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So one of the reasons (the reason) May was the month from hell was the moment I discovered we had head lice.
It started a couple of weeks earlier, with Eliott and Carter both complaining of itchy heads.
Now. Okay. Duh. We’ve been in elementary school long enough to know that an itchy head always means “Check for lice.” And I have in the past. And I did this time. More than once. And because I had no idea what I was looking for, I didn’t see anything.
Instead, I took to the biggest mom group I belong to on Facebook and posted:
In my defense, several people agreed that Tresseme had been an itch-inducing product for them as well. And several after that recommended Dove and various other brands with tea tree oil in the ingredients. Clearly, this was a discussion of scalp itch caused by a particular product. When one mom sort of self-righteously added, “Check for lice [grimacing face emoji],” I couldn’t even type the appropriate words to convey my annoyance. Instead, I forum-slapped her with the eggplant emoji.
In my defense, again, I was under some serious pedicure-induced relaxation, and thought I could start a new Internet revolution by which the supremely arbitrary and far under-utilized eggplant emoji would become, for me, a symbol to represent my inability to politely express a “Nobody asked you,” or maybe, “Nobody likes you,” or simply, “Can you even read?”
You know. The kinds of things I could also never say to my students, but sure wouldn’t have minded a real life actual eggplant to smack them over the head with whenever one of many inane comments escaped through their little pie holes.
The most inside of inside jokes, if you will, until some magical moment when I would Instagram-slap one on The Fat Jewish and he would make it go viral.
For good measure, I went ahead and eggplant emoji’ed a few more posts, some friends, some strangers. I fired off my own self-righteous text informing John of my genius plan. His response led me to Urban Dictionary.
Turns out, the eggplant emoji has already been taken.
Meanwhile, in itchy-head land, my oldest daughter finally pinpointed the problem when, in the middle of the living room, she stuck a lone finger up to her scalp, scratched a few times, and then put her fingernail up to my face and announced, “Mommy. Every time I scratch my head I find one of these little bugs.”
Somebody go ahead and kill me with an eggplant right now.
A few facts about head lice:
- Lice are tiny. Lice are supremely tiny.
- Lice are almost translucent in color.
- Lice do not like the light, so when you shine a big bright light over the affected head, they are most likely crawling out of its glare.
Lice Removal Step 1: Frantically Phone an Experienced Friend
When it comes to lice, there is strength in numbers and absolute misery loves company.
I immediately sent a frantic text to a dear friend, in search of the phone number of a woman who had done a head lice presentation at a MOMS group I once attended. Instead of forwarding me contact info, she immediately called saying she just got rid of lice in her house and she would be over after dinner. In the meantime, she urged me to run to Ulta and buy this:
Can I just take yet another side tangent here to dwell for a moment on the kind of friendships that result in a lice combing party on your back porch on a Friday night after dinner?
Rare friendships, people.
Really rare friendships.
Amidst what might have otherwise been one of the more traumatizing events of my adult life, a voice of calm descended upon my house. This friend (we will call her Jessica) came armed with an extra nit-comb, disposable hair bands, a magnifying glass, and that no-nonsense attitude of experience that put me at ease. She then went through each kid’s head and pointed out what I had missed the first time. She also assured me that all of my reactions were completely normal and it would get better very soon.
It turns out, two out of four children had a mild to moderate infestation. One was virtually clear of all bugs and nits, but we shaved his head anyway. The fourth I cannot remember, but remained 100% clear after treatment that first night.
How To Identify Lice In Your Kid’s Hair
- Look for the little eggs (called nits) not the bugs themselves.
- Lice nits are the size of a pinhead and located directly on the hair usually a quarter of an inch away from the scalp.
- Lice nits are sort of translucent. On dark hair they appear white. On a white napkin they appear pinkish, brownish, burnt orange-ish, or see through.
- Lice nits are typically most abundant along the part, behind the ears, and along the back of the hairline.
- Lice nits are very sticky, so if you find one and try to pick it out, odds are you will not be successful with your fingers alone.
That is pretty much it, honestly. If you have nits, you have bugs. If eggplant lady would have said “Check for lice eggs,” I would have been fine. If you can see physical bugs (say, the size of a sesame seed like the one Eliott thrust upon me) you’ve probably let the lice live there a lot longer than you ever wanted to. Go ahead and wear that Mother Of The Year crown with pride. In fact, you can borrow mine.
Lice Removal Step Two:
Pour Yourself a Big Glass of [Insert Beverage of Choice Here]
You are about to do more laundry than you have in an entire year, but instead of cursing the work, you could, like me, drink-up and take this as a much-needed kick in the pants to get started on that semi-annual deep clean. I’m talking all bedding down to the mattress, all towels, all coats, jackets, backpacks, and anything else made from cloth that could have come in contact with your child’s head.
Also, prepare yourself for tears as all the Lovie’s get quarantined in sealed plastic bags for an unknown amount of time. (We were probably over-cautious but we left all the stuffed animals and anything that could not be washed sealed in the attic until we had gone an entire week of finding nothing on the affected heads.)
Then, I went through all the drawers in all the bathrooms and threw away all our brushes and hair ties. Not that you need any more visuals, but I actually found dead bugs in the white plastic containers that hold the girls’ brushes in their drawer. While I am unsure of how we contracted lice in the first place, I am positive one child spread it to her sister through the close contact (and sharing) of hair brushes. My kids also frequently use my hairbrush.
I boiled our wide toothed combs (for good measure) and hung on to them so we had something for tangles in the upcoming week of lice treatment. I continued to boil combs and plastic hair clips every other night or so until we were completely lice free. I did not continue to change the sheets every night, but I did change the pillow cases frequently.
Like I said, drink up. It is a lot of work.
Lice Removal Step Three: Avoiding Shaved Heads
Eliott and Isaiah were blessed with their mama’s thick locks, and Eliott’s hair is also rather long. Carter and Avery both have much thinner, finer, and lighter hair. I’m not sure at this point who was easiest. All of it was a big huge pain.
The Fairy Tales Lice Survival Kit happens to be an all natural treatment. Not that I was against using chemicals if need be, I simply got this because my friend said it worked. The key ingredients are essential oils, namely: tea tree oil (melaleuca), rosemary oil, citronella, cinnamon, and peppermint oil. I actually had tea tree, rosemary, and peppermint oils on hand anyway, so I proceeded to diffuse them, and also made a room and pillow spray out of them, which doubled as a hair treatment when my Fairy Tales ran out. The kit contains a mousse conditioning treatment, a daily leave-in conditioner spray, a fine-toothed nit-comb called “The Terminator,” and one plastic hair clip. Do yourself a favor and go buy 10 more plastic hair clips.
That first night on the porch we went through the following steps with each kid.
- Dampen hair with water.
- Divide hair into 4 or 6 sections.
- Massage mousse thoroughly into each section and clip in a bun. This is the stuff that will break down the nit glue and allow you to comb out the eggs that are stuck to the hair shafts.
- Wait 20 minutes.
- Spray one section of hair with the conditioning spray. Use The Terminator to comb through the section slowly, wiping the comb on a paper towel after each pass. Here, it might be important to be warned that what comes out of the comb on that first night might make you add a Xanax to that bubbly you just poured. That said, this was by far the very worst of it and I promise that you too will develop the Zen of my friend “Jessica” once the entire process is over. I got there. Eventually.
- Be sure to comb each section of hair in several different directions then re-clip the finished section to get it out of the way and move on to another section. Repeat steps 5 & 6 until you’ve combed through all the hair.
- Rinse (but do not shampoo) hair.
After that first night of treatment you may or may not need to ever use the mousse again. John and I set aside 30 minutes each night to go through the girls’ hair with just the conditioning spray and The Terminator after their baths each night. We pledged to do this until we had gone a solid week without finding anything.
I will admit here that the epidemic lasted 2 full weeks for us. While Eliott’s thick hair took the longest to comb through, nit removal was much more effective than on Carter’s very thin hair. I eventually started cutting out individual hairs with baby fingernail scissors every time I found a nit. Because in the two weeks of combing, we would have nights of finding nothing followed by nights of finding just one or two nits, or just one small bug. It was discouraging, but it ceased to be gross.
When all other lice-removal methods seemed to be taking too long, I broke out my Chi hair straightener. I figured it couldn't hurt to burn the lice and the eggs. This was successful in more ways than one. Click To Tweet
Because here’s the magical thing about getting lice. Now that we’ve had it, I realize that it just isn’t that big of a deal. Honestly, like a virus, I believe it is truly most contagious before you know you’ve got it. Once you begin treatment, it is under control. I never had a single bug or single egg in my very long hair. I know because my dreamy-lover-husband checked me every night. Avery never had a single bug or a single egg after the very first night. Honestly, the time factor infinitely outweighed the ick-factor.
For several years, I dreaded lice like I might dread leprosy if I was visiting the poorest streets of India. And for that matter, I think most of polite society mildly treats the threat of lice as though it is leprosy. Socially speaking, it is one of those things you don’t really want to talk about until it is over. But knowledge and experience, in this instance, made the experience worth it for me.
Like my friend Jessica, I do feel like I could help someone else now that I’ve done it. I also feel like the next time I hear about it, I don’t need to freak out and keep my kids home from school. And if you are wondering how the girls reacted, well, to them it was nothing. I did inform the school that we had been treating the girls over the weekend, and they were sent to the office first thing Monday morning to be checked by the nurse, who declared them to have “some of the cleanest scalps” she had ever seen.
What I didn’t know was that there had been more than one outbreak of lice in the school over the last two years and both my kids had been taken with their class to do group head checks in the gym on more than one occasion. These kids treat it like a fire drill. Because of this, Eliott was perfectly aware that she was the only kid in her 4th grade class who had not had lice yet, and she actually seemed a little relieved to finally be part of the club.
And it is an exclusive club indeed.