Expat Parenting Dilemmas: Ridiculosis Pediculosis

A letter came home from school today that strikes fear into my heart. It’s the pediculosis letter.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the medical terminology, it’s more commonly known as Head Lice, Nits, or the Scourge of Parents the World Over.

I have a love / hate relationship with the little critters that dates back to when I was a child. In those days, the Nit Nurse came to the local school to forage through the follicles of the entire under 11 population, and report loudly back to the class teacher should any of the blighters be located. Those children were then duly dispatched home with a strongly worded note, some noxious shampoo and the instruction not to return until the all clear had been sounded.

When it was my children’s turn to attend primary school, the Nit Nurse had been phased out as cruel and barbaric. In its place was a more holistic, cyclical process of repeated infestation and endless torturous combing sessions. Teachers no longer bothered to send notes home, choosing instead to accept the inevitable presence and adopt the lice as classroom pets.

By now, Health Authorities were attempting to rebrand nits, sending out cheerily colored information leaflets informing parents and children alike that head lice (the creepy crawly adult version) preferred clean hair in which to lay their eggs. Sadly for me, this came at precisely the wrong time; for once I was proud of my superior parenting powers in Wiggy’s lice free status. Apparently, it now told people that I didn’t bathe him enough.

And then came Martha to redeem my status. As with everything Feisty, she came out fighting. She hadn’t even made it to school age before managing to infest the entire family (myself included) with a particularly virulent strain. You have to hand it to her – when she does something, she does it with gusto. She is the family version of Typhoid Mary, skipping merrily through whatever ailment she manages to catch, and leaving a trail of incapacitated bodies in her wake.

So it was with this particular pediculosis; her fine wispy hair was quickly deemed inadequate for purpose by its local population who promptly decamped to me. (Those of you who have already read Tick Bite Fever will know that I do not take parasitic invasion well.) At the age of 34, I was struck down with my first ever case of head lice and spent Christmas fruitlessly applying every homeopathic, non-toxic nit remedy to my scalp.  I was finally forced to skulk into the local Boots drugstore to locate the head lice version of napalm, interrogating the hapless assistant in an attempt to establish which was the most lethal remedy.

She looked concerned when I loaded three bottles into my basket, and tried to intervene on behalf of whatever child I was in danger of poisoning. If you ever want to end an unwanted conversation swiftly, I can vouch for the phrase “you might not want to get too close, I have head lice” as being a winner.

But the thing I love about head lice is that they are a shining example of non-discriminatory practice. They are global – we have managed to play welcome host in every country we have ever lived, and sometimes, twice. They have no interest in race, color, culture, income or social standing and ironically, the more ambitious the parenting, the more prevalent they seem to be. I can only think they are standing waiting at a little head lice base camp somewhere, waiting for you to even think the words “Well, of course, MY children…”

Head lice. Parenting Karma



7 thoughts on “Expat Parenting Dilemmas: Ridiculosis Pediculosis”

  1. I’d like to proudly boast these critters have rarely made an appearance upon my children, I always thought it was our amazing wirewool hair (that’s what our mother led us to believe) however, in the light of the comment about cleanliness and hygiene I will skulk off shamefaced and question offspring to see if they have been anywhere near soap this year. 🙂

  2. At school in the UK, we too had a lice check and we branded the nurse as “Nitty Nora”. I think it is a prerequisite of a nit nurses to be grumpy, solemn and intimidating. She would come bustling in and make us all line up; I swear she even used the same comb on all of us as she herding out the infected! We have had great luck in avoiding them so far; however the fear I feel when I hear that the lice have invaded still makes my heart beat a little bit faster as I peer in to the scalps of my children. Long may the little critters stay out of our lives…

  3. Rachel,

    It is reassuring that like all pets, head lice are not just for Christmas!

    It was the girls that seemed to suffer most with us; the lice did not seem to like Alex at all. You know its bad when you have been combing for an hour and have lost count of the lice in the sink, then mindlessly wave the comb through the water to clear a gap in the floating lice to see how many have sunk…

    Where’s the Frontline… You have got me scratching again already!


  4. Blinking things! It’s funny to note different reactions to lice in different countries. In Denmark they are adverse to using any chemicals really, so it is common to find them in schools. The attitude is similar to the UK – leave the parents to sort it in their own time. Here in Munich it’s taken much more seriously at my children’s school, and any child with headlice is not allowed back to school until they have a letter from their doctor to say they are nit free…

    1. You have struck terror in my heart – the thought of running the gauntlet of the dreaded doctor’s receptionist just to get the children back to school has added a whole new dimension..

  5. I’m afraid to say it out loud, so I’ll just whisper…we’ve never had lice….but my joy in repats was forever ruined when a friend came back whose family had picked up the critters in a big beautiful RV they had rented for that WallyWorld vacation. Now I want to put giant plastic bags over every airline, bus, subway, and rental car seat I come into contact with. Yecchhh!!

    1. Ohh, don’t feel bad – I am happy to furnish you with some conveniently packaged in a Ziploc bag. What was your postal address again..?

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