I’ve been through potty training, stomach bugs and weird rashes. I’ve wiped my kids’ noses and their bottoms. I’ve let them spit stuff into my hand and picked gum off the bottom of their shoes. Like all moms, I know parenting can me a yucky job.
But nothing, I mean nothing, in all my years of motherhood prepared me for the horrors of head lice. The grueling, maddening, traumatic horrors of head lice. Head lice is hell—10 stages of itchy hell.
Stage 1: Denial
My daughter complained of an itchy head. So what. Last week she thought she had a brain tumor, and the week before that she was sure she was allergic to dairy. I find it’s best to just let these things ride for a day or two. Usually nothing comes of it. Usually.
Stage 2: The Discovery
If you have never leaned down to kiss your precious child on the top of the head only to see her scalp crawling with strange brown bugs, then I cannot even explain it to you. Shock! Horror! Mortification!
Stage 3: Online Confirmation
Once you’ve discovered that your child is infested with some sort of insect, you race to Google for answers. Could it be something else? Anything else? But no. Google Images confirms what you already knew. She has lice.
Stage 4: Weighing Your Options
Next you research natural treatments. You use aluminum-free deodorant and only buy organic sunscreen. There has to be a way to treat this without the use of harsh chemicals. Let’s see, mayonnaise, olive oil, vinegar, sounds good…but then you glance over at the rest of your children scratching their heads. You feel an unpleasant tingling in your scalp. Is it your imagination? Is there such a thing a psychosomatic head lice? Maybe. But why take chances? Is bug bombing your house too drastic? Eventually you settle on a combination of vinegar, olive oil and a heavy dose of chemicals much like the ones you’ve spent the last 12 years trying to avoid.
Stage 5: Frantic Shopping
Initially you want to burn down your house and start over with all new stuff. But once your husband talks you down off of that ledge, you take quick stock of what you need to buy and replace. It’s time for a run to the store for vinegar, olive oil, shower caps, new hair brushes, new hair ties, new headbands, new bobby pins and three or four bottles of wine. Oh and, of course, multiple bottles of harsh chemical shampoo with which you will douse yourself, your husband and all of your children. A couple hundred dollars later and you are ready to begin.
Stage 6: The Treatment
Line up. Hold your breath. Cover your eyes. Lather up. Set a timer. Rinse. On to the next child. No whining. No complaining. And the kids better keep it together too!
Stage 7: Nit-Picking
If you ever worry that you aren’t spending enough quality time with your kids, consider taking up nit-picking. It will give you hours, literally countless hours, of one-on-one time with your child, allowing you to focus entirely on every single hair on her head. About two or three hours in, you begin to think that you would rather be doing anything, anything, than meticulously combing through individual strands of hair. This is worse than that time you had to get gum out of her hair after that…oh shit…that sleepover. You’ve got some phone calls to make.
Stage 8: Notification of Your Victims
I didn’t look this up in my Emily Post book, so I’m not exactly sure what etiquette dictates, but I find the best way to inform one’s friends that one has exposed their families to head lice is via text message. Something like this:
Bad news. We have lice. So so so sorry. [Insert a series alternating of icky face and despair emojis.]
Stage 9: Blame
You know you’ll have to face your friends at some point. And an appropriate emoji only goes so far in smoothing over an awkward situation. What you really need is someone to blame. Where did your kid get lice? At school? At gymnastics? At the mall? You’ll probably never know, but you’ll have plenty of time to ponder the mystery while you are doing laundry round the clock.
Stage 10: Obsessive Compulsive Cleaning
Sheets, pillows, stuffed animals. What can’t be laundered has to be vacuumed, packed up or tossed out. This should only take about three or four weeks of your life. It would be less, but you will have to take occasional breaks, if only to eat, sleep and nit-pick.
Once you make it through stage 10, and trust me you will make it, life does eventually return to normal. I still cringe every time one of my kids tries on a hat at the mall or has to be fitted for a new bike helmet, but most days our time in head lice hell is just a faint memory. Except the nit-picking. To this day, I still can’t resist the urge to poke through my kids’ hair now and then—just in case.