Bugger! Child number 3 has an itchy head. This can mean one of two things. Mild itchy scalp brought on by some kind of eczema. Or nits! Notice how, though I know that it is only the eggs that are called nits and the eggs themselves do not itch, I cannot quite bring myself to say that my child may have lice.

Having four children I have had my fair share of creepy crawlies to deal with over the eight years that we have been at primary school so far. Every so often a photocopy of a letter is stuffed into the book bag. It is from the local PCT telling me that a child in my child’s class has head lice ( there, I said it ) and how I should treat it. “Who is it?” I enquire casually. I don’t know why I bother. My child rarely knows. I suppose that I hope that if I can identify the carrier then I can do a quick probability calculation of the chances of my child having bumped heads with them. This optimism is misplaced. There is no way round it. If we get a letter I should get the nit comb out. I don’t but I should.

I have very clear memories of the first time that head lice crossed my threshold. My eldest was in year 1 and baby number 3 was new born. I was in that post birth fug when nothing but the needs of your baby matter and so the day to day care of the other two had fallen to the bottom of my list of priorities. To be fair to me, she hadn’t done much scratching or not so that I had noticed but then a brass band could have been playing Blaze Away in my kitchen and I doubt I would have noticed that either. Then one day I did catch her scratching and a quick examination of her head revealed her to be literally crawling with lice. They were virtually living stacked on top of each other duplex style.

Horrified, I rushed her into the bath and starting to comb. There were hundreds and hundreds of lice left drowning in the water by the time we had finished. My poor baby. How had I let her get so infested? I had heard of children being hospitalized for anemia as a result of head lice. I checked her cheeks. Distinctly rosy, although her lips were a little blue from being in the bath so long. So then I checked child number 2. No lice. A miracle. I was itching like mad as you always do when someone mentions head lice. At that time I had thick dark hair which fell below my shoulders. Perfect for hiding a few bloodsucking parasites. I combed until my head was sore but found nothing. Even this was a slight. I had clearly spent so little time with my eldest that she hadn’t had chance to pass them to me.

The lice are one thing. Easily removed. But the eggs. There were hundreds as you might have expected. Every shaft seemed to have at least one attached. I took to crushing them with my finger nails. Strangely satisfying but very labour intensive. We combed with conditioner every three days for weeks and weeks. To this day the smell of Pantene still fills me with dread. But why, I hear you cry, did you not just zap her with a super strong dose of chemicals and be done with it? You have to remember that this was my first child and in the same way as I didn’t yet use Calpol to get a decent night’s sleep, I believed the Health Visitor and School Nurse when they told me that chemical treatments do not work and that combing with conditioner is the only way to rid your child of this affliction.

But it was hopeless. Head lice are frisky little blighters. Miss just one or two and before you know it they have gone and laid a whole new batch. As the weeks wore on the lice started to attack not just my child’s scalp but also the very core of our relationship. I didn’t feel that I could cuddle her in the same carefree way that we had done before. I was always aware of exactly where my head was in relation to hers. It seemed distant and calculating but I couldn’t help it. The thought of having lice myself made me gag although I was very pragmatic about removing them from her.

After what seemed like an age I finally made the trip to Boots and bought the strongest stuff I could find and within a week it was over. I came across the odd empty egg case but all signs of moving creatures were gone.

Over the following years both she and I caught them again on several occasions. Strangely child number 2 has never had them. By the time child number 3 started in Reception I was terribly relaxed about the whole bloodsucking parasite on the head thing. When she caught them the first time I told everyone that it was her that had caused the PCT letter to be sent and I even caught a juvenile and adult louse and stuck it under a piece of sellotape at the classroom assistant’s request to show those poor, horrified first time mothers what it was that they were looking for. It doesn’t get any more pleasant to deal with but dealt with it must be. Small children catch head lice just like they catch colds and chickenpox and there’s absolutely nothing to be gained by being either squeamish or secretive about it.

Fortunately, child number 3 has blonde, blonde hair so any imposters are easy to spot and eradicate. I will do a quick check at bath time and at the first sign of anything moving will squirt on the mousse…just as soon as I have stopped scratching.