Film Guy once described the lifestyle in our household as "communal." Usually, that's a good thing. Our couch is always piled with kids (or young adults, you might call some of them), and on weekends, the floor is strewn with sleeping bodies. Any of the kids will just grab a pillow or blanket, and find a spot on the couch or floor. When the kids play Ultimate, they bring a pile of black shirts and white shirts to the field with them, and every time they choose teams, everyone switches shirts. We have shelves and hooks in the laundry room filled with warm clothing, too, that are used by anyone going outside in winter weather. With so many kids and extras, it makes sense to share.
When I found head lice on With-a-Why, the communal aspects of our life seemed suddenly ominous. When I tried to think of every place my youngest son's sweet head had been, I felt overwhelmed.
A reader asked, "Did you have to wash all his bedding?" Um, yeah. We had to wash EVERY PIECE of bedding in the ENTIRE house. My husband piled sheets, pillowcases, blankets, and quilts into his car and spent the evening at the laundromat. I took any decorative pillows that didn't have cases on them, put them in a big trash bag, and stuck them out in the garage, figuring that the frigid temperatures would eventually kill any lice. I don't know how long I need to leave them there, but likely, I'll forget about them altogether and find them in the spring. With hoodies and winter coats, we followed the "20 minutes in a clothes dryer" rule of thumb.
I've spent the last couple of days checking the scalps of every person who walks into the house: the little neighbor kids, the teenage boys, my parents. It's amazing how quickly we've all gotten used to this basic primate behavior. Everyone will be sitting by the fire, talking like usual, and I'll just walk over, hunker down like a chimp, and start inspecting Shaggy Hair's scalp. First Extra even asked me to check his scalp, "I felt itchy as soon as I heard." When the boys were playing a card game, I took the opportunity to probe their scalps with my fingernails. None of them even looked up. Checking for nits has become socially accepted behavior.
Somehow, incredibly, the lice has not spread past With-a-Why. Given the way we live, this seems miraculous. Thankfully, because he's the baby of the family, With-a-Why still asks me to comb the tangles out of his long hair in the morning: otherwise, I would never have caught the lice in time.
Killing the lice was the easy part. I slathered half a jar of mayonnaise on With-a-Why's head, gave him a plastic wrap turban, and topped that off with a washable winter hat. He looked so cute with all the hair off his face. Boy in Black, who was playing a game with him to keep him busy, said, "That smell makes me want a sandwich." But the mayonnaise worked, and the lice were smothered to death. (Since then, I've found that olive oil can also be used as a smothering agent. It probably smells better. But the mayonnaise does have the advantage of being easy to slather on. It doesn't drip, and I was able to pile all that hair on the top of his head and make it into cool sculptures before adding the plastic wrap.)
The harder part has been removing the nits — the translucent little eggs that cling tenaciously to the strands of hair. I measured With-a-Why's hair, just so I could get the credit I deserve for this task. It's 22 inches long. He has dark silky hair, very fine in texture, but lots and lots of it. Apparently, that's just what a louse looks for in a home. I have spent hours and hours combing nits out of that hair. Literally. And I am going to have to keep checking his head every night for weeks to make sure I've gotten them all.
Boy in Black keeps looking up facts about lice on the internet. Some are helpful: "You need a metal fine-tooth comb, not a cheap plastic one." He was right: the metal comb was way more effective. And I was hugely relieved when he reported that cats do not catch head lice from humans. I had already imagined putting each cat in the dryer for twenty minutes.
Red-haired Niece, who works at Ridiculously Expensive Pre-school in Big City Like No Other, reported that all her kids have had lice, and that lice don't like the smell of lavender. I rooted through my stash of essential oils for lavender, and soon all my teenage boys smelled nicer than they've smelled in a long time. And when we finally washed all the mayonnaise out of With-a-Why's hair, it was smooth and silky and beautiful. Apparently, all that gunk is really a beauty treatment.
So mostly, that's how I've spent the last few days. I've been going over and over With-a-Why's hair with a fine-tooth comb. I've been checking the scalps of all of our extras. I've been trying to train everyone in the house by showing them nits on With-a-Why's hair so they will know what they are looking for. And I keep making people check my scalp, since I am the person mostly likely to have caught the lice. When my daughter arrived home on Monday afternoon, I met her at the train station. "Hey, welcome home! Want to check my head for lice?"