Face the fact: life is lousy

Helen Kon is fed up with feeling stigmatised every time her children get headlice. Why can't we just admit that nits are now a normal part of growing up?
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Picture the idyllic scene. You are sitting at supper, surrounded by your four beautiful children, when it registers in your subconscious that your youngest, aged five, is scratching his head. You try hard not to panic. Isn't he allowed an innocent scratch?

As your supper rapidly turns to sawdust in your mouth, you keep a casual watch. Sure enough, the scratching continues throughout the meal. Alarm bells start to ring and your heart plummets. Eyes darting from side to side, you subtly check out all the others. Is that an arm moving to a head on your eldest? No, thank goodness, only a playful slap directed at a sibling. What is your eight-year-old daughter, with her shoulder- length mane of hair, up to? It's all right: her hands are busily engaged in flicking a bit of food across the table, not anywhere near her ringlets.

Keeping a cool outward appearance, you wait until supper is over and then nonchalantly sidle up to your youngest: "Come here, darling, let me give you a cuddle." A perfunctory check reveals nothing lurking, but you know you cannot give up the search yet. Up to the bathroom, where out comes the special comb. After several attempts your finely tuned instincts are "rewarded" by the sight of a louse leaping towards you.

This is every mother's nightmare. My mind rapidly conjures up what lies in store: endless screams from the kids as the foul-smelling lotion is applied; endless hours of combing through their hair to remove dead lice; endless trips to the chemist to buy different treatments until I find the one that works.

Pulling myself together, I head for the bathroom cabinet, only to find that I have only a quarter of a bottle of lice shampoo left from the last episode. It is eight o'clock in the evening and the nearest open chemist is a 15-minute drive away.

Should I phone the neighbour with the aim of plundering her stock? Or would I rather keep the whole thing under my hat, as it were? Discretion wins and my husband, duly dispatched to the chemist, returns with the supplies of the lotion currently recommended.

Every few years, each health authority decides on one specific product that is to be used within their district. The theory behind this is that over many years a lice community becomes immune to the chemicals in a particular product and the likelihood of that product being effective is extremely small. In my experience, however, this policy does not always yield the desired results.

After the third application of the approved product in a fortnight, I become distraught. Hearing about an alternative shampoo, I scour local chemists until I find it: the new treatment works the first time.

You may find that your doctor will write you a prescription for lice shampoo, although willingness to do this varies from practice to practice. My children seem to manifest signs of lice only at the most inconvenient times, usually bedtime. All I want to do is get the stuff on and erase the business from my memory, whatever the expense.

In our school there is a brave mother, a hairdresser, who periodically assumes the now-defunct role of nit nurse (nits being the lice eggs). Imagine the mortification, on arrival home, of finding a message on the answering machine from the school secretary saying that your child is infested.

The stigma of uncleanliness attached to lice when we were young has not quite disappeared. "We never had it in the family when you were young," many a grandmother has been known to sniff in disgust. But the current medical view, supported by all mothers, is that lice prefer clean hair. This has prompted one of my children to suggest that he never washes his hair again.

I feel that far from being embarrassed and trying to pretend that this problem does not affect us or our loved ones, we should come out of the closet (or bathroom) and regard the struggle as one of the many hurdles we have to overcome in our passage towards perfect parenthood. Fellow parents, good luck and scratch, scratch, scratch.

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