Lice – that loathsome insect that mentioning turns everyone into hysterical head scratchers. Just typing the word makes me want to shave my head. Whilst scratching and googling illegal pesticides. Just in case.
I can’t adequately express how much I loathe lice – the hours of my life I have wasted combing through my children’s hair in a desperate attempt to find that one last louse who is on a mission to repopulate the universe (or just my kid’s head).
I have done all the treatments: vinegar (made the kids scream and me hungry), gin (made the neighbours look askance), olive oil (went every where), and the full range of “essential” oils from tea tree to peppermint. Mostly, they made the kids smell like they’d been lost in a bubble gum factory. I’ve wandered around muttering: lice don’t care if your kid’s hair is clean or dirty. I’ve tried every lotion and spray. I have memorised the NHS advice on how to treat lice and bought every type of comb going including one that supposedly killed lice with an electric shock. I’ve done it all and the only thing that works is spending hours combing through wet hair.
I celebrated the Christmas holidays by chopping off all of my children’s hair. I became that mother – the one who lost the plot. The thought of spending hours combing my children’s hair in a desperate attempt to find that one super-fertile, camouflaged louse was too much. I actually hacked off my daughter’s ponytail rendering her once waist-length hair into a bob around her shoulders.
It was Christmas and everyone was scratching. I couldn’t bear the thought of getting out the nitty-gritty comb. Again. Now, we’re all sporting short hair (some of us with less grace than others and some of us with straighter edges than others).
Most children get lice at some point in their lives, but it doesn’t matter how many times I read those official NHS guidelines about how, I still feel embarrassed when my kids catch them. There is a shame involved in being the mother whose children have lice. And, this is why lice are a feminist issue. It doesn’t matter how often you hear about equal parenting, it’s always mothers who end up responsible for lice.
It is mothers who are responsible for spending hours every week combing their children’s hair. It is mothers who are responsible for taking their kids to the hairdressers with the inevitable embarrassment of being sent packing when one louse pops out from behind the kid’s ear to wave hello. (And, why is it normally impossible to see them on your kids head but they turn a shade of glow-in-the-dark lime green with a penchant for the Macarena when in proximity of a hairdresser?)
Lice are a mother’s shame: if only they were a better mother; a more observant mother; one with hours of free time to comb through their child’s hair (assuming the child would sit still through this process happy as a lark).
Lice are just another form of wifework – one which women are shamed for performing and are then shamed for missing. Combing hair for lice is time-consuming and excruciating for both mother and child. It is also used as a way of shaming poor mothers. You see, white middle class children only get lice from one of “those kids”. These children are always the victims of lice infestation and never responsible for sharing the blighters with other children. Instead, we sit in judgment of bad mothers who don’t own a microscope they can jam their kid’s head.
I have yet to meet a father who spends his evenings combing through his kid’s hair. Or, a father sent home from the hairdresser in disgrace. It is not father’s desperately trying to pretend they didn’t see the louse which just plunked an “I am here” flag in the middle of their kid’s head.
Lice are a feminist issue because it is mother’s who are blamed for an infestation that is a pretty normal part of a kid’s life: like chicken pox, skinned knees and nose-picking.
The next time you see a child with lice-infested hair spare a thought for the mother spending her precious time and money desperately trying to eradicate the lice. Don’t judge. Just give a quick thanks that this time it’s not you. Because lice are definitely one of the worst bits of mothering and mothering is always a feminist issue.