I’ve always been the bug killer in the house. Even in college, my roommates relied on me to kill the bugs. I don’t get freaked out easily. When my youngest daughter was in first grade, we got the lice letters from the school. I checked and — nothing. Then I saw a bug crawling across her forehead when she got out of the shower. I did what everyone does: freaked out. Called my mom. Stayed up until 2 a.m. cleaning and putting all the stuffed animals and bedding into trash bags. Washed everything. Went online. I Googled “lice advice” and found this company. While I was talking to them, my neighbor called and said her kids had it, too. I invited the owners to a PTA meeting, got up in front of the room and admitted we’d had lice. It was like the Scarlet Letter. But as soon as I said it, 18 hands shot up saying they did, too. The next time my older daughter got it, I knew what to do. The neighbors learned that I knew how to get rid of them, and I became the go-to person.
When I told my mom this was my new job, she said: “A life specialist? Are you sure you’ve had enough life experience to do that?” I said, “No, Mom, a lice specialist.” She said: “Oh, yeah. You know how to do that!” What’s funny is that you do learn a lot about people’s lives. They let you in at a vulnerable, embarrassing time and trust you to make things better. I’m part psychologist. I have to gauge the temperature of the room. Is Dad upset that he had to leave work in the middle of the day? Is the teenager mortified? Is Mom freaking out? Yes, usually. Mom’s wringing her hands, crying, thinking, We are so dirty. The first thing I say is, “Lice like clean hair.” The stigma is worse than the bugs, really. That’s why I don’t have a bug decal on my car. No one wants the neighbors to see the Orkin Lady of Lice parked outside their house.
The kids are great. They have no shame. For them, it’s a day off of school with a lot of attention. Their parents will get them anything they want, they can watch TV, and there’s this nice lady gently combing their hair — not yanking it anxiously like Mom. Even shy kids open up. When someone is combing your hair for a long time, barriers drop. Teenagers are different; they are so embarrassed. My 13-year-old tells her friends I don’t work.
Knock on wood, but I’ve not taken my work home with me. When I first started, I’d come home, wash my hair and meticulously comb my hair. I still get itchy sometimes, but I have to trust I know what I’m doing. The hardest part? Not hugging the kids until I’m done treating them. I always say, “Just a few more minutes, and I’ll be out of your hair.”