Of Lice and Little Men

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

This winter didn't break me when my car's temperature gauge read minus 10. It didn't break me during the three consecutive snow days the first week of February. And I handled it the next week when my 6-year-old, Liam, only went to school two days due to a teacher in-service day and then some epic puking.

I put my game face on that Friday when my 4-year-old, Maggie, succumbed to the puking every half hour throughout the night.

But the next day - Saturday, Feb. 15 - that was the day I had to hand victory to Old Man Winter. He got me good. I was in the dining room snacking while my wife, Kate, read a book to the kids when I heard, "Joel. Come here please."

This was uttered in the secret tonal code only spouses know. I knew from the inflection this request was meant to communicate, "I am freaking out right now, and I would shriek hysterically if I could, but I'm next to the kids and I don't want to scar them forever."

As I entered the room she tried to show me what was in Liam's hair, but it had crawled away.

Liam scooped it up, not realizing how much his father's heart was sinking. I put the off-white bug on a paper towel, inspected it, crushed it and watched as its blood-filled body stained the white sheet. It was a louse, and where there's a louse, there are lice.

Liam was somehow blessed with a thick mane of hair the color of dark-roasted coffee beans even though his parents' anonymously brown hair is thin and stringy. That day, though, I cursed its density. It was the perfect breeding ground and hiding place for lice. They were everywhere, along with countless nits, which are tiny, white eggs. An adult female louse can lay up to eight nits per day.

I never thought we'd have lice. I'm not quite a neat freak, but ever since my house became my workspace I've become more uptight about the state of our home. It's not always tidy, but I spend a fair amount of time and effort pushing back against the inevitable entropy. I confess I thought lice usually infested people and places that are neglected in some way.

Lesson learned. May no one unfairly judge lice victims again.

I got the pharmacist-recommended delousing kit and we commenced rubbing chemicals into the scalps of Liam and Maggie (she had a far less severe infestation) and running nit combs through their hair. They cried and shielded their eyes as we showered them with cold water (we had used up the hot water laundering their sheets).

My next trip was to Target to buy some clippers for Liam's mop. He was the brave victim of the first haircut I've ever given. It wasn't quite a buzz cut, but it was close.

The psychological impact may have been the worst part. I had to stop myself from washing and re-washing every stitch of fabric in our house. Every brown speck seemed to move. Every white speck was an egg.

I've never been so glad to leave winter behind. Yes, I know lice infestations are not season-specific. But I'm blaming winter. Bring on the mosquitoes and flies of summer - any and all bugs that don't lay eggs in hair.

-Joel Oliphint is a freelance writer and a nitpicking, puke-cleaning, spring-loving dad.