Forget Dante’s nine circles of hell. If you have kids in elementary school, you’ve already lived through worse.

Until my eldest started kindergarten, I didn’t realize just what families were up against. I had no idea that while elementary schools turn out well-instructed minds, they are also breeding grounds for parasitic little monsters. All over the world, there are parents standing up at school information assemblies complaining, “What is with the damn lice?! Can’t the district do something? My kid has ones the size of rats on his head!”

Were they actually the size of rats, they’d be a lot easier to track and kill.

Think it can’t happen to you? Think again.

Welcome to the nine lousy circles of Hell.

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First Circle: LIMBO

It happened: those lousy parasites have taken up residence on your child’s head. They’ve made themselves comfy on brush bristles and pooped on the pillowcases. A Google search has confirmed that those teeny weeny things stuck like glue to the hair are nits. And, holy moly, there are a lot of them. You feel ill. You feel numb. That’s okay. In fact, it’s good. You’ll need to feel nothing as you fork over a ridiculous amount of money for the special shampoo at the pharmacy.

Second Circle: TERROR

Your conscious mind has finally grasped that your home is infested. You are on edge, vacuuming cushions and washing clothes and bagging stuffed animals. You boil brushes and freeze hair bands. You are afraid to cuddle with your own offspring. No more bedtime stories with his head on your shoulder. You wave goodnight from the doorway.

Third Circle: DESPAIR

You’re disgusted, exhausted, overwhelmed, and want the whole situation to go away. You hide your child from family and friends, claiming she has a terribly bad case of the flu and hope no one stops over to see the incessant scratching and lousy head. You just want to curl up under your bedsheets, but you can’t. You have to wash them.

Fourth Circle: DECEIT

Word gets out that your child has lice. You titter and insist they’re gone. An extremely mild case, you explain. Caught it from that nasty little kid in the first grade. But gone. All gone. You say this as you discretely pick a louse from the back of your child’s neck and crush it between your fingers.

Fifth Circle: ANGER

You think you’ve gotten rid of them but you didn’t. Your child and you scream at each other every time the comb comes out. Pain throbs behind your eyes and you worry you’ll burst a blood vessel. Maybe if you do something drastic, just this once, the lice will go away. Out comes the kerosene.

Sixth Circle: GUILT

You never should have used the kerosene. Your child looks like she came out of a deep fryer. You should be ashamed of yourself. Besides, it didn’t work.

Seventh Circle: VIOLENCE

What the *&%+ do you have to do to kill these things?

Eighth Circle: PARANOIA

You begin to see signs of lice everywhere and on everyone. On your boss, who scratches her temples as she thinks; on your spouse who never did get control of that dandruff; on every child who comes within 10 feet of your home. Instead of offering visitors drinks or snacks when they come over, you offer them an obligatory head wrap. You’ll never try on hats in a store again.

Ninth Circle: CAPITULATION

You realize the lice will never go away on their own. All you can do is persevere and resign yourself to never letting your guard down. Dealing with lice becomes as routine and as mildly unpleasant as clipping toenails or plucking eyebrows. Friday night used to be family game night. Now it is family lice night. The only game you play is just how fast you can comb and catch those critters.

Three weeks later the comb finally comes out clean. There is no more scratching. You did it. You really did it. Life can go on…until the following month when you receive a school circular with the header, “Lice outbreak. Please check your children.”

Your head starts to itch.

Take heart. Head lice happen. But in a few years your child will be in middle-school where adolescence rears its ugly, greasy head. Greasy is good. It’s harder for the lice to cling to.