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Ritzy Scarsdale Schools Battle Head Lice

Child Magazine: Lice Aren’t Nice

November, 1999

I am writing this on the back of a piece of paper upon which is printed the precious name and number of Dalia, the Lice Lady. Though our predicament is a little embarrassing, it is increasingly familiar to parents everywhere.

Week One – Monday, 11:35 P.M.

– My husband, Ron, and I are slumped in front of the T.V. watching a Cheers rerun. The phone rings. We glance at each other, perplexed. As the parents of a high energy sixteen month old girl, we have trained our family and friends not to call after 10 pm. It is Katie, our daycare provider, calling to tell us that Emily, Ariel’s best friend at daycare, has lice. I am aghast. “I thought we were safe until she was in first grade!” I protest. The top of my head begins to itch. Katie advises us to look carefully through Ariel’s hair for both lice and nits (lice eggs) and to pay special attention to the area around her ears and at the nap of her neck, which are favorite nesting spots. We’ll know they’re not dandruff because nits cling stubbornly to the hair shaft and dandruff flakes off. Furthermore, Katie tells us, the center will be closed tomorrow.

I tell Ron the news. “Don’t freak out,” he says. “Mary (his coworker) has gone through it a million times with her kids. You just wash everyone’s hair with special shampoo, comb it out, and change the sheets. No big deal.” No big deal if you’ve got a ten year old, but I tried to envision my little perpetual motion machine sitting still while I comb out her long curls. Fat chance.

“Look at my head,” I command. Ron paws through my hair. “Nothing”, he concludes. “Now look at mine.” I spread his black curls and looked down at his scalp. Despite Katie’s description, I’m not sure what nits look like. I decide to phone Ariel’s doctor in the morning.

Tuesday, 8:00 A.M. – Ariel is awake. I go into her room. There is my golden haired baby, bouncing in her crib demanding. “Down! Down!” I lift her out, resisting the urge to rest my head against hers. We eat breakfast and wave goodbye to Dada who will come home in the afternoon to help me deal with this. While Ariel watches Barney sing, “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,” I surreptitiously lift the hair at the back of her neck. Nothing. She still has some traces of cradle cap, and it sticks stubbornly to her hair. I snip off a few strands with flakes clinging to them and put them in a small plastic bag. Is it cradle cap? I will let the doctor decide.11:15 A.M.-”Yes, that’s just cradle cap,” the doctor says when I hand over the bag to him. “Those are much too big to be nits. Here is what nits would look like.” He makes a drawing that looks sort of like a pussy willow. “And they would be impossible to flicker off. Also, they would be much smaller than these.” He puts his hands into Ariel’s hair. “There, that’s the right size.” He points out a white dot on a hair shaft. “But it flakes off, so that ones just dandruff.” So now I know that the things I am looking for in Ariel’s very full head of hair are practically microscopic.

1:00 P.M. – We are at the playground. It’s packed with happy, squealing toddlers. Ariel heads for the swings. I left her in and as I push her, I notice a familiar looking baby three swings down waving at Ariel. “Is this Emily?” I know the man pushing the swing. I do not add. “Emily, who brought lice into our lives?” What I do say is, “I’m Ariel’s mother. Does Emily have nits or actual….?””

“Oh, yeah, she’s got critters,” replies her father. I am indignant. He doesn’t look remotely remorseful or ashamed. “We just came from the doctor. He told us about this shampoo….” “I know, “he says, nodding. “We’re on our way to get some.” On your way to get some?! You bought your daughter who has lice, to a playground? What’s the matter with you?

2:30 P.M. – Ron has come home. I put on a Teletubbies video, rendering Ariel in mobile. Armed with a flashlight, we divide her hair into eight sections with long hairclips, bought especially for this purpose. We begin to go through her hair, fearful of what we may find.

And what we find is…nothing! We celebrate by taking Ariel back to the park. When we returned, there is a message from Katie saying that little Jared has nits and that she had an exterminator fumigate the daycare center, so she’ll be closed tomorrow as well.

Friday, Saturday- I can’t help but fear we miss something. There was a story in The New York Times a few months ago about the Brooklyn Lice Lady. I wish I knew how to find her. I looked in the Brooklyn Yellow Pages under “Lice”, but nothing was listed.

Week 2, Monday 8:45 am.- I am dropping Ariel off at daycare. Katie looks steamed. “Emily’s mother just called,” she says. “She found more lice in her hair this morning.” I tell her about the Lice Lady and that I’m trying to get her number by calling friends those kids already have had lice. 11:00 A.M. – Eurika! I finally found the Lice Lady’s name and number. I pass the information along to Katie. 2:00 P.M.-Katie calls me at work. She tells me that Dalia, the Lice Lady, recommends the following: before going to bed, coat the hair and scalp with margarine, wrap with plastic or a shower cap, and go to sleep. This smothers the lice and nits and makes them easier to comb out the next morning, when you wash and them comb through the hair with a fine toothed metal lice comb. This is amazing. I make an appointment with the Lice Lady.

7:30 P.M.-Dalia leads us into her kitchen and pulls up two chairs. By now, Ariel is heartedly tired of having people pawing through her hair, and she begins to wail. Luckily, Dalia’s check under a bright lamp takes no more than ten minutes.

“She’s clean,” she announces. A great weight is lifted off my chest. I ask Dalia about the shampoos. “They don’t always work,” she says. “The margarine works. And you don’t have to go crazy with the cleaning unless you’re infested. Do a good vacuuming around the house, wash her sheets, clothes, and stuffed animals, and if she has any hair accessories that would be ruined in the wash, put them in a sealable bag in the freezer for two weeks. Thursday- 8:45 A.M. – Emily is at daycare this morning, her hair in ponytails. It looks wet. “Dalia found two more nits in her hair, so she gave her the margarine treatment,” says Katie, clearly relieved. Three weeks later- Our ordeal appears to be at an end- no one at Ariel’s daycare has had lice for three weeks. I don’t have to view Ariel’s Big Bird with suspicion anymore, but I am left with an unsettled feeling. Every time Ariel touches her head, I’m compelled to lift the hair at the back of her neck.

We were lucky this time. I pray I never have to go through this again. But if I do, at least I’ll have a clue.