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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

The Ten Plagues of IA Children

Lice, scabies, giardia, ringworm, rotten teeth, emotional and educational delays, abuse, neglect, TB, and post-traumatic stress syndrome. These are just a few of the many diagnoses that might face our internationally-adopted children. We had escaped relatively-unscathed with our four older Russian children.

Or so I thought.

Our everyday breakfast get-togethers, or evening bedtime rituals, often turned into true confession sessions, where the kids tried to make sense of the senseless past. How could bad things happen to “good” children? Maybe they weren’t good, after all?

The pain of it, the strain of it, a lot has to be talked out in the privacy of the home setting, where all feel safe and loved. It’s not best to chitchat about such matters at a McDonalds’ play area, or at high tea with the grandparents. We talk, and keep on talking. And even so, there is the occasional secret hidden from us, such as the fact that our youngest daughter, Sashenka, was being eaten alive by head lice.

How could this be? She and her sister had been with us now for four months. I never realized that the Plague had come with them. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

There were those “been there, done that” voices crying in the wilderness who had warned me to do a full body strip search of any preteen boy or girl presenting themselves as a new family member. But how in the world was I to do that?

“Dahbroh pazhal’avaht! Welcome to the family! Do you happen to have lice, scabies, giardia, or any other communicable disease? If you could just give me a small stool sample, and a few hair strands, I’ll send them away for a full analysis.”

Naturally, I could not envision myself saying anything of the sort while handing them plastic baggies and prodding them toward the bathroom.

Once there, I should probably call out, adding through the door, “And let’s irradiate any school notebooks you brought with you while we’re at it.” You never knew where cockroaches or bedbugs might be hiding.

Well, apparently they’ve been hiding in my family for the past four months. It happened like this:

Sashenka had just been princess for a day on her first actual birthday ever. She turned nine, full of awe and wonder that other children actually enjoyed birthday celebrations on their special day. On top of all the excitement (literally), the two girls had been scratching their heads with some frequency. We bought them a soothing scalp shampoo earlier in the week and I used it as well, after a mysteriously itchy rash broke out around my back-of-the-neck hairline.

The shampoo gave no real relief.

The day after Princess Sashenka’s birthday when I was trimming her bangs, I got the surprise of my life. There, parting sections of silky hair in my beautiful boudoir bathroom just before bedtime, I sensed movement near her scalp. Nothing was visible at the part, nothing at all. But delving deeper and separating pieces chunk by chunk, I saw her scalp teeming with bugs, an incredible infestation that made me gag and almost pass out. They looked like brown fruit flies, burrowing and scurrying this way and that. Only the day before, she had worn her pretty tiara smack on top of this vileness.

As I checked patch after patch of hair and the ghastly critter count multiplied exponentially, I started to physically shake. A country club upbringing had never prepped me for parasites or other vermin. We did not speak of such things in Polite Society. Here I had ventured to the other side of the tracks.

Must… call… Benedetto, I thought, instructing Sashenka not to move and running for my phone. Of course, she had been moving and molting and whatever else for the past FOUR MONTHS. It wasn’t like her standing in my bathroom was going to contain anything now! Just then, my husband walked in the door, not a moment too soon.

“Lice!” I choked out, and led him to the chamber of horrors. I guessed it was lice, I mean, what else could it be?

“I don’t see anything,” he glanced at her head.

“Poke around,” I tell him, handing him my comb, and there were the blood-suckers in all of their gory glory.

I call in Mashenka, since she’s had similar scratchy complaints as her sister. Benedetto springs into action to check me, as well.

Nothing that can be seen with the naked eye on anyone else, but who knows. We should probably all be treated, first myself, for obvious mental disorders starting with naivete and spiralling upward to full-fledged delusion. How many times had I combed her wet hair, brushed her dry hair, made ponytails, and trimmed bangs, usually with my own combs and brushes? We had seen no evidence whatsoever, other than her very recent scratchings.

While my husband rushed out to the pharmacy for some napalm to nuke the beasts, I wondered what to do immediately. Let’s see. Pouring boiling water over her head was out, smacking her with a fly swatter wouldn’t work, stepping on her head to stomp on the bugs might be considered child abuse, so I did the next best thing. I gathered a few facts from the internet, which was full of homemade remedies which sounded better than industrial-strength chemicals applied to the region. Most of us needed all the brain cells we could get.

The remedies ranged from mayonnaise, to vaseline, to cooking oil. The idea was to apply a heavy slather of something all over the head to suffocate the lice for an hour or two. Comb through with a fine-toothed comb to break up and remove any eggs, and rinse with vinegar which loosens the “glue” on the legs of any remaining lice and they fall off.

Mayo and vinegar, who knew? We’d be a walking salad bowl.

When Benedetto returned in record time, anxious to put us out of our misery with his costly chemicals, I told him we were going the natural route, instead. Delighted that he had just wasted his time and money, I watched him place his extra-virgin olive oil under lock and key to keep it from the crazy lady masquerading as his wife. The EVOO was joined by the l’aceto di balsamico, just to be safe, since he heard me mention vinegar as part of the process, too. So there I was, late at night, reaching for the restaurant-sized tub of mayo that is a stock fixture in any Russian home.

Thus began the sloppy slathering process of Mayo-on-Blond, hold the rye. Once the three of us were carefully covered, we wrapped our heads in beach towels and I put them to bed. In a couple of hours, we would continue the process with the tedious comb-through, rinse-out, and vinegar dousing. Mix with some arugula and croutons and we might develop a bistro-spa-parasite package for Little Ladies Who Lunch.

During the night, the suffocating lice jumped ship by the dozens, from her head to the towel, some escaping onto the pillow. That’s okay. They were all goners on their last breath, destined for the Great Lice Graveyard of the hot-water washing machine. But even following the vinegar rinse, the nits still held on for dear life, little dots along individual strands of hair. When they get ready to hatch in another six days, we’d whack them again.

“Did you know about the lice?” I asked Little One, during the second step of our late-night treatment process.

“Da, Mama, I would see them sometimes on my pillow. I didn’t want you to be upset,” she nodded.

“You know, you can tell me anything. Better to take care of it right away,” I rubbed her back, reassuring her. I wondered if one day she would tuck an arsenal of weapons under her bed, or join some terrorist group, or start with other risky behaviors, and then not share the news with me, in case it would “upset” me….

This was the same daughter who had come to us with 21 cavities in her teeth. In some odd fluke of nature, the evening after her birthday, two teeth developed huge abcesses and we needed to have them pulled. It was the next night that the Great Lice Horde made their appearance. I was really reaching my limit. What was next, frogs and boils?

From all that I heard, we were blessed to have avoided other common parasitic conditions (or so I imagine-!) which would involve the destruction or thorough dousing in boiling water of all bedcovers, floorcovers, clothing, and upholstered furniture. Oh joy. Instead, we got plantars wart, athlete’s foot, and dental issues too numerous to mention. These were the unfortunate fallout of years of institutionalized incarceration and neglect, and the plagues which followed hard on the heels of most any internationally-adopted child.

But how I read the narrative, there was no Promised Land end-of-the-rainbow without some plagues scattered along the way.

So keep reading, the story’s not over, yet.

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