My mom adventures in Fort Collins


Another Gratitude Post: Day 18 (Alternatively titled “Lice: A Hate Story”)

This is the getting to the end of the gratitude posts I started in November. I’m so terrible at keeping commitments. I’m great at keeping commitments that have some bearing on life: I remember to pay water bills (most of the time), I regularly keep track of when I need to pick up my kids, and I frequently remember to have food in the fridge. But remembering birthdays, keeping track of what I said I’d do for someone two weeks ago, finding time to exercise? Not my strong suit.

However, I have a source of gratitude: Our family is lice-free. While this may seem like an everyday occurrence to many, it’s a reason for celebration around here.

I remember when I lived in Nepal, working as a volunteer with a Jesuit volunteer organization. My roommate and I would say something that we were thankful for every night around the dinner table. After spending a lot of time adjusting to the diet and various bouts of bacterial dysentery, a frequent source of gratitude was our Health. You see, when you are often healthy, health is taken for granted. Likewise, when you are free of bugs in your hair, you don’t think to stop and be grateful for your parasite-free head.

My daughter--with a head full of Nix--on Christmas Eve Eve

My daughter–with a head full of Nix–on Christmas Eve Eve

When you KNOW you have lice, you have a few options. I didn’t know all of those options then and I wasn’t about to be delayed by my internet searches, so I ran straight to the local drugstore, talked with the pharmacist (who acted bored, quite frankly), and bought some permethrin-laced pesticide that would kill those blasted bugs.

In retrospect, slathering a known neurotoxin all over our heads was not the best way to celebrate Christmas, but it was a bonding experience. If I had to do it all over again (saying a quick prayer right now), I would skip the $26 lice kits (yep, $26 a piece, making it a pitiful $100 purchase around Christmas-time), get at lice comb or two and bunch of good movies.

This is an image: kids on the floor, spotlight on their noggins, mom & dad carefully combing through their heads

This is the image: kids on the floor, spotlight on their noggins, mom & dad carefully combing through their heads

Where did we get the lice? I’m pretty sure, based on the 300 or so nits I pulled from her head, that Scout had them first. Her school has had a number of lice cases this year, and I can only think she must  have somehow brought them home from school. If you do your research, it’s actually not all that common to get lice from hats or keeping your jacket next to another jacket. Lice like to live on people’s heads, so they don’t hang out on the floor or the desks–they pretty much need head-to-head contact to transfer from one person to another. They cannot jump. They crawl awkwardly, and it’s sort of a mystery how Scout got it, but somehow, some way, they became part and parcel of Christmas of 2013.

That we all got it from one another is no mystery. We constantly bed share–well, our girls share a bed frequently and Cory & I share a bed–and we read stories to the girls in their bed, propped up against pillows. How was I to know that this put me right in the line of fire of those buggers? The big problem with lice, other than making you feel like a dirtball, is that they are freakishly annoying to get rid of. You must remove all the nits, and the only way to do that is by sliding the little egg sac (probably the size of a droplet of water) down the hair shaft. Did I mention that I estimate that Scout had 300 or so nits?

At first, our kids did well with the removal. “Come, sit on the floor while I pour over your head and you can watch copious amounts of TV!” But, as with anything, nitpicking got old. The kids dreaded the whole process. Then we discovered that heat can kill them–BINGO! In addition to the scalp-scraping, we then tried blasting them with the hairdryer until they begged for mercy. It’s no coincidence that my hair dryer died, and I had to get a new one.

The infestation also raised a whole host of issues that made celebrating Christmas at my parents house just a little absurd–keeping our brushes in individual ziplocks and keeping the girls hair tightly tied back in buns & ponytails during our visit. Having lice as a family is an odd situation–it’s a laugh-one-minute-cry-the-next-type of situation, at least it was for me. The kids seemed rather oblivious, thank goodness. I was like a vacuuming, laundering freak of nature for 48 hours or so.

My mom--the brave grandma--holding Ruby who is rockin' the 'up-do'

My mom–the brave grandma–holding Ruby who is rockin’ the ‘up-do’

Here’s the thing, even a parent who is with her kids 24/7 can miss the fact that her kids have bugs running around in her hair. Neither of my kids ever complained of itching, and I never saw them scratch or appear uncomfortable. For Scout, she is very independent and has been washing, rinsing, brushing and combing her hair for the past year or so. Ordinarily, she hates having her hair tied back, so I had not had that many occasions to run through her hair myself. Sure, the school sent home a flyer saying, “Someone in your child’s class has been identified with lice,” but I was the dummy that thought, “Good Heavens, I’d know if my kid had bugs in her hair!” I never even bothered checking. Big mistake. Based on the amount of nits Scout had and the average rate of egg-laying for an adult louse, I’d say she could have had the bugs for a month. A MONTH. Now, you think you had a bad a parenting day? Let me put this in perspective for you: I unknowingly let bugs crawl around in my daughter’s gorgeous, thick chestnut brown hair–and further infest our whole family--all because I assumed that I’d know if my kid had bugs in her hair.

I always say it: parenting is a humbling experience. Again and again, I am humbled. I just wish I didn’t need an expensive, time-consuming lesson like lice to teach me that I can be an arrogant jerkball. The other thing that makes you feel like an ass is that in my inattention to detail, we could have affected other families. I had to call two families that were over for playdates and alert them to the fact that their kids may now have the gift of lice–quite an unconventional Christmas gift. I sent emails to teachers, the Sunday School director and the director of Ruby’s preschool. More than anyone else in the world, I dreaded telling my mom and my brother–the two biggest cleanfreaks that I know. I actually thought my family did rather well with the news–they touched and hugged the kids anyway, isn’t that sweet?

If you’ve never had lice, then kudos to you. I checked that one off the list and I will be perfectly happy not to relive this little rite-of-passage for the school-age set. If you have an experience of lice or anything even slightly related, I’d love to hear about it. C’mon, it’s okay to come out of the lice closet.

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2 Comments so far
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I’ve had an itchy scalp for a few weeks. I thought it was just dry skin then I pulled a louse off of my head yesterday. I had my mother comb through my hair with a nit comb and then slept with my hair slathered in mayo under a shower cap. I washed my hair this morning and combed through. Then I had my mother go through my hair with the nit comb and she found more lice and nits. I was hoping to get rid of the lice in a couple of days but it looks like it might take longer. So here I sit slathered in mayo hoping to suffocate the little bugs while I read other people’s stories.

Comment by onetuffmama

Aw, welcome to the club, onetuffmama! We are a group of survivors, us liceys. I hope that the mayo works, and that you get all those critters. I appreciate you coming out of the closet for the comment, it takes a brave person to say, “I am slathering my head in mayo in hopes of suffocating the bugs in my hair.” If it makes you feel better, I had a crazy itchy head the other day and marched straight up to my husband and made him look at it. It was nothing but the phantom lice that will probably live with me forever. Sigh.

Comment by jaymers




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