Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Nit picking

A conversation I had with a friend last week took me back to the dark days of a miserable February a dozen years ago.  It was rough February partly because my husband was traveling a lot -- one of the unhappy side-effects of his new higher-paying job.  I was parenting between one and three kids, two of whom were my new step-daughters.  It wasn't always easy.

But what made that particular February so incredibly bad in a big way was bugs that were bad in a little way: lice.

I'd never had lice as a kid, so when my daughter got sent home from school, I wasn't quite sure what to do. (Did I mention that she was my long-haired daughter?)  The nurse sent a note that said something about trying lice shampoo.  I am not at all the kind of person who wants to pour pesticide on my own child's head, but I was so freaked out (and clueless about what else to try) that I dutifully went out, bought that, put it on my daughter's hair.  Miserable long story short, her brand of lice had developed a resistance to Nix.  I got to read about that in the paper a few years later, and all I could think was, "no kidding!"

No matter how many times someone says, "It's not your fault", we couldn't help feeling like social pariahs.  My child was carrying a communicable disease, and at the slightest mis-step, I might infect my friends.  Did I mention it was miserable?  And it seemed to last forever.

Through trial and error, after a few agonizing mis-steps, I finally discovered the technique that worked for us.  Here's what I bought:  baby oil, a shower cap, and a nit comb.  This last was a metal nit-comb (which you can find at most drug stores).  The plastic nit combs that come with the nasty nit shampoos are worthless; the teeth are too far apart.

For a period that lasts a bit more than a week, there's a lot of work.  Every night, I would put baby oil on my daughter's head -- I read that the oil helps to dissolve the glue that keeps the nits (eggs) stuck to the hair, making them easier to comb out later.  I'd comb out and then braid the hair next.  She'd sleep with her hair in the shower cap, which helped to keep the oil from getting all over everything.

Every night and every morning, I would comb through her hair, first with a regular comb to get out tangles, and next bit-by-bit with the nit comb.  It's called "nit picking" for a reason -- this is exhausting, painstaking work.

In the mornings, after the combing, we'd shampoo her hair to get the oil out, and then we'd blow dry her hair.  We'd then throw towels, sheets, and pillowcases down the laundry.  Her coat and hat, her stuffed animal -- anything that might come into contact with her hair -- went in the dryer, if not in the washer as well.  Heat supposedly kills lice.  And in February, there's a lot more clothing being worn!  It seemed like the dryer was running non-stop.

A year later, the lice epidemic came around again.  The second time around was still exhausting, but it didn't seem to have the same sense of agony -- we had the supplies laid up, and we knew the drill.

I wish my friend the best as she goes through her own bout with this tiny, itchy, nasty beast.  

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