There are few things in this world that send a shiver down a parent’s spine more than the dreaded words, “Your child has head lice.” You never think it will happen to your children since you keep a clean home and even cleaner kids. Lice only happens to people who don’t bathe regularly, right?
Wrong. No one is immune to these infectious parasites. They live on the human scalp and feed on blood to survive. The female lice lay eight-10 eggs daily, which mature in less than two weeks and have the capability of living up to 30 days on the scalp. I learned the hard way that not only do lice travel at the speed of light through an elementary school classroom, they can also invade the cleanest heads and have the agility of an Olympic pole vaulter.
My experience with head lice can be summed up in five phases similar to Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief: Denial and anger, followed by bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
When I noticed a tiny population of insects zip-lining down my daughter’s hair shafts, I was certain the dog had given her fleas. Although her school posted warnings about an outbreak of head lice, I never dreamed it would happen to my squeaky clean child. On closer inspection, I discovered hundreds of microscopic eggs in her hair and muffled a scream. MY DAUGHTER HAD HEAD LICE!
I lined up all four of my children and found lice on every one of their heads. Before my husband could sneak out the door that night for a hockey game, I reminded him that he married me for better or worse, and this would definitely fall under the category of “worse.”
First, I made a trip to the drugstore for a lice removal kit. This was more humiliating than purchasing an industrial size box of heavy duty tampons, because even the cashier leaned away from me while ringing up my nit kit.
Once home, my husband and I boiled hairbrushes, vacuumed carpets, sprayed all the upholstery and mattresses in the house with lice repellent, steam-cleaned the car, stripped the beds, and threw a mountain of linens, clothing, and 50 assorted stuffed animals into the dryer. In between this delousing nightmare, we took turns washing and rinsing our children’s hair, then plucking out their nits like monkeys examining each other’s heads in a zoo. Six-and-a-half hours, 531 nits and lice later (yes, I counted), we were parasite free.
We lived in ignorant bliss for approximately 10 days while continuing the preventative measures of washing, rinsing, and spraying, when suddenly my youngest daughter began vigorously scratching her head. It was Lice Invasion Part Deux, and I was seriously angry at whichever parent had been negligent in the delousing process and sent their child to school with a head full of nits. Maybe they didn’t stay up until 3 a.m. running a nit comb through their child’s hair, or maybe they forgot to turn their dryer on a temperature equivalent to the surface of Mercury to burn the bionic bugs out of the family bedding.
Armed with a prescription of toxic nit shampoo and an electronic lice zapper, I went to work on four heads while my husband deloused the house for a second time. Both of my daughters had waist-length hair, but I snipped off their beautiful tresses in an attempt to cut my nit picking time in half. I’m not sure who cried more – me or my daughters – but as they watched me fill a vinegar bowl with dozens of squirming insects the size of weevils, they understood my desperation.
I promised the kids that if they allowed me to inspect their heads daily after school and wrap their hair in a mixture of mayonnaise and vinegar each night, I wouldn’t burn down the house to rid our family of the lice once and for all. They agreed, even though it meant spending a week with sticky hair that reeked of rancid salad dressing.
For weeks we remained ostracized from society, hunkered down in our home like lepers to avoid spreading the mutant parasites to other families. After the first seven days of confinement, I’d memorized the lyrics to every Disney song on the DVDs that my children watched for hours on end. It pushed me to a breaking point in my sanity, which explains why my husband found me curled up in the fetal position on the couch with a glazed look in my eyes.
By the time we experienced a fourth round of head lice in a two-month span, I was a seasoned pro with a nit comb in one hand and a bottle of lice repellent in the other. I could spot a nit a mile away and had no problem donning a shower cap and rubber gloves to inspect the heads of every child on our block. Lice were a fact of life, and we had survived the invasion.
Luckily, our children’s lice never bothered to play hide-the-egg on my scalp or my husband’s. Which is a good thing, because if they had, my house would have been burned down long ago.