A friend of mine was recently disturbed to find that her children had lice.
They've been itchy for a while, but there was no sign of infestation until a few nights ago when her husband found proof of the critters in their daughter's hair. The family was something less than thrilled.
My friend had the happy chore of calling everyone who had been to their house or had played with their kids to let them know. I can understand the feelings that engendered, a little - no lice, here, but measles as a result of a reaction to immunizations, of course at a public event with lots of other kids. It never happens when no one else is effected, does it?
So my poor friend has been having to treat her kids for lice, and the experience put me in mind of my childhood and lice.
To my recollection, I never had lice, but I remember louse checks at school, when the nurse would come into the classroom and use those disposable wooden chopstick tings to look through our hair for tell-tale signs of noggin-noshers.
Children with lice were removed from the classroom, banished until they were proven free of unwanted cranial crawlers.
To have lice meant one was unclean, untouchable, poor, somehow less than the other kids. It was shameful and proof that one wasn't quite right. It meant ostracism, hair combing, medicinal shampoos, lots of laundry, and unhappy days away from school. Social groupings could change overnight.
We were sternly admonished to never share pillows, hats, coats, or scarves because one never knew when a louse might feel migratory.
Because of lice, we have "lousy", which used to mean crawling with lice but now means no good. We also have "nit picking", which means detail oriented these days but was once an actual profession, wherein people would sit and comb through hair picking out lice and nits (the only way to delouse a person). They had to be meticulous, and it was a lowly profession.
These days, we know that lice have nothing to do with one's social station or cleanliness - my friend's kids are quite clean - and there's less (if any) stigma involved. They're just a fact of life in school - kids play, share clothing, and occasionally pass germs, rashes, and pesky parasites around the classroom. Pragmatism reigns in dealing with all, happily replacing the hysteria of the past.
Sometimes, I like our social evolution.
What's your experience with louses, leeses, lice?