It rates right up there with death and divorce on the trauma scale. The short-term effects are immediate and powerful, tossing aside your family’s peaceful existence like a mobile home in a Texas tornado.
Stuffed animals will be murdered. Washing machines could explode from excessive use. Parents almost certainly will go berserk.
But once the immediate storm has calmed, there are long-term effects. They comprise what could be called PTLD, or Post Traumatic Lice Disorder. There is no known cure.
Five years ago, when my daughter was in third grade, she came home from school with a raging case of head lice. Only I didn’t know it. For a very long time. As in weeks and weeks.
To squelch any nominations for Bad Mommy of the Year, I will say in my defense that my daughter has waist-length, thick, wavy brown hair. It’s hard to see anything in there, and yes, OK, I’m significantly over 40 and … now where did I put my reading glasses? I never saw or suspected a thing until that fateful day when I decided to use a blow dryer instead of letting her hair dry naturally.
The image of hundreds, and I mean hundreds, of bugs flying out of her hair to escape the heat remains burned into my retinas.
And thus began a hellish six weeks of chopping hair to chin length, washing hot bleached loads of bedding every day, steam cleaning all upholstered surfaces, suffocating beloved toys inside garbage bags, applying rounds of chemical and “natural” treatments, enduring endless comb-out sessions, checking everyone’s hair daily, and lying awake at night imagining bugs crawling through my scalp. (Are you itching yet?)
What I didn’t anticipate was the long-term effects of Post Traumatic Lice Disorder – that you’ll see potential bugs for years afterward and that you’ll take every step possible to prevent their reappearance in your family’s life. Some might call this obsessive, but I call it kicking some serious lice ass. Here are just a few prevention strategies:
Mandatory hoodies: Whenever going to a movie or riding on an airplane, bring a hoodie. Who cares if it’s 106 degrees outside? Up goes the hoodie on the back of the seat, and voila, there is zero hair-to-upholstery contact. Panic if hoodies go out of style.
Public seating: You can’t always anticipate what upholstered furniture encounters you might have, or you forget to bring a hoodie. In those situations, sit ramrod straight, don’t lean back, and if asked to relax … claim allegiance to Jane Austen and proper Victorian posture.
Coat and backpack segregation: Think about your kids’ classroom, P.E. class, or any time a group of kids gets together. Their coats and backpacks end up thrown into a heap on the floor or somewhere else. Just close your eyes and imagine the little shits (bugs, not kids) gleefully playing tag and hopscotch inside that pile. Drill it into your kids to put their coats and backpacks in a separate area from everyone else’s.
Preventive products: There’s a line of natural hair products called Fairy Tales that claims to prevent future lice experiences. The products smell great, and they leave your hair soft and natural. Who knows if Fairy Tales really works or if other strategies (see above re: public seating, hoodies, etc.) deserve the credit? But why risk the wrath of the lice gods?
Trying on of hats: Needless to say, this is viewed as highly risky behavior. May as well stick a dirty needle in your arm or sit on a toilet seat at the state fair. When you or your kid plops on a hat in a store, think of all the hundreds of people who have done the same thing before you showed up. You’re not trying on a hat. You’re trying on a lice factory. Be sure to stop on the way home and buy a steam cleaner and nit comb. You’ll need them soon.
Even if friends and family are aware of your PTLD, don’t expect them to indulge you.
A friend casually mentioned that her young daughter has frequent lice infestations. My ass bolted off her couch like a rocket off the NASA launch pad. We have liftoff! My friend, who is, shall we say, relaxed about her housekeeping skills, seemed amused by my reaction. She advised that since I seemed “really paranoid about it,” I should stop by Walgreen’s and get a new product called Licefreee! (apparently so effective it’s spelled with an exclamation point and three “e’s). “We use it whenever we have an infestation,” she said breezily.
A couple of summers ago, my ex-husband took our daughter to a crowded outdoor street fair near our home in Portland, Oregon. They went to a photo booth at the fair and posed for some goofy pictures. The next day I glanced at the strip of photos, and my heart lurched. There was my daughter’s smiling face under a variety of hats (!!!) kindly provided by the photo vendor. I think I actually lost consciousness for a few minutes. Then I drove back to Walgreen’s for another dose of Licefreee!
The important thing to keep in mind if you’ve endured a lice epidemic is … perspective. It’s not the worst thing in the world, and there are far more traumatic events than can befall a family. Keep reminding yourself of that as you hose down the kids’ sleeping bags and clothes with anti-lice spray before sending them off to summer camp. And don’t forget to pack hoodies.
Related post: The 5 Stages of Lice