This piece first appeared as a column in Practical Parenting Magazine, August 2011. It predates the arrival of the sweet package Georgie Bones and subsequent post-partum meltdown.*
Pre-schoolers don’t believe in personal space. When sharing your bed, they like to sleep on your head, when you visit the toilet they come in to see exactly what you’re up to, and when playing with their friends, there are no physical boundaries whatsoever. Parents don’t especially love this desire to get up close and personal, but you know who does?
With one four-year-old and one toddler, I’m deep in pre-school and day-care land. It was only a matter of time before we had our first infestation. My mellow, scientist husband was not enormously helpful. ‘Do you have to worry about nits?’ he asked. I looked at him blankly. ‘I mean, is it unhealthy if they just… stay living on the kids heads?’ I took a deep breath and painted a little picture of primary-school social exclusion followed by an adulthood in which our children lived in a shed out the back, writing manifestos about anarchism while building homemade explosives. He came around.
I didn’t want to use pesticides and unpronounceable compounds on my children’s heads before I tried the conditioner option first. This method involves stunning the little critters with gallons of hair conditioner. It doesn’t kill them but it renders them comatose long enough for you to pry them all out with a fairy-sized Comb of Pain. You have to do it every day for a week so you get all their eggs too.
It was a miserable process. First, I sat in the bath with Peanut and T-Bone comb-torturing them while T-Bone whimpered and Peanut screamed ‘You’re HURTING me! You’re HURTING me!’ Which I was, of course. Mainly by genetically gifting her with stupidly thick hair. Then I had to shower the kids one by one. This was an especially tough call with two-year-old T-Bone, who struggles with the logic of shampoo. He likes to tip his head forward and stare blindly into the soapy water as it runs into his eyes.
So he fought me with all of his stocky fifteen kilos, using every limb to push off every wall, as I held him under the water and begged for mercy. Finally I got his head clean and put Ivy in. She’s fiercely independent. ‘I will do it,’ she insisted. ‘Don’t look at me! Nobody look at me!’ I obediently turned my head away just in time to see T-Bone doing a revenge wee on the clean towels. Then Ivy slipped over on the shower floor, which had become a treacherous slime pit of conditioner and tiny unconscious nits.
Did I mention I was pregnant? In the end we all cried, the nits survived, and I was forced to repeat the farce about six more times before their heads were finally clear of insect squatters. Then, of course, they headed back to pre-school to play hat-swapping games and start the miserable cycle again. But I have a solution, my friends. Lateral thinking. Next outbreak, I’m going to suggest we get the kids to play Chimpanzee, where they tackle the problem by picking the bugs painstakingly out of each other’s hair. They can sit as close as they like! Happiness for everybody. Nit problem? What problem?
*But I'm doing much, much better.