Do you know the most terrible four-letter word a mother can hear? No, not a toddler repeating Mommy’s potty mouth. Not a ‘tweener testing the boundaries of colorful vocabulary. This word gets tossed around willy-nilly, with not a “bleep” to be heard, but I guarantee just reading it will make your skin crawl. Or at least itch. Lice. The most feared four-letter word for any parent to hear. And we got it. Twice.
The first discovery came over the summer. We were kool-aid dying hair and discovered creepy-crawlies on the middle daughter’s head. I immediately put all the hair in ponytails and ran to the nearest drugstore. Hanging my head in shame and hiding behind dark sunglasses, I bought bottles of lice treatment, new hair clips, and a bottle of wine. I had the girls strip their beds, bag their stuffed animals, and vacuum EVERYTHING. I spent hours combing out the hair, inspecting each strand for tiny little nits. I threw load after load of bedding and pillows through a hot wash cycle and an extra-long, extra-hot dry cycle. And then I repeated it. Every. Licing. Day. A solid ten days later, I felt pretty confident I had performed a lice genocide.
Life resumed its normal chaos. School started. Then, so did the itching.
The youngest daughter had it now, but even more terrifying, so did I! The shame. The disgust. The humiliation that came with this discovery was unlike any I had ever felt before. I had to tell the school who then had to check entire classes of kids and send home the email to the parents. There had been lice in the class. Oh, the humanity! I actually saw mothers physically shudder at the thought of their child having been exposed to lice. And I totally understand it! Before it was my family, I had the same reaction! And honestly, rightfully so. Not only is the thought of the tiny creepy-crawlies creepy and crawly, but the work and time and expense that go into getting rid of it can also be totally overwhelming!
This time, I called in the big guns and sought professional help.
I did the whole rigamarole at home just like the last time, and I made an appointment with a local lice clinic for the whole family to be checked and treated as necessary. The woman inspected all five of us. She deemed three out of five clear. Using a specially designed heat treatment, she ‘dehydrated’ any nits or bugs on the affected ones. Then she combed us out and slathered everyone with some magic solution to protect us as we came home, armed with a to-do list to delouse the house.
The staff was friendly, kind, and non-judgmental. Most importantly, the treatment worked. It was worth every penny! The lice and nits were gone!
But the lice paranoia stuck around.
I still check my hair strand by strand in the shower. I take that dreaded fine-tooth comb to my girls’ heads about every week. I throw pillows and pillowcases through the hot cycle of the dryer more than I did in days B.C. (before critters). I threw out all the hairbrushes and Amazon Primed new ones. And we exclusively use shampoo and conditioner with mint, tea tree, and rosemary, so we also smell minty fresh!
The embarrassment lingers. I hesitated to put my name on this. But I decided I would not let the lice win. I would share my story, if for nothing else than to give a pep-talk to any other moms in dark sunglasses and ponytails lurking the back aisle of the drug store. Hang in there, warriors! Don’t give up! You will win this battle and you can hold your critter-free head high!
To those who have not had to deal with this problem themselves–well, in the words of Napoleon Dynamite, “Lucky”! Be grateful for your good fortune. Lice do not discriminate. It could happen to anyone.
If you know someone who is struggling with this scourge of the scalp, share some sympathy. And maybe a stiff drink. But not a hug…because…lice.
This post was originally written in 2019 and updated in 2023.