Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre - take 2

It's been a while since there's been a reason to resurrect La Vida Loca.  Life, with all the chaos of school, work, hockey, swimming, piano, guitar, dinners to make, dogs to walk, has apparently taken on a rather drab and mundane routine. Today, reading a report from school about an insurgence of that most dreaded of terrorists, the head lice, I am suddenly reminded of a time when life was not quite so simple.
The St. Valentine's Day Massacre took place in 1929, the result of a conflict between two rival and powerful gangs. Who could have predicted that, just 79 years after the original event, circumstances so horrible as to leave a parent speechless, would bring about another massacre - this time on a much grander scale.
It was Valentine's Day 2008. A day filled with hearts and chocolate. There were hugs, wine for me, and hot chocolate for the kids. There was great food, and family joy. Cliche as it is to say, love filled the house.
Almost. For Valentine's Day was celebrated in our house with a cast of thousands. There was me, Max, Emma, Joy.
And head lice.
If the era of prohibition had been alive in my household at the time, it would have ended abruptly. Max had presented with head lice at school that morning, and upon further inspection, it turns out that both kids were infested with them, the poor babes. A lovely dinner was replaced by a quick meal, and I spent Valentine's night de-lousing and nit picking, washing everything (and I do mean everything) in boiling hot water, vacuuming, and bathing.

The product used to rid a head of lice is a pesticide, and it was with great trepidation that I applied it to the kids' heads.  The process was disgusting, and the tub filled with literally hundreds of carcasses of dead lice as hair was rinsed.  It still makes me itchy and creepy-crawly to think of it! At one point in the process, Max asked me where the dead lice would go. "Straight down the drain and right to hell", I told him. "Hell", even in the theological sense, is not a word allowed in the house, and I got quite a lecture. Also one about the sensitive feelings of head lice. 

I stopped talking, and decided not to share my immense satisfaction in knowing that there must be some kind of acute agony associated with a death involving the dissolution of an exoskeleton.
 In what I assume can only be a cosmic need to punish me for these thoughts, Joy went out the next morning and tore apart the vacuum cleaner bag, which she cunningly retrieved from the garage while casing the yard for any sign of intrusion during her downtime on the couch. There was dust and dirt everywhere in the yard, and the bag looked like the sorry remains of a half-eaten haggis after a particularly wild and debauched Hogmanay. Luckily, dogs are not susceptible to head lice. I decided to leave the bag and deal with it after work. It was supposed snow, and if I was lucky, there would be enough of a storm to hide a multitude of slovenly sins.
The saga of the head lice should have ended with the St. Valentine's Day massacre, but it did not. You see, the TDSB has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to head lice - one designed to prevent the spread of head lice (which do not carry disease and are at worst an uncomfortable and itchy pest) at the expense of a child's education. Once a case has been identified, heads are inspected daily for lice. What the TDSB fails to communicate are the following:
  • Lice have a specific lifecycle:
  • Nits (eggs) are laid at the base of the hair follicle, close to the skull
  • Nits take 7 - 10 days to hatch
  • Nits found more than 1/8th of an inch from the skull have hatched.
  • When hatched, the nymphs (infant and adolescent lice) take up to 21 days to become adult lice
  • Adult lice, if left unchecked, have a lifespan of up to 50 days
  • During this time, they apparently breed like rabbits and lay thousands upon thousands of eggs.
The short story? If your child has head lice, he is not only a social pariah, but also banned from any educational institution for quite some time.
There are some terrific websites and information sources on head lice, including www.headlice.org. The American Medical Journal includes several significant articles on the absurdity of keeping children who present with head lice from gaining a formal education. Apparently American medical science is not what we need in Canada, however, and the findings and information I presented the following day at school in an attempt to see my son finish the week were in vain. We were ushered out the door, protesting all the way, the door slamming on our backs after the administrative assistant reached down and pointedly picking a nymph so small I would have needed a microscope to see it, out of Max's hair.
And so I spent that day nit picking and working. I was at White's at the time, and my office was in a huge warehouse filled with equipment, cameras, and and the like.  Max, in his quest for continuing education, played an interactive Hercules war game on the laptop, ate lunch, tossed a pigskin around for a while, and then watched "Meet the Robinsons". Apparently he was a little bored. At one point, I stood up to find my backside wet and mushy. It seems that Max, wondered what the effect would be if he put blueberries on my chair.
I can tell you what the effect was...
The week ended on a high note. Emma, who has very long hair, went through a rigorous course of cider vinegar rinses in her hair, and this with nit picking, eliminated the problem completely. Not so for poor Max. The time was still pre-Beiber, but Max was sporting a pretty long 'do. In the end, after almost three weeks of endless picking, scrubbing and de-lousing, his head was shaved.  And with the hair, the lice, gone!

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