Opinion

COLUMN: Lice — striking fear in parents everywhere

It seems ridiculous the amount of stress the threat of a few little bugs caused.  - Kirsten Hildebrand photo
It seems ridiculous the amount of stress the threat of a few little bugs caused.
— image credit: Kirsten Hildebrand photo

Operating on a hot tip, I grabbed my headlamp and a fine-toothed comb and hunched over a head of hair. Another head of hair and a half hour later, I breathed a big sigh of relief, panic subsiding. We were lice free.

Considering the fact that we are in the midst of cold and flu season with H1N1 and H1N-whatever floating around, capturing headlines and even lives, it seems ridiculous the amount of stress the threat of a few little bugs caused.

I am new to the land of lice with my first experience with the Wee Beasties (timely Robbie Burns reference, eh?) happening at the tail end of last summer.

My three kids returned home after some time with family, a few creatures stowed away in their hair and I learned the true meaning of the words annoying, nuisance, persistent, among a few others that my newspaper doesn’t print and my children don’t often hear.

Several rounds of costly shampoo and daily nit picking from two heads of hair (my son escaped the drama with his summer head shave) and we passed our initiation into a club whose members seem reluctant to admit their association.

Truly ironic considering the other day my friend said to me, “I think I may have that H1N1 virus.” I sat sharing the same air as my coughing compadre without so much as batting an eye.

Yet, had she said “I’ve got lice,” I would have plopped her pompom-ed toque on the top of her head and bid her adieu.

Why does lice have such a bad rap? In the midst of our lice outbreak my nightly reading consisted of Googled articles on lice. I learned they’re not dangerous and don’t spread disease. They’ve got short stumpy legs rendering even walking a challenge. They do not fly or jump. They’re not even considered a medical problem.

In some cultures, people just live with lice. Cleopatra is said to have had her own solid gold lice comb — how sophisticated! Sophisticated! What?!

I think we’ve become a society obsessed with a misguided standard of cleanliness where bugs mean dirtiness. Head lice aren’t creatures that infest the dirty. In fact, I believe my family had previously resisted the bug for so long because of our anti-shampooing policy. (It’s kind of a loose policy.)

And getting lice doesn’t mean you have to clean your house from top to bottom. During the six weeks we had lice, I often heard other misguided statements such as all teddy bears go in the freezer, vacuum all the furniture — daily and launder everything. None of these things were necessary to rid our heads of lice. The rice-sized creatures don’t like to leave the scalp. They really don’t. That’s where they eat and they gotta eat to live.

All these things considered, why does lice still take its toll on families — socially, emotionally and psychologically? Why does the thought of lice in our lives create more panic than illness that knocks a person out for days?

Sure, it’s part stigma — and education and awareness, simply standing up and admitting to having lice helps.

But I think we’ve also become a society that doesn’t have time for a nuisance — a creepy, crawly nuisance.

Surprisingly, taking time with my girls each day wasn’t a complete nuisance. With strands of hair in hand, we talked, listened to music and sometimes they read to me. Often we complained to each other but while dealing with lice was at times frustrating, we also bonded as a family tackling a new challenge together.

We even captured specimens to watch under magnifying glass, which demystified the beast. I had fun throwing around the terms louse and nitpicker.

In the end, nitpicking was the answer and I was pleased that for once, being a nitpicking mom was the solution to our dilemma.

So, coughs and Kleenex in hand I return to my recent alarm and remind myself that “meh, it’s just lice.” Let’s lose the stigma, gain some perspective and try to panic a little less. Sharing our matter-of-fact stories is just a start.

Disclaimer: While lice have been disambiguated for me, bed bugs are another matter. freak me out. That’s all…

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