I don’t want to nit-pick, but I’ve got no choice

Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country

I’VE just spent the last 12 hours boiling bedsheets.

Yesterday, I discovered to my horror that my two-year-old son had an infestation of nits. There he was, his head resting on a pillow on my lap while I stroked his baby-soft golden locks when I spotted it.

A wiggling brown and black speck right at the hair follicle and a trail of white eggs down the shaft.

I didn’t handle it very well. First I screamed in disgust. Then I jumped up, knocking him to the floor. Finally, as he looked at me crossly, I reached for the phone and did what I always do when faced with a new parenting crisis – I called my mum.

Last time I called for emergency support, my little boy had fallen over and bitten through his lip. As the blood poured down over his chin, I felt my stomach turn and wondered if I should be sticking his face under the cold tap to stem the flow.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Ellen,” my mother tutted. “Do you want to drown him as well? Just give him an ice lolly to suck on and head to A&E.”

Most Read

This time she was just as practical when it came to my plight.

“Check your bathroom cabinet,” she said. “I bought you some nit shampoo a while back because I knew this would happen sooner or later. And make sure you explain to the kids what you are doing and why, or they won’t sit still for the combing process.”

We sat in the bathroom as I read the instructions from the back of the bottle.

Then I got to the nitty gritty. (I know, terrible pun).

“You have creepy crawlies all over your scalp and mummy is going to nuke them,” I said.

“Then we have to comb out all the eggs from your hair so none of the little beasts survive. It’s a bit gross but we have to stay strong.”

My son nodded his head seriously. “Gross,” he agreed.

My daughter looked at me dubiously. “Are there any eggs in my hair?” she said. “Where have they come from?”

Good question, but tricky to explain to a four-year-old that she may indeed have nits too and that they probably jumped onto her brother’s head when he was happily playing with his friends.

I wondered if there is still as much stigma attached to children with lice as there was when I was little.

When I was a kid, there was a boy in my class called Nat (massively unfortunate name given the circumstances) who was always riddled with them. Poor thing. After all, it wasn’t his fault. Head lice can affect anyone. They are not fussy if hair is clean or dirty, long or short. They don’t even care if their host has a whopping great income, celebrity status or political clout.

Last year Madonna admitted she had been driven to distraction by nits and Al Pacino was spotted getting treatment for his son Anton at head lice helpers the Hair Fairies in West Hollywood.

Even our Prime Minister had to issue a warning to visitors at Downing Street after his kids came home louse-infested.

Last month a report suggested the tiny insects were getting more resistant to treatment.

It added that lots of children with recurrent infections could no longer be treated with over-the-counter products and parents were being forced to turn to more aggressive – and expensive – solutions.

A friend of mine emailed me last night to admit to using one of these more high-tech methods after reading my Facebook status updates about my own encounter with the revolting creatures.

She said she had spent �100 having them individually plucked from her child’s head at a deluxe nit-picking boutique in London.

I couldn’t believe it.

I asked her if she had decided to spend that amount of money because other methods had failed.

But actually she was concerned about the chemicals in the usual bog-standard shampoos and couldn’t face two hours with a fine-toothed comb, tea tree oil and a bottle of conditioner.

Needless to say, I’m sure it goes well beyond the remit of most hairdressers in Suffolk to help me get to the root of the problem.

A shame, really, because even though I wouldn’t dream of paying �100 to have the job done by a professional, it really is a pretty grim process.

After I had painstakingly combed my children’s hair, recoiling at the size of the bugs I extracted, I grabbed the towels, stripped all the beds and got the washing machine spinning on the hottest cycle possible.

My daughter then burst into tears.

“It’s OK,” I soothed. “All the nits are dead now. You don’t need to get upset.”

“But what have you done with the eggs?” she asked.

“All gone,” I replied, proud of my achievement. “I’ve combed them away and rinsed them down the plughole.”

She cried even harder.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, worried that she was embarrassed by the whole debacle.

“I wanted to keep them,” she wailed.

“We are learning about mini-beasts at school and I could have let them hatch in a jam jar and taken them in for Show and Tell.”

I’m sure her teacher would have found such a suggestion as disgusting as I did, but I suppose it’s a good thing she isn’t concerned about keeping up appearances.

So much for stigma.

n Please send me your emails to EllenWiddup@journalist.com or find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter