Visitors from hell (says the mom)

Extended weekends, too much homework and a too demanding family have been keeping me from writing.

I thought I –and my daughter A as well- were way too old for this.

I remember it as if it was just yesterday, the first time my daughter came home with a letter from school, asking me (a parent in general) to check my child, as lice have been spotted on one of the heads in class. She must have been 4 or 5 years old when I first went –feeling desperate- to my local pharmacist asking for products to treat my child from lice, and when he told me There you go! This is the first but not the last time I sell you this, he explained to me that having lice is like getting stung by a mosquito : they get to you or they don’t… and never just once.

I didn’t realise that I would get from bad to worse when, at the age of 6, I send her to another school. And in case you are prejudiced (like many) that farmers kids or people in the country have lice more often then kids in the city I can now prove you wrong. I changed her from a local town school to a school in the centre of Gent. Where she –and the other 2 classes of her grade- shared the room with one part of triplets, who (as we soon found out) had lice all the time… 365 days a year, year after year. And these 3 girls –one in each class, there was no escaping from them- were, alphabetically, seated next to my daughter.

Of course, in a situation like this all chemicals –in case you were considering to use them- are useless : just like diseases become immune to antibiotics, lice get immune to chemicals. So when you (as mom) put the horrible chemicals on your daughter freshly washed hair, telling the 6 year old to hold her breath and not inhale the poisen, leaving the skin completely irritated, the hair completely broken and ruined, and, the lice : alive! you put your hands in your (already itching) hair and scream out loud (SOL). Really loud! And you do it again (SOL, I mean), 3 weeks later, when you, after being sure she has been clean for all this time (which you know because you have been checking her, twice a week, for 45 minutes, each time),  find another living creature on her head.

Time and time again I went, just like many other moms, to talk to the headmaster, but law says that you can’t accuse a child (or his mom) from having lice, and (although we –the moms- have offered several times) it is forbidden to check the kids in school. Even if everybody knows where the lice come from, there is not much you can do about it.

After a while I (together with other moms) were calling one of the best schools in Ghent, a lice school. If the education hadn’t been that good I (and others) would certainly have changed school.

And we did, but only after 6 years. When she went to secondary school she changed. For a while it looked like one of the triplets would be changing to the same school, but in the end they didn’t. The lice problem was completely over. It had felt like an ever lasting nightmare, but now it was over….

So when my A. came home a few weeks ago, telling me her head was itching I told her to use less conditioner and to rinse better. When one week later I saw her scratch her head at the typical lice zones (back of head and behind the ears) we caught each others eyes and said ohno! At the same time and I checked her. Phew… false alarm. But when she came home the next week saying she saw a louse fall out or her head we both knew it had come way too far. She, at the age of 16, had the little monsters in her hair again.

It is but when we installed ourselves in my office, under the halogen desk light, hair neatly washed and with conditioner abundantly applied, armed with comb, lice comb and a magnifying glass that I realised why I hadn’t seen them before : I just cant see these tiny microscopically things without these stupid reading glasses! I am definitely getting too old for this.

Fortunately, all things aren’t as bad as 10 years ago. A. is very patient, does not cry, sits still during the 45 minutes I need to get through her hair, half a cm by half a cm, while getting all lice and nits out of her hair by hand : her hair is so thin that the lice comb doesn’t really work and all hope that it would have grown thicker over the years was gone after I combed 50 times over a louse and it was still at its same place-.

I immediately wrote an email to school and 4 days later I got an answer saying they had informed the San. But more then a week, and 5 check ups of A’s hair later there was still no news from the san.

I contacted an Argentine friend-mom who told me not to worry, this is after all, Argentina! Basically she said  that I am on my own and advised me what chemical to use.

That is when –to me- it all turned into a –literally- nightmare. Counting the days (well its bit less then 2 years) she has left in this school, of checking my daughter on lice as nobody else seems to be doing it. One of the reasons why I loved Argentina so much was the fact that friends are friends, they come over when they want, they stay when they want, they sleep over wherever and whenever : with 2 in a single bed, another 2 on a matrass (and I have absolutely no idea where the rest sleeps). This has now turned –for me- into thinking about lice crawling from one head to the other, nicely over the sheets ; or they just go from one head into the other, when the girls hug and kiss like they constantly do ; when they switch clothes and hair accessories; I think about chaos in the schools dressing room when they have sports 4 times a week and all I see is… Every time I take my brush I wonder if she has used it.

But now I must go, I must go and scratch my head, because only the thought of it…. Just like I am quite sure that all of my readers are now scratching their heads. That must be the magical imagination.

I guess I need to welcome myself into Argentina. Again.

What to do when your child has lice :

  1. Don’t panic! (easier said then done, I know)
  2. It has nothing to do with being dirty! (I would say on the contrary)
  3. Make sure your childs head is lice free : don’t count on the lice comb, the electric divices are useless (believe me, I tried them all), remove the little devils by hand. Wash the hair, put a lot of conditioner on it, camb it, cm by cm, with a lice comb and a good light (you then see the lice, they are little shiny things); remove them with your fingers.
  4. Let them comb their hair (or do it yourself) with a lice comb every time they have a shower (if it doesn’t remove them, lets just try and make their life difficult)
  5. Wash sheets and clothes on 60 degrees. Things you cant wash (or don’t want to wash over and over again, like stuffed animals) put them in the freezer for a couple of days, or in a closed plastic bag for about 2 weeks, or just put them in quarantine for a month (if you have the space)
  6. Put a natural spray on the hair,  (you can buy in organic stores (even here in argentina)), they smell like flowers and lice don’t seem to like them very much. Put it on dry hair, every morning before they leave for school and every time a friend comes over. It works! The only problem is when you start neglecting it (only the best organised moms can do this 365 days a year), and after they went swimming with school (clothes all on a pile, and all product gone from the hair). If your child is sensitive to lice the only thing you can probably do is ask the teacher to put your kids clothes apart from the others.(All the other possibilities are so called discrimination). I can assure you, after he or she has had lice a couple of times, he would do just anything to not get them again!
  7. Check again 2x a week, or at least every week, for 3 weeks : apart from lice there are nits that need some time to get out, they can survive without blood for 10 days. Lice die sooner, they survive only about 2 or 3 days without a head. On top of that lice are tiny little creatures, before you know it you have missed one. Only if after 3 weeks and 3 to 6 times of checking you can be sure they are really gone! Each time you find a living creature you must wash all clothes, sheets and toys they have been in contact with.
  8. Cross your fingers and hope they wont come back, but usually, they do… Keep on checking the hair, week after a week, at least on the dangers zones (close to the neck and ears).
  9. Good luck!!!

8 responses to “Visitors from hell (says the mom)”

  1. So sorry to hear you’re having problems with these little bichitos. I lived in Argentina (love the language, country, people and culture) for 7 years. Taught at the American School in La Lucila.
    Never had problems with lice, ever! Not here in USA and not there in Argentina.
    We did have a little infestation with “chinches” once. Not fun. They are worse than lice and “eat” more. We were able to fix it though.
    I wish I could move to Argentina. I would love to retire there. One problem though, my wife is Argentine and won’t go back!!

    • I suppose there are lice everywhere, but if people don’t talk about it (like the people in the school here) it is difficult to solve the problem.
      What a pity your wife doesn’t want to come back. But she is probably right : Argentina tiene sus cosas…

  2. Argh, I sure am scratching my head now. Last year one of my friends got lice somehow, probably at one of her family get-togethers. 27 she was. I was supposed to stay at her place during a visit to England, but since I remember what a nightmare having lice is, I found myself another place to stay. I feel with you! Scratching your head is no definitive sign though, you do that as well if you have eczema like I do. Even the thought of having lice with my long long hair makes me shiver!

    • That is true!! My daughter is now lice-free, but the thought of one of her friends still having them freaks me out!! I will be checking her head a lot in the future…

      • Understandably. Lice are pretty low yuk level though, if you think about parasites in general. If I just imagine botflies it makes me all paranoid! And even they are reasonably harmless. The mother of a friend had a worm infestation on her head after eating sushi. It almost killed her. She was hospitalised and they needed to call in the specialists, because it was a parasite totally uncommon in Europe. Makes me almost grateful to only ever have experienced lice and ticks.

  3. Head lice are parasitic wingless insects. They live on people’s heads and feed on their blood. An adult is called a louse and is about the size of a sesame seed. The eggs, called nits, are even smaller – almost like a dandruff flake. Lice and nits are easiest to detect at the neckline and behind the ears.`

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