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Faith in Vermont: That's Lice

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Posted on July 24, 2018 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



 Someone once said, “Life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans.”

I might revise that to: “LICE are what happen to you when you’re making other plans.”

In my last column, I wrote about my fear of flying, which is at root a fear of falling.

So, while we’re on the topic of my subconscious anxieties, my second greatest fear – the thing I’ve wanted most to avoid as a parent – is head lice. 

I have a physical reaction to the very idea of head lice; mention lice in my presence, and I will itch for a week – despite the fact that I have never once had head lice. This, plus the fact that I’d made it through over a decade of parenting four children without a single case of head lice, gave me an inflated sense of security. For good measure, on the recommendation of a pediatrician friend, I spray my daughters’ hair each morning with “Rosemary Repel Conditioning Spray,” which contains a blend of natural oils that are supposedly lice kryptonite. And, while I’d never homeschool my children merely to avoid the annual elementary school lice epidemic, it’s certainly a nice side benefit.

I thought we were safe. But this summer, our number was up.

It began with a phone call one Sunday evening in June from a dear friend, who also happens to be the mother of three of my daughters’ dear friends.

“I have some bad news,” she said, and after that prelude I actually felt relieved when the bad news was that she’d found head lice on her daughter the day after a sleepover with my daughter.

We’ve had lice scares before, but they never amounted to anything.

This time, we found a louse on our daughter.

It was just one louse, one small wiggly bug. One bug wasn’t anything to panic over. We’d caught it early and everyone else in our family appeared to be clean. We laundered anything that had come into contact with this daughter, and continued to go through her hair daily with a fine-toothed comb. This was fun for nobody: The comb pulled my daughter’s hair, she wiggled, parents snapped, she whined. After three weeks of this, with no further louse sightings, we assumed we were clear and embarked on the first of the three trips we were scheduled to take over the next four weeks. 

By Trip #3, we were worn out from packing and unpacking, sleeping in strange beds, waiting in lines and sitting in traffic. Our daughters were cranky from too many “special” late bedtimes and summer sibling squabbles. 

We needed a rest. Thankfully, Trip #3 was to Maine.

Our family has gone to Ogunquit, Maine almost every summer since 2007, when I was expecting our first child. We stay in a house with my parents, down the street from my aunt and cousins. We go to the beach whenever possible, climb on the rocks, read, play games, and walk to the cove for candy or ice cream every afternoon. It is familiar, easy, and restful. 

But this year, during our first day in Ogunquit, while we were standing in line for ice cream with cousins, I looked down and saw a louse crawling on my daughter’s hair…then another…and another. 

Whether the lice were the result of undetected eggs from that original louse, or from subsequent interactions between my daughter and her friend, we didn’t know. Nor did it matter. In that moment, one of my worst parenting fears became a reality.

Friends who live near major cities tell me that there is an entire lice removal industry available to them: For hundreds of dollars, you can outsource your child to a de-lousing specialist. In Vermont and Maine, though, it’s all up to the parents. 

We acted quickly. My husband left immediately for the drug store. I somehow got the girls through ice cream (I remember nothing), and we returned to our rental house where my husband met us with a bag full of every lice comb and shampoo treatment offered by Rite Aid. 

For the next two hours, we did load upon load of laundry and combed through four heads of hair. Lice died by crushing and shampoo treatment. We’d have to repeat the whole thing after one week, and continue daily lice checks for a month. It never ceases to amaze me that if you pit modern humans – with all our knowledge and technology – against the smallest bugs, be they lice, ticks, mosquitoes or bedbugs, the bugs bring us to our knees every time. 

For two hours, I teetered on the edge of self-pity as we spent a beautiful Maine afternoon literally nit-picking through our daughters’ heads. But, as author Anne Lamott says, “Fair is where the pony rides are.”

Plus, there was this: Of my four daughters, who share rooms and brushes and hugs and wrestling holds, just one had any trace of lice. Sometimes, that’s all the miracle you get: Only one child with lice, take it or leave it. I’ll take it. 

There was also freedom in knowing that I’d looked my worst-case scenario in the face, and lived. As so often happens when our deepest fears are brought to light, they never look quite as scary as we expect. Next year in Maine, we’ll joke about the Lice Crisis of 2018. It’ll be in the past by then, and will probably look small beside the greater joys and tragedies that the coming year has in store.

Above all, our lice proved the ability of relationships to transcend inconvenience and mess. My daughter caught her lice from a friend, but we love these friends still. We will continue to play with them and hug them, because they are worth more to us than lice. This is the same reason I’ll spend the next month combing through four whining daughters’ heads: My love for them is stronger than my fear of lice.

On the other hand, my daughters have now discovered how fun it is to tease me by scratching their heads furiously whenever I’m around. So, I’ll have to let you know if my love for them endures – just as soon as I stop itching. 

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, assorted chickens and ducks, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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