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Feely lousy: how getting iso-nits was a surprisingly positive experience | Life and style

We were in our fifth week of lockdown when my eight-year-old daughter, Cerys, started complaining that her head was itchy. I didn’t think twice about it – “You just have a dry scalp,” I told her.

The itching, along with the complaining about the itching, intensified. I got her some anti-dandruff shampoo.

It didn’t occur to me that her itchy head could be nits. Perhaps if she’d been going to school I might have twigged sooner. There would have been an exasperated little note from her teacher, “Please check your children’s hair, we’ve had another case of head lice … ” followed by confessions and sympathy in the year 4 WhatsApp.

Then my head started itching. My 10-year-old daughter Grace’s head started itching too. The penny dropped. I tentatively parted Cerys’ hair and groaned as I saw the eggs.

The author and her daughters

The author and her daughters, pre-lice and lockdown

I performed a quick one-woman demonstration of parts one to three of the seven stages of grief. Disbelief (Surely we can’t have nits? We’ve been isolating for five weeks!), denial (SURELY WE CAN’T HAVE NITS? WE’VE BEEN ISOLATING FOR FIVE WEEKS!) and guilt (I’m so sorry that I fobbed you off with anti-dandruff shampoo when you actually needed fast-acting head lice treatment).

Eventually I got my act together and made a dash to the chemist. The pharmacist patiently explained that, while the girls have been at home, the nit lifecycle is quite long. In other words, the nits had been isolating with us from the start.

I was 16 the last time I had nits. My then 13-year-old stepbrother had picked them up and lovingly shared them with the rest of the family. The smell of the head lice formula left me as dizzy, as did the indignity of being a teenage girl with head lice. I’ve heard that 90s nostalgia is big right now so I suppose getting nits was fairly well timed.

Despite having nits in my childhood, I’d never had to deal with them as a parent. My girls had managed to avoid catching them – I credit my anti-nit plait-buns – that’s a hairstyle, not a baked good. Although I’d heard tales of the Nitty Gritty fine-tooth comb, I’d never actually used one. The three of us (the infested ones) huddled together on the sofa and read the instructions.

Nits are tricky little buggers. They’re tiny and quick and difficult to see. Even with a liberal coating of head lice treatment (which smells a lot better than it used to), it was apparent that this was going to be a long afternoon. Fortunately, given that it happened in the middle of the lockdown, we didn’t have anywhere else to be.

Cat Rodie as a schoolgirl

Rodie as a schoolgirl

We made the best of it (stage seven – acceptance). I told them stories about the terror of being hauled out of class by the nit nurse. They made a list of all the kids they knew who’d had nits (almost all of them). It was a methodical job so, in a warped way, it was an exercise in mindfulness. While it wasn’t ideal, there was a simple joy in being in it together.

When it was my turn my girls worked together, one combing with a reassuring running commentary, and the other squirting the treatment on. It should have been grim, like the memory of the nit nurse, but it was surprisingly relaxing.

I never expected a day that started with an itchy head to end like this. My girls took great care in their work and, more than anything, I felt loved.

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