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Commentary: A Week of Lice

By Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

Buffalo, NY – Monday: You'll be unpacking your child's backpack, looking at old homework when you see it. The note. Lice have been found in your child's classroom. "No, not us," you'll think. But you'll check anyway, secure in the knowledge that your family is a clean family.

"They have it," your husband will announce, comb poised above your son's head. Decide that this time you won't use Cetaphil or Vaseline. Go for the big guns. Speed to CVS. Sit on the floor directly in front of the RID and NIX shelves so you can grab it all if other parents come. Read each box, and buy everything, more boxes than you need. And an extra comb. And that spray. And Vaseline - just in case.

Tonight will be the longest night of your life. It will take two hours to comb out each child, punctuated by poison-rinsing showers. Your family will want to look at living lice under the microscope on your dining room table. "Whoa! Look at this one! This guy's huge!" You'll comb and you'll comb holding hair strands to the light, trying to distinguish between lice and dandruff. As your husband and son buzz each other on the deck, you'll consider giving your daughters crew cuts too. But you're a better person than that.

Tuesday: This morning, you'll do the right thing by calling and e-mailing everyone your children have played with in the past week. Innocent, high-pitched voices will come back at you, "Ooooooohhhhh .we've never HAD lice here even though we have six teenage children. What do you do? What do lice look like? How do you kill them? Do all of your kids have them? Have you had them before?" Suddenly you are the lice expert. Square your shoulders and smile. These people are not trying to make you feel dirty; they are your friends.

Wednesday: Your head doesn't itch. Taking all precautions, you'll wash it with vinegar anyway because you heard it loosens nit-glue. Since you don't have white vinegar, you'll use the expensive balsamic vinegar you got for Christmas. If anyone at work says they smell salad, ignore it.

Conversation is different at home now, full of science and curiosity. "Can dogs get lice?" "How long do lice live?" "Why do lice move even after you kill them?"

A friend from New York City will tell you about Licebusters, a Manhattan business that delouses families as they surf the internet. Think about moving. Instead, convince yourself that hardship builds character.

Thursday: Wash your hair in Listerine today. Carefully pour it into the cap at first, but then give in and dump the whole bottle on your head. Your face will sting, and today you'll smell like a mouth instead of a salad. A friend will call to suggest washing your family's hair in cherry Kool-Aid so the nits blushingly reveal themselves. Remind her that you treated everyone on Monday. There are no more nits. There are no more nits. There are no more nits.

Friday: Today some people will try to make you feel better. The school nurse will reassure you, "Lice only like clean heads." You'll get an e-mail from a friend remembering her own lice. She'll explain how thinking of HORTON HEARS A WHO helped her get through it. She'd imagine those mini-lobsters living their little lives on her head, just like the Whos' from Dr. Suess. This will not only gross you out; it will make you feel guilty. You will hear the itty-bitty ghosts of lice children screaming in the graveyard of your scalp when you go to bed tonight.

Saturday- It is the sixth day of your personal lice cycle. Time to recheck everyone. If you missed a nit on Monday, it may now be the Octolouse, with its own tiny TV show. Get out your flashlights, magnifiers, and pour yourself a drink. If you find a nit, go back to CVS and collect $200 of NIX. Do not look up DDT on the internet. That's just wrong. If every head is clear, go to bed.

Sunday - Hopefully, it's over. Either way, you have a lot of leftovers. Make cherry Kool-Aid slushies for your family. Soften everyone's hands with Vaseline. Admire your husband and son's new haircuts. Just don't open those backpacks for a couple of weeks, and everything will be fine.

Listener-Commentator Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is a writing teacher who lives in Holland.

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