yes, mommy. Can I have a snack?”
She was fine, for the moment at least. However, now that she’s a teenager, I sometimes wonder if all of THIS is because of THAT. Meaning, maybe the reason she rolls her eyes now is because I massaged poison into her skull when she was four. Probably.
Back in China, Ed disposed of the toxin as I searched online for a homeopathic lice remedy for my despicable, self-obsessed self, the whole time wondering how I had skipped this same step earlier. A legitimate-looking site advised me to slather my head in olive oil and go to bed, which I did. It worked, and seventeen loads of laundry and several frantic couch-vacuuming sessions later, we were lice-free.
For lice incident #3, we were back in the US. It was summer and the five of us traveled up the coast in our camper for a week. We had a fantastic time! But somehow we picked up some miniature hitch hikers, loads of them. The lice must have joined our party fairly early but I had been oblivious, blaming my itchy head on my dirty hat, not noticing the incessant scratching of all three of my kids. My smartest youngest child figured it out first, the day after we returned home. “Mommy, I just saw bugs on my pillow. I fink ya bettah check my head,” she said.
It was the worst case of lice I could have bad-dreamed about. We must have fed and housed them for a long, long time. There were generations of them! From big grandpa lice to baby lice! Even the lice had lice! Usually you spot the eggs first. Not this time. My kids’ heads looked like a windshield after a drive cross country. I was sure my head was just as bountiful.
The color vacated Ed’s face when I told him.
“Can you check me?” he asked, so I did.
As I pieced painstakingly through every hair on his head, he typed furiously on his phone. “You’re clear,” I said, feeling certain that a subset of my lice had, at just that moment, dropped into my eyebrows.
“What a relief!” he said. “Hey, listen, there’s a seat on a flight to Vegas leaving in two hours, I just bought it. I’m getting out of here.”
“Wait,” I said, “You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I’m not kidding, I have to be there for a meeting in two days anyway. This place is infested. I’m leaving now before I get lice, too.”
“But, but, who’s going to go through my hair?”
“I don’t know. Not me. I’m sorry, but you know I can’t see well anyway. I can’t fix this, honey.”
Here’s what I wanted to say in my capital letter voice: IN MY NEXT LIFE I WANT TO COME BACK AS A PERSON WHO TAKES CONVENIENTLY SCHEDULED BUSINESS TRIPS TO SUPER FUN PLACES, BUT BEFORE I LEAVE I WILL SAY THINGS LIKE, “I’M SORRY, I CANT FIX THIS, HONEY,” AND THEN HEAD OFF TO ROLL CRAPS. MEANWHILE, YOU WILL COME BACK AS A TOAD. AND YOU WILL HAVE LICE-RIDDLED BABY TOADS WHO YOU WILL WAY OVER-SCHEDULE BECAUSE, EVEN THOUGH YOU SAW THAT DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE DETRIMENTAL EFFECTS OF HYPER-SCHEDULING YOUNG TOADS, YOU CAN’T HELP BUT BE A TIGER TOAD WHO MAKES RIDICULOUS PARENTING CHOICES BECAUSE EVERY DECISION YOU MAKE WILL BE DRIVEN BY IRRATIONAL AND BASELESS FEARS. But then I thought, What if lice causes the collapse of my marriage? That would suck because then they would WIN, and that just can’t happen. And then it dawned on me that he wouldn’t be helpful if he stayed anyway, because he truly does not see well, and if he missed even one lousy egg, BAM, the whole lice dance would begin again in two weeks, which I couldn’t handle. Sure, if he got lice I’d have a partner in misery, but even more, I’d have an adult fourth child.
“Fine,” I said, “I hate you only slightly less than I love you. Now get out of here before my bugs become your bugs.”
I’ll wrap this up because we’ve all got places to be. I paid a “lice doctor” to come to my house and scour my head. After emptying my bank account, she advised me and my kids to sleep with our heads steeped in olive oil every night for a month, which we did for a total of one night and then forgot. Thankfully, the lice didn’t come back. Today, you will find me proactively spraying a tea tree and lavender concoction on our heads throughout the year, wearing lots of hoodies, and hoping for the best. We’ve won some long, hard-fought battles, but the war, it drags on indefinitely.
Lice, if you’re reading this, hear my plea and leave us be! Feast on someone else’s delicious head for a while, someone who lives across town. I’m too over-scheduled to deal with you. My fault, I know, but still. For you, the NO is flashing bright, bright red in the front of our vacancy sign. Forever.