THE WHOLE EPISODE might not have felt like such a knife to the privates if it hadn’t started with my daughter getting booted out of the hairdresser’s chair.
“I won’t be able to cut your daughter’s hair today,” the stylist said quietly, waiting till we’d moved out of earshot of the other patrons. She parted my kid’s light brown hair to reveal teensy light brown specks the approximate size of dust motes. “Head lice,” she whispered.
“Those tiny things are lice?” I gasped. The way people talked about lice I’d always pictured them stomping across the scalp like little wildebeests. “Well, eggs. Nits,” she clarified. “They’ll hatch into lice if you don’t get rid of them.”
I must’ve looked stricken, because she put a consoling hand on my shoulder—bravely I thought, under the circumstances—and advised me to buy some Rid. “You’ll want to launder everything, seal pillows in plastic, boil all your brushes,” she advised. “It’s a bit of a job, but you’ll get ’em.”
A bit of a job? A few hours later I stood in my kitchen staring at the 38 pages of small-print instructions that came with the Rid and Nix lice removal treatments I had bought in my Donald Rumsfeld assault on Rite Aid. Never mind that these products were poison: My goal was shock and awe.
Around me loomed Himalayas of laundry—everything the kid had breathed near in the last two weeks—along with the duvet I had no idea how to clean. (Who keeps the cleaning tag on their duvet?) How long must one boil a brush? Must I hermetically seal the hair scrunchies before throwing them in the trash, the way one is advised to do with used vacuum bags—or should I add them to the brush soup? And where do we keep the vacuum bags? I looked to see if the Nix kit included any Valium.
Just then the phone rang—my daughter’s friend—and it struck me that, thanks to the highly contagious nature of this affliction, I had a few calls to make. “We have lice,” I blurted to the mom, who turned out to be a walking Wikipedia entry on the topic. “Oh, we’ve had ’em lots of times,” she said calmly. “The most important thing is: Never use Rid or Nix.” Crap. “They’re toxic and the lice around here have developed resistance to them anyway.” Oh great, the little f#&!ers are smart. “What you need is olive oil and a heavy-duty LiceMeister nit comb. I got mine online.”
A heavy-duty LiceMeister nit comb? My spirits sank when I looked at the cheapo plastic number that came in the Nix kit—note to Insight Pharmaceuticals: Valium would be more useful—and was suddenly overcome with a powerful urge to go to bed. On Day One of our lice invasion, I hadn’t even looked at her hair yet and already I felt overwhelmed. All I could think about was Lice Mom’s advice: It’s all about the combing. “If you miss even one nit,” she’d cautioned, “you might as well have done nothing.”
I don’t know how long I sat, inert and defeated, ignoring the laundry and my LiceMeister Google search and my stockpile of poisons and my teeming, scratching child—before the doorbell rang. “ Lice Squad!” sang two chipper voices through the door.
Standing on our threshold were Lice Mom and her daughter—garbed in shower caps and hazmat-issue coveralls, smiling broadly and holding out the Grail itself: A gleaming metal LiceMeister nit comb. “I could tell you were losing it, so we brought ours over,” said Lice Mom, already elbow-deep in my kid’s tresses. “Ah, yeah,” she diagnosed cheerfully, plucking out a nit like a seasoned chimpanzee. “Wow, okay. Let’s take this show into the bathroom, shall we? Cause that dude came from a big family.”