The text landed with a thud. Our daughter “has lice,” it said. “You need to go pick her up from school.”
Ooph. A gut punch. Can’t be a joke. Not an auto-correct error. This is happening.
Twenty minutes later, I’m in the preschool director’s office getting an informal training. “You see this, here. That’s lice.”
OK, so what now? I’m running through the list of options: Sell the house? Trash the couch? Quarantine my daughter? Fortunately, it’s not that serious. I’m told to run clothes I’m concerned about through the dryer on high heat and to put everything else in black trash bags for a few days as a precaution. And to take my daughter to the “Lice Lady.” More on that later.
I race home with my 4-year-old daughter. Naturally, she asks “Daddy, what is lice?”
Here we go. This is one of those moments where my answer will frame her entire perspective on this experience. I need to hide my absolute disgust and fundamental lack of knowledge on the subject. “Well, you know how sometimes you get a cold and have a runny nose? This is a different type of cold where you get tiny little insects that live in your hair and lay eggs, and we have to go get them all out. And then your head will stop itching. It’s no big deal.”
I pause to reflect on how blank her slate still is. Her ability to communicate so easily these days disguises the fact that her memory of life in toto spans maybe six months. Every day continues to shape her reality. I just told her there are living creatures in her hair, laying eggs and giving birth to more living creatures. In her hair! And her reaction was the same as when I told her a restaurant didn’t have apple juice.
Unlike her lice, however, my daughter’s chill was not contagious. I reacted with no chill. As soon as we got home, I ravaged the house in my makeshift lice containment suit: bright yellow rubber gloves and a dish towel secured to my head with a headband. I created piles of towels, sheets and clothes in the basement, separated by likely degree of infestation — definite lice, probably lice and maybe lice.
As I was vacuuming the car seat, the shaming hit my inbox. The subject line of the class-wide email blasted: “A case of lice has been reported in the Chipmunks class,” as if the passive voice would protect my daughter’s anonymity. No kid in that class will be asked how their day was or who they played with. Kids, get ready for an interrogation at pick up: “So, who wasn’t in school today? Let’s run down the list.”
No time to dwell on that now. My wife just got home to take my daughter to the Lice Lady. This woman spends all day, every day picking lice out of preschoolers’ hair. Do not pity her; she is well compensated. Four hours later, my wife and daughter return with shampoo, conditioner, a lice repellent spray, nit comb and an empty wallet.
The next few days revolve around vacuuming and loads of laundry (mostly to remove any lice bodies — they can’t survive long without a human head to host them — and their excrement) and bath-time combings to make sure nothing was missed. We haven’t seen a louse in my daughter’s hair in days, but I fear our bedtime routine will never recover.
“Daddy, come read a book in my bed.”
“Eh, how about the chair?”
Brandon Levitt is an attorney. He wrote this for the Baltimore Sun.