PORTLAND – In the interest of full disclosure, let me get this right out in the open: I’ve had lice. More than once.

If you’ve ever spent many hours in a room with lots of kids (remember school?), chances are you’ve had them, too. If you managed to avoid them but currently live with somebody who will be in elementary school this year, brace yourself. Lice may be coming soon to a child near you.

If a child does come home with lice, it’s technically possible for the parent not to get them. Maybe my husband avoided them simply because statistically boys and men have a lower incidence of infestation. They have less hair and they do less hugging than girls.

Maybe it was his short hair and not that fact that I was the primary caregiver. I’m not going to criticize. I’m just saying, he didn’t get them, but I did, so I know a few things about how to deal with lice if they enter your household.

First, try not to freak. I know. There are bugs. On your head. Crawling around. Yes, it’s gross. But it’s temporary. You will not have them forever.

Unexpected bonus: You’re going to learn a lot about parasitic life cycles and about yourself.

Maybe you’ve been busy eating organic tomatoes, reducing your carbon footprint and generally trying to be an all-around good, green person. But at the first sign of lice you race to the pharmacy, slam down your ATM card and scream, “Get me the poison!”

That’s fine. I tried the lice-killing shampoo and I don’t blame anyone for trying it, too. But the trouble with the shampoo is that it only kills live lice. It doesn’t kill the eggs, or nits, that those lice have probably glued to your hair in their effort to procreate.

If you’re relaxed enough to simply wait for those eggs to hatch and then kill the baby lice — they’re called nymphs — then the poison shampoo may work for you.

This relaxed wait-and-kill attitude also lends itself to the electrocution method. Remember those lights that zapped bugs with a disturbing buzz?

The electronic comb works something like that. You run the comb through dry hair, and when it encounters a louse — zap! Again, the nits — the lice of tomorrow — are still there. But as long as you regularly zap your head, killing each nymph before it’s big enough to lay more eggs, you can break the cycle.

But, like me, you may find yourself unwilling to live with what feel like time bombs on your head.

You want those nits off before they hatch, not after. If so, the tried and true method is to pick them off. Think of this as an opportunity to truly understand the meaning of the word nitpicky.

Nitpicking is tedious. It is tiresome. And it takes hours. And hours. The child enduring the nitpicking is bored and cross at best. The nitpicking parent is bored and cross.

Television is not a good distraction because nitpicking requires the patient to tilt her head at various angles, all the better for you to see the nits.

A kid watching television doesn’t want to tilt her head. And the nitpicker certainly can’t look at the screen; she’s searching for teeny, tiny nits.

Luckily, there’s some great entertainment that doesn’t require vision audio books to the rescue! Think of this as the bright side of a louse infestation.

It’s too bad it takes a parasite trying to live off your child’s blood to get back to some parenting basics, but why not make the best of it?

If you’re going to spend hours hunting for the miniscule eggs of miniscule insects, you might as well get to hear somebody tell you a story.

So if your child brings home more than homework from school, remember. Try not to freak. Consider skipping the poison shampoo. Then sit down, and settle down, for a few hours with your kid and a good book.

And someday — really — you’ll be able to laugh about the time you lived through lice.

And let me add that at this time neither I, nor my kids, nor my husband has lice.

Knock on wood.

 

– Special to The Press Herald