Róisín Ingle on . . . the charge of the lice brigade


I’m not the sentimental parent type. My baby bump remained untroubled by plaster of paris or even papier mache. I didn’t do anything interesting with my placenta. I bought all the materials but in the end forgot to make commemorative moulds of their tiny baby feet.

I’m not, I really don’t think, the sentimental one. The person who was most upset when I finally let a hairdresser take a scissors to their (admittedly) adorable baby curls was their childminder. She barely spoke to me for a week and one of my least enjoyable memories of their early childhood will always be her appalled face when she saw them with their new short, bobs. “You should have warned me,” she said. I laughed because I thought she was joking. But oh, she really wasn’t. I may as well have taken the scissors to her heart.

They tell you it all goes so quickly and then it does but so far I haven’t minded the brisk pace. I enjoy the stages. The crawling turning to walking, one word becoming dozens, baby passivity blossoming into the brutal aggression of narky four-and-three- quarter-year-old dictators shouting “that skirt doesn’t MATCH that top, you don’t know ANYTHING, Durrrr!”.

The one constant is change. I keep telling the children everything changes and in telling them I am reminding myself.


There is a caveat to this we’ve discovered. Everything changes except . . . nits. Head Lice. Bugs. They have moved in and they are squatting on us and everything changes but on the worst days it feels as though these critters are never going to leave.

We spent four hours at the weekend trying to get rid of the nits, A task that proved oddly soothing, although the nits and the children would probably disagree.

Nits are nature’s way of proving your love for your children. No greater love hath anybody for any other human than they would spend hours scouring their scalp for still-limping insects and their eggs. Are you scratching your head yet? Welcome to our world. Pull up a fine tooth comb.

They are making a movie in our house. It’s called The Charge of the Lice Brigade . One of our daughters appears to have had nits pretty much non-stop since Christmas. Not that she’ll admit to it. Remark upon the fact that she is vigorously scratching her head – the double-handed scratch is her speciality – and she’ll get highly defensive. “Don’t you know people scratch their heads when they are thinking? I am just THINKING!” she’ll huff from her high horse as the nits throw an all-night party on her head.

In my day, whatever was in the lethal smelling nit shampoo seemed to demobilise the invaders, who keeled over as soon as the bottle was even opened. These days the anti-nit potion seems to be made of less stern stuff. I am highly suspicious of the fact that the shampoo doesn’t smell like somebody let off a stinkbomb in a skunk farm. It smells, and this is doesn’t seem right to me, almost pleasant.

To distract from the nitfest we decided to see if they were ready to cycle a bike with pedals. They’ve been bombing around on their balance bikes for two-and- a-half years now. When they careen down hills, they lift their feet and balance all the way down. So we thought they might be ready for the hand-me-down bike with pedals which was taken down from the roof space. My heart wasn’t prepared for how ready they were.

I’m not the sentimental type so I just hold the back of the saddle and tell her she has to keep moving the pedals. I explain that the pedals move the wheels and if she stops moving the pedals then the wheels will stop turning. “Keep the wheels turning,” I tell her, adding that if anything goes wrong she can just put her feet down. And then I let go. And she’s cycling for the first time in her life. Off along the back lane, shouting back to me “can you see me Mum? Can you see?”

And I’m not sentimental but as she’s cycling away my heart constricts. It’s mostly joy I think.

“Go on,” I shout to the wobbling figure moving further and further away. “Keep the wheels turning.” Joy and what? Longing. To hold onto the moment a moment ago when my hand was on the saddle, the moment before she flew away down the back lane, away from me.

I watch her and my hand goes up automatically to stroke my head. “Mum, have you got the nits too?” asks the other child waiting for her go on the bike. And I tell her no, that I’m just thinking. That’s all.


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