Lice liven up seder, traumatize household

When it comes to the 10 plagues in the Passover story, I would rather suffer in real life through a hailstorm (I’ve got insurance) and darkness (I’ll carry a flashlight) than go through the anguish of lice again. These pesky little insects are a parent’s worst nightmare. Just ask me. I lived through lice three years ago when my daughter and several of her unlucky classmates that I know of got the itch to scratch while they were still in preschool.

I remember the day that lice turned my happy home upside down. As Sari sat on my lap at the pediatrician’s office for a regular check-up, I noticed a grayish bug, barely the size of a sesame seed, crawling along the crooked part of my daughter’s braided pigtails. Even today the thought of lice gives me a creepy tickling feeling from head to toe, as if I walked through fiberglass insulation.

I didn’t want to alarm Sari, so I quietly pointed out my finding to the doctor, who confirmed my biggest fear. “Yep, that’s lice!” she blurted out. Sari jumped off my lap, or maybe I pushed her, as the doctor hurriedly prescribed a medicated shampoo and abruptly escorted us out of the exam room without a lollipop.

I lost count of the number of red lights that I drove through as we rushed to the nearest Walgreens. Sari was scared and cried the whole way. I tried to calm her down, but I, too, was plenty worried. I was petrified that a clawed, parasitic creature had sucked my baby’s blood like a vampire and then defecated wherever it wanted. Even worse, I was grossed out that lice glued their nits, or eggs, to my daughter’s gorgeous, shiny hair shafts that used to smell like orange mango shampoo. I started to panic when I imagined that this highly contagious insect had the tenacity to potentially invade our cars, home, clothes, carpet, stuffed animals, blankets, and everything else that Sari came in contact with, including her own family and friends.

When we finally got to the store, I gripped Sari’s hand and dragged her up and down the aisles as we looked for the most effective lice killer. Even though I knew better than to attach a social stigma to lice, I still was embarrassed that someone would notice us. Now I understood what my husband felt like when he once bought me sanitary napkins, only this experience was a million times worse. I was paranoid that another customer would think we were homeless and never bathed.

I wanted to escape the drugstore as soon as possible so that I could get home and take care of my insect-infested child. Unfortunately, I was so overwhelmed with all the different brands and strengths of over-the-counter shampoos and conditioners that we hung out for hours like we were shopping for school supplies.

Finally, we made a decision and bought what we thought we needed, including Gummy Bears and an extra large chocolate bar. We wasted no time when we got home. I threw away Sari’s Hello Kitty backpack (she never liked it anyway) and washed her coat and clothes in boiling hot water. The washing machine and dryer never stopped. I laundered everything that could be contaminated, including towels, sheets, blankets, pillows, and clothing. I suffocated all her stuffed animals in trash bags and tossed them in the dark basement. I disposed of her brushes, combs, and her collection of hair accessories. It was a traumatic day.

Next, I threw Sari in the shower and tried to make sense of the tiny print on the shampoo instructions that might as well be written in Chinese. I felt like an exhausted and confused first-time mom, who attempted to calculate the right amounts of liquid and formula powder in the middle of another sleepless night.

Even though I was unsure of the possible side effects, I massaged the doctor-recommended, anti-lice shampoo in Sari’s scalp and hair anyway. I told her to leave the stinky stuff in her hair for at least 10 minutes and reminded her not to breathe deeply or, God forbid, get the poison in her eyes and go blind. I never mentioned that she had to repeat the treatment in a week to kill any newly hatched lice.

Little did I know that the torture had only begun. After I rinsed and towel dried her tangles, I discovered the true meaning of nit picking. I rubbed nit removal gel in her thick mane and, with a special plastic comb, painstakingly raked through each strand of hair until I was dizzy from squinting my eyes so much. I felt like a demented scientist with a magnifying glass and 100-watt bulb. I was on a mission to extract any lice or nits, which were as small as a spec of salt and comparable to a needle in a haystack. If I found something that looked suspicious, I didn’t take any chances. I carefully singled out each hair and cut the strand with scissors. Then I sealed the six-legged specimen in a plastic sandwich bag and watched it slowly die.

For the next several days, Sari was under quarantine like she had the chicken pox. She stayed home from school and didn’t play with her pals. I wouldn’t let her sit on the upholstered furniture, so she stood a lot. Whenever she scratched her head, I grabbed my nit comb and scissors. She was almost bald.

To contain an outbreak of lice, I vacuumed constantly. The carpet and sofa never looked cleaner. I begged my husband for hardwood floors or at least a new vacuum. It never happened. He replaced the bag in the vacuum instead. Like a mad woman, I dragged the heavy Hoover into the garage and sucked up every crumb in the seat cushions and floor of the van.

Everything appeared tidy, but I was frustrated and tired of cleaning all the time. This tiny insect brought me to my knees, and I left like one of Pharaoh’s slaves. A few days after the first treatment, I found another nit in Sari’s hair. I called the doctor and begged for help. The nurse asked me if I tried olive oil and vinegar. “I’m not looking for a recipe,” I snapped at her. “I want a serious weapon to destroy the enemy.”

As crazy as it sounded, I was willing to try anything to get my normal life back again. I felt sorry for Sari, so I shared her misery. Together, we drenched our heads in imported extra virgin olive oil. We tucked our greasy hair under a plastic shower cap and wiped whatever garlicky mess slid into our ears. We somehow managed to sleep in our silly bonnets most of the night. Early the next morning, we rinsed our hair with distilled vinegar. Surprisingly, our hair was more manageable and softer than ever.

We remember our days of suffering every year at the Passover seder, and when Sari acts out the 10 plagues, the closest she comes to lice is when she shakes a bag of dried rice.


“The Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Her stories are inspired by the real life of her family, including her two children, toy poodle named Luci, and her husband, but not necessarily in that order. Feel free to send any comments, prayers or recipes to her new email: [email protected].