PSA: People! Please, please, please!

When I was growing up, kids didn't wear bike helmets.

When I was growing up, we kids rode around in the back of a pick-up truck, ate Tastykakes for dinner, and watched after-school television until our eyeballs swelled to the size of melons and our brains shrank to the shape of a well-weathered walnut.

It was all good.

We all turned out okay.

(I'll pause while you wipe clean the image of your childhood friend, Gary, now in lock-up. Also, my apologies to all those kids who actually did fall out of the backs of pick-up trucks and thus aren't around to post a comment that, actually, they didn't turn out okay, thankyouverymuch.)

Oh sure, there was that one overweight girl in the fifth grade. And the middle-school boy who went bumper-hopping (see: hooky-bobbing) and now lives on immortalized in the Darwin Award annals. But generally, life was simple and the big no-nos were reserved for sitting inside the house on any day when the temperature was above 12 degrees, smacking your sister in the head, and eating meat on Fridays.

And the worst thing that could ever happen to a kid - from a kid's perspective anyway- would be to "have cooties".

Frankly, back then I had no idea what a "cooty" even was. I just knew that if you had 'em, you got picked last for kickball and weren't asked to share anyone's Tatstykakes at lunch.

Ah, my idyllic childhood!

Nowadays, we know better. About a lot of things.

Most importantly, we know that kids don't turn out okay unless they are the recipients of a lot of hands-on parenting. We also more clearly understand that huge amounts of Kevlar are required to safely escort most children through the bike riding/roller skating/baseball playing stages, and that only the most foolhardy parent would allow their child to engage in higher-risk activities such as horseback riding, ice hockey, or walking three blocks to visit their friend without first implanting a GPS tracking advice in the skin behind their ear and/or wrapping them in the same titanium as airplane black boxes.

Also, we now know that boob tube is at the heart of most every childhood problem - from ricketts to gingivitis to the sustained implulse to smack your sister in the head - and so televisions are rarely seen in homes these days, and what television there is, is strictly monitored and used for educational purposes only.

And yes, this post is so far dripping with honey-coated sarcasm.

Just having some fun.


Ehem. I'll get to my point....

Frankly, I think most parents are not so extreme. Frankly, I think most parents these days fall in the happy medium of being relatively sane - if not having their own pet parenting quirks that a child can easily overcome with a session or two of talk therapy, usually during the summer between high school and college - and that moderation, if not the panacea for most problems, at least will allow our children to turn out as "okay" as most of us have.

You're mostly happy, right? Right.

We don't want to parent too perfectly, do we? Think of all the great blogs you'd miss out on in 18 years or so.

However, with all this happy-to-be-good-enough parenting mixed with benign neglect and the push to help kids feel more self-actualized and emotionally-validated young human animals even as their leashes get shorter, I find one hold-over from the ridiculous good-ole-days of Clackers and lead-flavored teething rings:


Cooties are where past and present collide. Cooties are where emotionally supporting our children and lessons in anti-bigotry suddenly compete and collide with our own repressed traumatic memories of having the dodge ball thrown directly at the bridge of our Coke-bottle glasses because we couldn't stumble out of the way quickly enough in our orthopedic shoes.

Cooties are where we didn't turn out "okay".

Now, I'll be the first to admit that, as a parent, I dislike cooties. "Cooties", I've come to find out, are parasites. Bugs. Lice, scabies, got it crawling on you and living off your life blood, and you got yourself a cooty.

Cooties make you itch.

Cooties make you scratch.

I bet you're scratching right now just thinking about cooties.

But here's where I need to part ways with the cooty paranoia and politically incorrect cooty-ism of the 1970s, especially as it pertains to hair cooties.

Having hair cooties, as it turns out, doesn't mean that you don't bathe enough. Cooties don’t mean you’re a hippy lovechild. Why, I’ve been to thirteen Grateful Dead shows and left each and every one without any living hair ornaments. Well…beyond the hallucinated raccoon on my head.

Hair cooties actually like to have clean hair to hang onto and clean heads to lay their eggs. Brushing often might keep a cooty from latching on (which now I understand some grandmothers’ admonitions to brush your tresses 100 strokes every night), but once it’s on, it’s the greaseless, uncoated hair a cooty loves best. Cooties like when you shampoo every night. Cooties do not like complicated beehive four-day hairdos held high and proud with backcombing and Aquanet .

Hair cooties do not hop. They don’t have jumping legs.

Hair cooties do not fly. They don’t have wings.

Hair cooties have to crawl onto your head, generally from another head, and they have to have a good reason to do so. Pressing your head next to another person’s head seems to be a good reason for a cooty to travel. Getting shaken off in a hat and then finding a new head inside the hat is a fine reason for relocating. One nit (cooty egg) does not a cootie infestation make. You need a full-grown female laying eggs on your head, or a male and female cooty having cooty sex on your head for more cooties to abound.

It does, in fact, take a concerted effort to get a cooty on your head, let alone keep it there to raise a family. Lots of shampooing. Lots of head-to-head contact. Free-flowing locks and being invited to a lot of sleepovers will do it. Thinking of it this way, one might reckon that it would be the popular grade school girls (ironically) most likely to get cooties.

And yet, so much cooty hate. So much turning back to the bygone days of maliciously pointing out the cooty-kid to other parents, other children. So many dodge balls to the crotch of the cooty-boy in gym class.

People. People. We are not turning out okay.

I understand. I do. No one likes the thought of bugs taking up residence on their head. No one likes the itchy-scratchy feeling they get just thinking of the word “cooty”.

But the silence must stop. Or maybe the talking must stop. I've confused myself.

Nonetheless! For the silence and/or the talking to stop, the hatred and public expressions of parasitic grossed-outness must end as surely as we no longer publicly okay kids eating sugary cereals or parents missing preschool graduation because it was the final season episode of Lost.

Because, I’ll tell you what.

More than skeeving at the thought of critters nesting in a scalp, I absolutely hate the thought of having to vacuum more than I have to. I detest bagging up all the stuffed animals for two weeks and spending my Saturday doing 3,452 loads of laundry. I do not thrill to sitting with a screaming child as they I go through her hair with a literal fine-toothed comb for 1-2 hours every night over 10 days to make sure that I caught every cooty, every cooty baby, every speck-sized cooty egg glued to a shaft of hair.

And why did I have to do all this? Why?

Because of the continued social stigma of cooties.

Because of “Eeeewwww” faces at the school lunch table and book club wine debauch.

Because one of my acquaintances was too embarrassed, too mortified to let me know that her family had been struggling for weeks to oust the little critters, even after my kids had spent a weekend at their house, all this kids pressing their darling heads together.

I feel bad. I feel bad for her, for her kids, for my kids…for the anxiety of being found out as the cooty girl.

But most of all, I feel bad that when it comes to cooties, we have failed.

We have not turned out “okay”.

We have not overcome with knowledge and compassion.

We are living in the dark ages of pouring kerosene on heads to illuminate - not only our ignorance - but, more sadly, our fears. (Ugh.)

So please, people. Please, please, please.

Be gentle with the cooty kids.

And when you get the phone call from another parent, take a deep breath and graciously thank them for alerting you as soon as possible, so that one potential bug need not turn into a three-ring circus.

Then immediately set up a non-dodgeball playdate with your friend's child. Skating or hiking are lovely non head-pressed-together activities.

And for heaven’s sake, no matter what you think about my “moderation in parenting” rant in the beginning of this post, if you go biking, please also wear a helmet. No matter how “okay” you turned out.

(Just decline any offers to share one. Politely.)

Best mainstream information on cooties.

Best alternative info on cooties.

Cooties are becoming resistant to pesticides.

The Meaning of Lice


Velma said...

Unfortunately, this is a subject near to my heart. Head. Kid's head. Whatever.

You are so right! If you've got 'em, let others know about 'em. There is nothing worse than suffering through a giant louse removal lockdown because someone was too embarrassed to disclose an important parasitic visitor problem.

Anonymous said...

I will never forget the feeling of being ostracized after doing the right thing and informing my oldest dd's preschool that she had lice. Despite probably getting it from there, the stigma was awful. I would do the same again of course but it would be nice if everyone would. And if everyone would nod, smile and say "been there, done that" instead of looking at you in snooty horror. said...

battyjac - I hear you. And I'm so sorry.

It would be nice if loose lips didn't sink ships, but the cooty witch hunts have got to stop if we want people to be more open in the first place.

We alerted the school nurse. And then found out from kid talk about others who have had problems with lice. I promise, I swear to gosh, if you tell me, I won't be angry. I'd rather go through one head one time and get out the one louse than deal with a bunch.

As for the snoots, I know just as many parents who drink Opus One as Bud Light who have admitted to struggling with lice. It may have been a low-socio problem, but with resistance to pesticides, I wonder if that's changing. There are several theories as to why it's showing up more, even in tonier neighborhoods.

Mr Farty said...

Urgh, still remembering the feel of the steel nit-comb. When I had hair, sigh. Good post.

preTzel said...

Thank you, now I will be itching and my scalp will be crawling for weeks to come. You should have titled this "PSA: Bring Your Own Scratcher!" Heh.

Cooties are gross. (Shit, my EYEBROWS are itching!) Thankfully my boys loving nothing more than to have "stink" contests and like to go unbathed to see who can stink the worst. Eww!

Heather said...

What's people getting all worked up over lice for? You'd think it's an STD or something. Which, in upper elementary, is exactly what I thought "cooties" meant - an STD.

Down in the poor South, lice has always been called lice. Or nits. Cooties was something you got from kissing the boy behind the teeter totter.

Also? My husband fell out of the back of a truck. He was never right after that - he married me!

Mom101 said...

Can't we be equally grossed out by lice and accepting that they're part of childhood? I'm grossed out by boogers but it doesn't stop my kid from having them hang out of their noses half the winter.

Remind me to tell you sometime of the entire Thanksgiving weekend in 1976 spent at home with my parents hand picking lice eggs out of my waist-length hair because I refused to cut it. Now that's some committed, doting parenting for you.

Blog Antagonist said...

Some people think I'm being snooty when I won't let other kids wear my boys' batting helmets. (they're airbrushed and everybody thinks they're cool) But my mom was a hairdresser and I have seen cootie horrors that will follow me to my grave. She drilled it into us never, ever to share combs, hats, or any kind of headgear with other kids.

We, so far have dodged this bullett, but I am under no illusions as to why. It's been sheer, dumb luck. And sooner or later, that luck will run out.

Cooties do not discriminate. said...

No, no, no, no, no...I don't think it's snooty to be practical. It's one of the reasons that I drill into my girls (and scouts) to keep hair braided (for lots of good reasons.) I do think some people are snooty when they think that they are a better class of human being because they happen to have had the privilege of knowledge and/or good luck.

And to be very clear, if I don't share a bike helmet, it's the same as me not sharing a handkerchief. It's not so much about what the other person might "have"; it's just as good manners to not share what I might have. I understand that this could come across as snooty, but I think a candid and gracious explanation that it's for their own benefit as mine can be made. least in a perfect world. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I had the cooties in 8th grade. My brother brought them home from baseball (by sharing helmets, BA, so you are so very right to not let your boys do it). It was a harrowing process of fine-tooth combing, various OTC and prescription shampoos, boiling of brushes, discarding of pillows, etc. NOT fun for the whole family.

Thanks for getting the word out that it's actually the cooties who are the "snooties", since they prefer the cleaner humans. It's kind of a badge of cleanliness really.

Anonymous said...

Never had cooties but I did have one of those incredibly fun Clacker things. I'm assuming you don't see them around because someone put an eye out. And yet? We still have scissors! So unfair :(

Fairly Odd Mother said...

I've had a few friends 'admit' that their kids had lice and I was surprised to hear how many kids get it. In school, there is only one girl I knew to have it and that poor thing was never the same. She suffered mightily and much more from the aftermath than the bugs themselves.

By the way, clackers were my FAVORITE childhood toy ever. Just loved those silly things.

Unknown said...

I had 'em as a kid and it was a nightmare. I remember how horribly that fine-toothed comb hurt my head. Emily got them when she was about 3 years old. That baby-fine medium-brown hair is apparently (according to the pediatrician...the third time we went back to see him for the same recurring infestation) the hardest to deal with lice in. Matthew got them about a month ago. I got the school nurse phone call. Discovered that on boy heads, it's no big deal at all. *whew* My sympathies.

Kimberly said...

I feel like I am tempting fate by commenting about this because we have never *knock on wood* had cooties (also because I recall commenting on your rabies post and WE DID have to go though that treatment). But you're right - we need to deal with this like adults and kick the shame away.

And now? My head itches.

alison said...

Headlice seem to be a winter rite of passage around here. Phone calls from moms, or those info sheets that come home from the school reading "There has been a case of headlice reported in Mme. So and so's class" are greeted with thanks, and some heavy sighs and then the pulling out of the vacuum and the firing up of the washing machine. At least in my daughters' social circles, there doesn't seem to be a stigma attached.

tiff said...

Been there, done that. Awful, for sure, but not terminal.

The THings' elementary school was overrun with them several years ago. Took MONTHS to get everyone eradicated. Gah!

Julie Marsh said...

Have not had to contend with lice - as a child myself, or with my own children. But I see no reason to shame anyone for having them (or for having kids who've got them).

What this topic needs (along with so many other hush-hush topics) is some matter-of-fact discussion, just like you've presented here.

Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

I just did the drill last night - head checks - because our school's official policy is a no tell policy. We're on our own, told to do checks twice a week.

Can I say it's not working?

I guess I figured that we would be told if there was a problem in class, anonymously, of course, but I didn't pay it any mind until we had a nice case last year, between my kids' birthdays and right before our trip to Disneyland.

Woohoo! Fun times.

Anyway, I outed ourselves to all our friends - so embarrassing - and did head checks for friends who weren't sure what to look for.

Now I am rambling and itchy.

Just wanted to say I loved this post.

anne said...

Hmm. You think you got problems? Try dealing with lice on an angora goat. There's NO comb gonna go through that forest.

On the bright side, those cooties are species specific so other than the initial "Itch and Obsess" phase after shearing, no worries.

Anonymous said...

Last summer C was planning on having a friend of his spend the night until his friends mom called totally mortified... his friend had cooties and she figured they were gone (of course they were- she shaved his head) but wanted to let me know "just in case" and told me she completely understood if I wanted to plan on a different night. I appreciated the phone call but told her to plan on it. His friend spent the night, they had an awesome time, and C never got cooties.
Parents don't need to be snooty about it- it could just as easily be their kid.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I have so lived through this.

My children were the ones with the clean, shiny hair that attracted lice for a month straight in 1996. I still can't talk about it too much.

Anonymous said...

Oh my God CLACKERS. I was just thinking about them--basically, nunchucks for young children. I had a red pair.

cIII said...

Circle-circle, dot-dot.....

That ought to do it. And no Copay.

I can remember, with much fondness, my father allowing me to ride from my grandparents house to our house in the back of the Pickup.

It was a fifty mile trip.

I was 10.


Katie Alender said...

I had cooties--er, lice--as a child, and I don't remember it being a big deal. Then again, I had fleas on a regular basis, too, because I would pick them off the dog and drop them next to me on the carpet (yes, I was a special child). I am trying to go with the general vibe of being open about this stuff, LOL.

And AMEN about bike helmets. I never really believed in them until a few months ago when I saw a bike rider who had been hit by a car with his helmet literally wedged between the tire and the road. By the time I parked and got out to see if he needed help, he was walking around, carrying his helmet. Like holy cow. Holy cow.

kelly said...

Shortly after you posted this, our local paper ran an article over the controversial no nit policy at one of the local school systems. And that even though it goes against the state lice policy, they weren't going to change it. The school nurses felt that they could the control the outbreaks better if the kids could not come back to school until they were completely free of louse and nit. So obviously it's going around. Knock on wood, we haven't had to deal with it yet.

Gary's third pottery blog said...

well, anyway, thanks for the bloggy visit, you're funny! gotta add you to the list...

Meg McCormick said...

After 13 years of cooty-free parenting, we finlly went through this last month (see and now I hear there's yet another wave of them overtaking the 5th grade. And my kid rarely wears his bike helmet (despite my attempts at vigilance), let alone would borrow someone else's, and I have to bug (sorry, heh heh) him to bathe and shampoo.

It did not seem that anyone in our school was really flipping out about this, other than the knee-jerk "oh what a pain in the ass" reaction.

Angela said...

I do hope I never have to deal with this.

Anonymous said...

My head is now itching.


Drew G said...

You are hilarious. I love that cartoon. If you ever want to work together I would be honored.

Evgör Mobilya said...

Thanks You...
cam balkon

Hmcarter said...

when i was a kid my best friend got lice and i know how hard the other kids were on him. totally unfair. we both had good hygiene, but that didn't seem to matter.

Blog Ping