When we groom and are groomed, we tell stories. When we tell stories, we keep death at bay; we confirm we are alive and linked to others.
In the supermarket today, I became one-of-those-mums who offers advice, who can’t help herself but interrupt a shop assistant trying to help out a stressed out dad with a daughter crawling with nits. In short, today I became my mum.
I didn’t think I’d be writing about nits on a blog about clothes, but here we have a little diversion, all in the broader theme of grooming, the body, and how we keep death/life/animals at bay. Nits have a funny way of connecting the world: yes, they jump and crawl from one skull to another, but the stories of nits and how to get rid of them bond us closer to friends and link us to strangers.
When my kids got nits a few years ago, I felt like we were in a horror film.
It took a couple of weeks for me to realize that the constant scalp itchiness the girls and I had was actually the saliva or bites or some kind of reaction to nits. I thought it was a shampoo allergy. If you’ve never seen a nit, the adult ones look quite shocking. They can be large if left for a long time (as ours were) and have a kind of earwig resemblance. If you’ve owned sea monkeys, you’ve basically seen a swimming nit. They are sometimes black, sometimes almost jelly-like.
But it’s the eggs that are the killers. They’re the ones you can’t get rid of. Now if you haven’t had nits, I can almost hear you say, but there are treatments! Shampoos! Chemical ones, herbal ones… Yeah yeah but here’s the problem: they do not work. Nothing works. Nits are resistant to all of that stuff. Nothing except a good metal nit comb (Zoe recommended the Nit Free long tooth comb) and vats of conditioner and time and time and time.
The first few times I combed through the girls hair with the nit comb, a tsunami of crawling bugs slid down with the creamy conditioner. It was a horrific and disturbing site. It took months to be completely clear, as warm and friendly winter classrooms meant they kept popping back. And every time I thought we were done with the nits, back they came. In a change room once I saw a large nit meandering down my forehead - poor pet had lost its way. The horror... the horror...
But I came to enjoy the grooming time, and loved seeing the girls (and me!) with tangle free, clean hair. That’s not just a mum thing – I know MK (a dad) loves a good nit groom too. I understand the therapy of regular hairdresser visits and beautician appointments and wish I could do all of that stuff regularly. When it’s done with family or close friends, it’s a gentle, unconscious way of connecting. My nanna used to pluck my eyebrows in my mid teens. It hurt like heck but it was important because a) otherwise I’d have a monobrow and b) we’d have a cup of tea and a yap together.
Humans groom. We always have. And we’ve battled nits forever, and passed on nit tips, listened to nit advice, celebrated the years that pass without them (we have been lice-free for at least three years, touch wood).
I wish I’d said some of this to the poor dad at the supermarket today. Although the historical stuff might have depressed him ("Great. We have always had nits..."). He was completely stressed and was at that impossible stage with the nits where he believed nothing was ever going to work or change. Maybe I made things worse by saying nothing on the shelves was going to help him, and he needed to go to the chemist and get a nit free metal comb and go through the hair every day. He said his daughter had ultra thick long hair, and as he was Tongan, I believe him. He was a lovely sweet dad and rough as guts, and we’d have never had a conversation if it were not for lice.