Raising children and entertaining parasites is a form of negative reciprocity an anthropology course fails to address. It is nonetheless an inescapable issue within the public school system, the undisputed arena for transference and exchange of said “goods”.
It was 1988. Bidee ("Bee-dee") was in 5th grade and well into an illustrious student government career inaugurated two years earlier. James was in Kindergarten the first few weeks of Fall semester at Frank Elementary. The standardized form Robin handed me was appallingly casual as it began: ‘Head lice has been discovered in your child’s classroom...’.
I was a young mother of three living in a double-wide green shag carpet mobile home at the intersection of the I-10 and the Superstition Freeway (across from vacant property destined to become the Arizona Mills Mall). The school was part of the Tempe School District, but located in the heart of Guadalupe; a Mexican-Yaqui Indian town plucked straight out of 3rd world decay surrounded by White, suburban sprawl of population-exploding Tempe. The introduction to blood-sucking vermin and my babies as their human host was not something I was prepared for.
Heart pounding, I had to read the notice twice. Advised to check the children’s scalps and hairbrushes for lice, I rallied myself. I examined each – not knowing what to look for except the clownish illustration of a common louse about the size of a VW. There did not appear to be any danger. I felt hugely relieved. Robin was nervous. James was hungry.
Next, I approached the bathroom – and the hairbrush. Raising it slowly but not too close to my face for a look see – the blonde hairs on the bristles seemed to be moving . . . a generous sprinkling of exultant bugs were swarming like miniature figure skaters across their glistening gossamer rink. Horrified to the core, my scream sounded almost simultaneously as the phone began to ring. A girl in the ward I visit taught had 3 little girls at the same school, all of whom were similarly afflicted. She didn’t have a car, could I come and get her so she could buy the shampoo at the store?
Both of us were much too afraid and definitely too ashamed to step into the store alone and buy the de-lousing products. We were also loathe having any of our children out of our sight for a moment. Incredibly, we squeezed all of us into my tiny 2 door
James had a typical boy buzz-cut. It was not much trouble to wash and comb and reassure the newly nitless.
I felt sorry for my friend. Nina’s girls all had impossibly ultra thick, fine hair – but naturally curly and cascading in golden, luxurious ringlets renaissance-like clear down to their waists. Their Sunday ribbons, bows, jeweled barrettes and sweet little girl hair styles were the talk of the Ward. I tried not to think about what was happening at their house.
The next time we saw each other, we didn’t speak of the experience at all, not one word. I made sure to compliment her little girls on their cute, new, short hair cuts.