This past August, both of my daughters were enrolled in a summer camp in my neighborhood. Spending their summer days in the neighborhood, I thought, was a great way for them to stay connected to their friends from school, considering the majority of the kids enrolled in the camp lived in our neighborhood. My kids' days were fun but long and after I picked them up and brought them home, they usually fell into a deep lull of relaxation and laziness, catching up on a little TV or being creative. This past summer was particularly brutal with a record number of days above 100 degrees and a stifling heat that made being outside as pleasant as getting a root canal from burly, Russian dentist with big hands. One day, after picking them up and bringing them home, I noticed the temperature on the nuclear clock in my living room said it was 118 degrees outside. "Shit," I thought. "This is torture." I decided that lying on my bed under the ceiling fan in my air-conditioned bedroom was a fabulous idea so I commenced to lounge.
After a few minutes, my oldest daughter came into my room. She looked kind of perplexed. Kids her age are always kind of perplexed. I kind of like that about preteen kids.
"Daddy?" she asked.
"Yes baby?" I replied.
"I found a bug in my hair."
"Where is it?"
"I don't know. It disappeared."
"I wouldn't worry about it. Sometimes bugs do that. That's why they're called bugs."
She left my room and I went back to relaxing under the fan. A few moments later, she came back in.
"My head itches."
Shit. Not good. The possibility of what that meant was evident to me, although I hated to think my kid could be infected. I was disturbed and concerned.
"Ok, if you scratch your head and find something, come show me. OK?"
"You mean, if I find another bug?"
Again she left my room. When I was about 8 or 9 years old, I contracted head lice from who knows where (the filthy movie theater I used to frequent, my mother assumed at the time) and spent the following few weeks after that discovery having my hair doused with lice shampoo by my mother. It was an itchy and humiliating experience. The idea that my daughter may have head lice concerned me very much. I didn't want her to feel the humiliation that I did when I was a kid. A few moments later, she appeared in my room again.
"I found another bug, daddy."
"Come here. Show me."
She stood next to my bed and extended her hand to me, her index finger and thumb tightly pinched together. I slowly pried them apart and there it was: a little bug, the bastard. I examined it for a moment then told her to flush it down the sink. I fired up Google, searched for head lice, and found a photo. There on the screen, in all its "mug shot" glory, was another bastard that looked exactly like the bug she showed me. My daughter had head lice; I was sure of it. I told her to get her shoes on and to tell her sister we had to go to Walgreens right NOW.
After five minutes of moans and groans and slumping and hemming and hawing, the three of us hopped in the car and drove to Walgreens. The section at the drug store where the various head lice treatments were shelved was rather extensive and quite large. I told the kids to go look at the toy aisle while I read all of the various brands and their ingredients. Nothing short of chemical warfare would do for me. Knowing how tough it was going to be to get rid of the little fuckers, I wanted the most extensive, comprehensive, and effective head lice treatment kit my money could buy. To my surprise, while I was deciding on which one to get, several families stood next to me, quickly grabbing their preferred treatment, not even browsing but lunging for their product and zooming off to pay for it. "It seems to be going around," I thought. Great. Just what I needed: an epidemic. I decided on the box with the shampoo, combing gel, insecticide spray (for the couch, beds, pillows, etc.), and comb. I grabbed an extra comb with metal teeth for good measure. The battle was about to begin!
I bought the head lice kit and a couple of chocolates for the girls and we zoomed home. I told my youngest to keep herself occupied while I tended to her older sister. It would probably take me at least an hour to treat her hair and I didn't want to be disturbed. I was on a mission. My youngest gladly accepted the challenge and disappeared into her room to play. I told my oldest to go into my bathroom and to be patient. It was going to be a long night.
Now, head lice are persistent little bastards. By the time you notice them and the itch has set in to your scalp, they probably had been making a home of your head for the previous week or two, and had laid enough eggs and raised enough heathen children to appropriately be termed a goddamn infestation. The treatment instructions said to shampoo her hair for 10 minutes then to shampoo it again a week later in addition to combing the nits and eggs from her hair daily between shampoos. This was an earnest commitment I had to make immediately and unexpectedly and I wasn't looking forward to it but it was OK. I asked my daughter to cover her eyes tightly with a wash cloth (getting the shampoo in her eyes would burn them) and I drenched her dry hair with the shampoo. After working it into her hair, it needed to sit for 10 minutes so I sat next to her, supporting her head with my hands. I told her to sit still so the shampoo could work its magic. She told me that she was embarrassed and that she didn't want her friends to make fun of her. I confided in her that I too had head lice when I was about her age and that it wasn't her fault. It didn't mean that she was dirty or unclean or any of the things she worried about. It just meant she was in the wrong place at the wrong time and we would get rid of them the best we could. After 10 minutes, I rinsed her hair and had her sit in front of me while I sat on the toilet. I towel-dried her hair and parted it down the middle and commenced to comb it.
As I squirted a small amount of combing gel into her hair and combed it with the fine-tooth comb, the seriousness of her infestation became clear. Over the course of the next hour, I pulled hundreds (I mean HUNDREDS) of those little bastards from her hair, their legs flailing, their little bug sensory systems going berserk, and I dropped them in a jar of scalding, hot water I had heated up in the microwave. She asked to see them but I refused her. Instead, I asked her to tell me about her day at camp. As I boiled the little buggers to their death, one by one, she told me about playing with her friends at camp and swimming in the pool and a boy that supposedly liked her and how she liked her camp counselor and wondered about what middle school would be like and so on and such and such. I learned more about her typical day over the course of that head lice killing spree than I thought I knew about her daily routine. It made an unpleasant experience much more tolerable. After I was done combing her hair, I let her see just how many bugs I had pulled out of her hair. She was devastated but I assured her that I was going to get them all out over the next week. She hugged me and gave me a kiss. It was going to be a LONG week.
A couple of days later, my youngest complained that her head was itching too and I wanted to slam my face against the wall. My family was being invaded! That night, after I combed more bugs from my oldest daughter's hair and listened for an hour as she told me about her day, it was my youngest daughter's time to get shampooed. I asked her to cover her eyes tightly with a wash cloth and I doused her dry hair with the shampoo and let it sit for 10 minutes so it could kill the bugs. After rinsing it, I toweled her hair dry, parted it down the middle, and commenced to removing the bugs, nits, and eggs from her hair. Just like her big sister, she had HUNDREDS of them in her hair but rather than have her look at the jar filled with bugs, I asked her to also tell me about her day at camp. She told me about the games she played and swimming in the pool with her BFF (that's kid-code for best friend forever, in case you didn't know) and that she didn't like the kind of bread I used for her sandwich but she did like the kind of yogurt I gave her and that she missed me today and so on and so forth. After I was done combing her hair, I let her see just how many bugs I had pulled out of her hair. She was not as mortified as I thought she would be. She seemed more curious than upset. She asked if she could pour them down the drain and I said she could. She wished the head lice farewell as they went down the drain and I laughed a pretty good laugh.
Over the course of the next two weeks, we maintained a nightly ritual of hair combing and socializing. I sat with each one for an hour and combed their hair in my bathroom while they told me about their day and the random things that popped into their little heads. As much as I stressed about the head lice, I rather looked forward to sitting with my daughters and listening to them. The bug infestation had morphed into family time. As the days went on and the amount of head lice being pulled from their hair became less and less, I still sat with each of them for an hour, making the combing session last as long as possible so I could talk to them, even though they knew that the head lice was about gone. On the day that the hair combing yielded absolutely no bugs, my daughters cheered and hugged me. They were glad to be clean of head lice but I knew, deep down, that I was going to miss those little fuckers and what they unexpectedly provided me: more time with my kids. Now, I pride myself in being an involved father and I spend quite a bit of time with my children. But it never hurt to spend more time with them, especially if they were so open in telling me about their day and experiences. I liked that very much in spite of the hair lice.
I checked their hair for a few more days but eventually it was evident that the lice were gone. I put the treatment kits away under the sink and was glad that the little buggers were no longer in my kids' hair. The first night I didn't sit with them and hear about their day, I found that I missed the little bastard bugs and what they provided me: more time with my kids. So, I called for my oldest to come into my room and to bring her hair brush with her. When she came in, I asked her to sit in front of me on my bed so I could brush her hair. Of course, she proudly reminded me that the head lice were gone and I acknowledged that. But I insisted that she sit with me anyway and tell me about her day. I brushed her hair and she told me again about the boy that liked her and that she wanted to be a writer when she grew up (awesome!) and that she wanted the two of us to visit Tokyo some day and that she liked a manga series about a girl with psychic powers and so on and so forth. After an hour, I asked my youngest to come in my room and we did the same: the brushing, the talking, the time together. I was happy. Even though I would never admit it to my kids, I was kind of glad that they got hair lice. I wasn't going to miss the little bugs, not one bit, but I was thankful for the extra time that I got to spend with my kids and listen to them. That made the entire horrible experience worthwhile. Good riddance head lice, you bastards. Thanks for visiting though.
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