Crunchy Bugs and Hair Salad

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Did you know lice make this little crunching sound between your nails when you smash them? It’s utterly, horribly gross and strangely satisfying.

The last time I got lice was when I was nine. I remember sitting on my bed and combing my hair, listening to my mom read bedtime stories to my little brother and sisters. Something fell into my lap and it moved. I ran to my mom, she looked me over and took me down stairs and said to my father, “She has lice! On her head!” As it turned out, my brother and one of my sisters had even worse cases. I’m not sure what all my mom did to get rid of them, but it involved the stinky chemical shampoo.

I managed to escape having lice again for over thirty years. When I was a social worker in Detroit and one of my clients got lice and was excluded from school for weeks, I didn’t get them, although I did wig out and buy a Rid kit once. I didn’t catch them from my nieces, who got them multiple times. I didn’t catch them when my oldest kid was in first grade and we discovered lice on her during an out of town trip. Five people in one hotel room and discovering one has bugs is no good. That time I swore if I found a single louse on me, I’d shave my head. I escaped that time, although I shaved my two younger kids’ heads just to be sure.

Well, this summer we had a summer vacation with extended family and when we got home, we got the call from my brother “we just found lice!” So I checked my kids and, yep, the oldest had lice. Again. So I started with the combing and cleaning (sooooo much laundry). The big lesson I learned from her previous round of lice was “Don’t bother with the pesticide shampoo.” It’s nasty as hell and doesn’t work so well. In addition, lice are apparently developing resistance to the common over-the-counter formulations. Another mom at school explained to me, “Soak your hair in vinegar. The acid loosens the nits. Then use LOTS of cheap white conditioner and just comb them out.” So I started that routine on my kid.

Here’s the thing though. I can check my kids. But I can’t check my own head. And my spouse basically puts on a headlamp, tosses the hair back and forth a couple of times and says “I don’t see anything!” leaving me like, “Uh, thanks…?” So it was a couple of days before I found any on me. Once again, I was combing my hair and “something” fell out. I combed some more, hoping to be in denial a while longer, but no, it was a little oval shaped thing with legs. That moved. This is where I say and think many, many F words and combinations of words involving F.

And there ought to be a law of nature that says you can’t be perimenopausal and have lice at the same time. And especially having PMS should confer immunity to having lice, for f*cks sake. But there isn’t, so I had to pull up my big girl drawers and start combing. I had a fine tooth comb that I used so much that the teeth started to break. So I got fancy one with grooved metal teeth (I bought myself a bar of candied ginger chocolate at the same time, because LICE dammit).

My brother said there’s this thing called the “Cetaphil technique,” basically involving putting lotion all over your head. I looked it up. The internet has all kinds of theories about lice of course: they don’t care if your hair is dirty or clean, they actually do like clean hair better, blow drying helps, blow drying doesn’t make a difference, etc, etc. The Cetaphil technique says put lotion on ALL THE HAIRS and blow dry it completely. This supposedly “entombs” the lice and smothers them. It has a certain intuitive logic, but so does lots of crazy stuff.

Here’s what I did: I combed my hair with the fine tooth comb. A lot. Since my hair is looser as I’ve gotten older, whole handfuls of my hair came out (or so it seemed). I put vinegar in my hair. I rinsed it. I put conditioner in my hair, I combed it. I put shea oil in my hair. I combed it. I blow dried the shea oil. I combed it some more. And I muttered swear words (that part didn’t exactly help, but it seemed necessary).

There’s a bright side to all this combing, swearing, more combing, more swearing. My hair started to look pretty good. Like better than it has in years. I’ve never been supper attentive to hair grooming. I have thick, slightly wavy, coarse hair typical of many mixed race Asians. I’ve had long hair, short hair, a mullet, a bob, a buzz cut and I’ve bleached it blond or dyed it green, but I’ve never done much with products and conditioning. Now I have three kids, my hair gets frizzy and spiky and dry and I mostly have zero f*cks to give. It’s starting to go grey and I’ve grown it out down past my shoulders. It’s taken me a while to grow it and having salt and pepper pigtails amuses me. So I haven’t shaved it all off, despite my outrage and revulsion the first time a crawler fell out of my comb onto my hand.

For about three weeks I had to spend hours and hours fussing over my hair (and my kid’s hair, but that was a little easier). I smoothed it and oiled it and braided it. I had to think about my hair a lot. I covered it with conditioner and slept with a towel or scarf on my head to protect the pillow cases (from the grease and the bugs both). But I didn’t shampoo it every time I put something in it. I’ve heard of lots people who don’t wash their hair hardly at all and that makes a certain amount of sense. Most places in the world people aren’t stripping their hair with strong detergents all the time. I essentially joined the “No Poo” movement without meaning to.

It took a couple weeks of combing to before I could say the nits were gone, but dislodging the crawlers happened pretty quickly. My hair (and my kids’ hair) has been bug free for months now. Of course I’m still paranoid and subject to bursts of combing obsessively and checking every piece of lint or loose flake of skin to make sure it isn’t moving (OMG!). But my hair is shiny and silky and I think I’m in the clear – knock on wood – until it makes the rounds of the elementary school again. I don’t recommend getting head lice as a hair beauty routine, but it was an interesting lesson. I’ve cut back quite a bit on shampoo. Oil and vinegar works pretty well actually. Not at the same time. I’m not a salad for f*cksake.

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