It was one of my biggest fears as a mom. But in cold weather climates, where the drop in temperatures means that coats and hats will inevitably end up in a lice-conducive pile on a kindergarten classroom floor, lice are a fact of life.
I made it as mom for 10 years without encountering the little beasties. I spent most of today elbow deep in my six year old daughter’s hair.
I’m not going to sugar coat it folks, it’s a nightmare. There are bugs crawling around in your kid’s hair and feasting on their blood. Once you manage to get those suckers out, the eggs are everywhere. You have to get every single one of the pencil tip sized eggs, or you are right back to square one. It took me more than 6 hours to completely delouse and nitpick my daughter’s hair. Do you know what the maximum time a child can sit perfectly still with their head cocked to the perfect delousing angle? Anecdotally speaking, I’m guessing two minutes.
Thirty six hours ago, I knew nothing about lice. But then came the phone call from the school nurse. Lice has been going around. She was doing routine lice checks. Nell has lice. She had the spiel down pat… “This is nothing to be ashamed of, this does not reflect on your child’s hygiene.” Ok, great. Got it. But wait… Can the dog get them? Can you check my other two kids while they are there? Oh… AND WHAT THE FUCK AM I SUPPOSED TO DO NOW? Siri helped me with that last one.
I was totally shell shocked. When Nell got off the bus, I didn’t even want to touch her. I felt itchy. She is a very clean kid, but I was looking at her and thinking of Pig-Pen from Charlie Brown. It’s one of those moments in parenting when it’s abundantly, painfully clear that YOU are the grown up. YOU have to take care of business. There is NOTHING fun about this part of parenting.
I took my oldest to a swim team function and when my swim team friend-quaintances asked, “How are you,” I said what most people would say, “I’m sorry I’m a little shell shocked right now, I just found out my daughter has lice.” (I know that most people don’t say this).
And this is what I learned. Lice is kind of this awesome parenting equalizer.
First of all, in places like Maine, where half the year people are wearing coats and jackets, pretty much every kid, especially girls, gets lice. And it sucks. There is no sugar coating it. There is laundry to wash, stuffed animals to bag up and sterilize, recent play dates to inform, and hours upon hours of nitpicking. And that’s just the first day.
But lice isn’t serious. There are no long term ramifications. Nobody dies from lice. It’s this terrible thing that we can commiserate about, but nobody that has been through it is judging you. And there is comedy gold there… like the lady describing in detail how romantic it was to have her husband nitpick her for two weeks. (By the way, please don’t use the metaphor “nitpick” unless you truly equate it to picking through another person’s scalp, hair by precious hair).
Lice happens whether you are a great housekeeper or a mediocre one. Nobody is an expert on lice care, because there is no easy way to deal with it. If someone tells you they are an expert, they are probably charging $200 an hour to professionally delouse your child. Yes, there are professional delousers, and yes, I googled it thinking it would be my silver bullet. But there are no silver bullets to a head full of lice. There aren’t any huge philosophical rifts in the lice care world. There are no lice care debates that blow up on your Facebook feed. Lice infestations – don’t you love that word? – are universally hated, and almost universally treated the same way… with a comb, and as much patience and humor as you can muster.
Every person I talked to about lice told me what worked for them, and told me some horror stories, and gave me a bit of an emotional hug. You’ve got this. It sucks, but you’ve got this. And don’t stop checking for a month. And comb twice a day. And this sucks, but you’re totally going to get through. But oh my god, every person in the house got them. Good luck. We shaved everybody’s head in the house. May the Force be with you.
So I’m having a glass of wine at the end of my first full day of dealing with lice. Nell and I had a very snuggly day that involved Christmas movies, the couch, a nit comb, and a bowl of water. I can hug her again without cringing. We are totally going to get through this.
Carolyn Smith Fernald is a mother of three, a writer, a songwriter, a wife, and a friend, who tries to juggle as many of these things as possible in and around Portland, Maine. She is currently experiencing a career renaissance as an SEO analyst and social media consultant. Her musings on motherhood, SEO and Fantasy Football can be found on twitter @asthecrowfl13s. Check out her music here and contact her at Carolyn dot fernald at gmail dot com.