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The Dreaded Letter…

Boom!  I got the letter, the dreaded letter.  It is the letter that instills complete dread in every mother out there… the lice letter from the school nurse.

It always starts the same,

“A student in your child’s class has lice.”

They then proceed to tell you “not to worry”.  OK, I never did worry until… we got lice.  Worry is an understatement of what I go through when we get that letter, which by the way, they send home in a sealed envelope.  It’s as if they know that if any other parent with a child in another class might have seen that letter leave the school with your child, sheer panic would ensue the town.  Every mother of a previous lice infected head would quarantine there child, because, quite honestly, missing weeks of school would be preferable to getting lice!

When I get “the letter” I break out in sweats and I start to pace and panic.  If I had been told ebola was present in the class, I would feel better.  I get a little hysterical.

My first act after the bomb hits, is to immediately question my child.  Who was the infected kid?  This often takes some investigative work.  Very often, they don’t know.  This normally gives me a sense of relief because it means it wasn’t an immediate friend who they could have easily picked it up from.  The threat remains though… it could be a kid they sat next to in class.  Who was absent?  When were they absent?  How long were they out?  They could have shared a hat or some other item that would allow that louse to transfer to my child, who may, within 8 hours, have it crawling through their hair, feeding.  Within 8 hours, that bug or its babies could have transferred themselves to another child in the house and Boom! again, the whole house is infected.

The protection phase then begins:

First, hair washing STOPS IMMEDIATELY.  I don’t care if they have just sweated for two hours and the hair is wet… it stays.  Besides, extra dirty hair means extra protection.  Grease slick or not, they are going to school looking filthy but with a major protective shield from infection.  Major embarrassment is again, preferable to getting lice.  We avoid infection at any cost here.

You better believe that hair is TIGHTLY pulled back when returning to school.  I mean the type of pulled back where their eyebrows threaten to reach up into their hair line.  A pony followed by a tight braid is key.  No loose hairs can be out there, as they are a port of call for the bugs.

Finally, the MOST IMPORTANT step, hair spray and gel are thickly applied.  Now I know that most people swear by the pretty lice spray that you can get at the store with witch hazel in it.  Let me tell you… its definitely not 100% effective.  The special lice experts have informed me, that a huge barrier is the only protection that keeps those bad guys away.  We go big here.  Not only does it provide protection, but it keeps the flyaways from flying away during the day.

Once the threat has passed, we can go back to washing hair and I breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Why the intense reaction?  Let me go back in time to one of the worst weeks of my life…

School got out.  Aah!  No more rides to sports and activities.  First week of vacation and its time to relax and hit the couch for a week in pajamas and unwind.  The kids don’t want to go anywhere and I am on board with that idea.

Maddy had been complaining about an itchy head for a week but naively, as a mom who had never dealt with infection, I failed to look for the bugs.  I wasn’t even quite sure I would recognize them but I had decided that we wouldn’t ever get lice.  Lice was for other families.  I assumed, again… wrongly… that it was just a dry scalp.  See, my kids take after me and suffer from dry flaky scalp.

My head was itchy at the time as well… but again… dry scalp.  Time to break out the tar shampoo and rid myself of the itch.  Funny thing was it wasn’t really working very well. Oh, well! Must be really dry or something!

Enter knowledgeable babysitter.  I was happily browsing the aisles of Target when she calls.

“Maddy has lice…”

“No, babysitter, that is impossible.  Are you sure?”

“Yes, they are crawling. Oh, and Piper looks like she has them too, but I couldn’t be sure.”

I gagged.  Gagged right there in Target and my own scalp kicked up the itch.  (In fact, my scalp is getting itchy right now just thinking about it.) It was like the flashbacks in movies where the character puts all the signs together that the murderer was actually their husband… they had ignored the signs, not believing the truth… it wasn’t fathomable.  Well, I had ignored the signs, but they all had pointed to lice.

I actually pushed the cart as fast as I could, running behind it, to the lice aisle.  There was a woman there who was very helpful, from a distance.  She clearly had suffered the dreaded lice infestation and wasn’t gonna get too close.  I literally grabbed every shampoo and comb available on the market and threw them in the cart, hoping to stop the spread to the rest of the kids.  Let me tell you that these products are NOT cheap.  Thank God that it was only two kids and maybe me.  Wrong again.

I immediately buzzed Brody and Conor, IMMEDIATELY.  Obviously not down to the skin.  I really didn’t trust my use of the clipper.  Phew, buzzing meant nothing could get into their hair.

After hearing horror stories from friends who had gone down this road, I decided to just call in the experts.  We hired a nit picker.  She showed up at our house, a beautiful girl.  I had pictured her in my head as this gross Nanny McPhee type of woman.  My first thought was why? Why would anyone want to do this?  She explained that, first, she needed the money and second, she liked picking them.  Apparently, it was like popping a zit for her.  She loved it.


Maddy and Piper were confirmed cases.  I sat down and sure enough, I had it.  The kids started getting competitive over who had it worse… fighting to be the worst case!  Maddy took first prize, with visible bites, and I came a close second.  Piper was in third.  It took 2.5 hours to pick our heads, one strand at a time.  We were covered in olive oil, which she swore suffocated the bugs.

The nit picker thought it was wise to just check the rest of the kids.  Sure, why not.  They didn’t have it.

2.5 hours later, all kids and myself were confirmed, even the boys.  Well, our regular weekend sitter, Kelly, should probably be checked… She drove up and I died of guilt when she was confirmed.  Dan came home, and yes, even with a short buzz cut, he had lice.  8 cases of lice and a HUGE bill to have the initial lice picked.

What you don’t realize, if you are a newbie, is that after the first picking, eggs are still left in the hair and then they can hatch and release the next wave of lice.  She explained that we would need to put a large amount of olive oil in the hair each night and comb each strand again, then we would need to cover their heads with bags to sleep in.  In the morning, we would need to use large, and I mean large, amounts of Dawn dish soap, comb it through each strand with the lice comb again and then let them shower and shampoo.  We would need to do this for a week.  Now, the upside to this method, she said, was that we wouldn’t have to wash sheets etc, because the lice wouldn’t jump (oh, yeah, did I mention that they can jump) from the sheets to our hair.  They wouldn’t go near the olive oil and our hair was encased in bags anyway.  Bedsides, there was a large re-infestation rate with those chemicals that other people put on their heads.  We only had to do this for a week, every night and morning.  OK, doable.

NO, NOT DOABLE.  When you have 5 kids, 4 with super thick hair, this takes HOURS both morning and night.  I would start combing at night while some kids were eating.  45 minutes a head… times 5 kids.  That is almost 4 hours of PICKING LICE.  My arms ached and we quickly finished bottles of olive oil.  After everyone had been put to bed, it was finally my turn.  I would start on my head at 10:00 and finish around 11.  Talk about exhaustion.

The next morning, the process would begin again… Each kid was covered in Dawn dish soap and scrubbed followed by a thorough combing.  Another 45 minutes per child.  Then it was my turn.  See you later morning.  By lunch time, I fed them and we were given 3 hours of blissful relaxation… while I continued to try to do the rest of the house duties.

Then it was back to the drawing board.  I realized that out of my 24 hour days, I was spending almost 10 hours picking lice.  I am not joking.  10 hours. By day 3, I was in tears morning and night.  It was horrible.  We resorted to nothing but pizza delivery for those three days.  We ate it for dinner, then for lunch the next day.  I knew I would never be able to keep this up.

I ended up breaking down completely in a pile of utter dismay.

The buck stopped there.  I would agree to wash all the sheets, all the towels, all the blankets, all the couch cushions, all the pillows, all the stuffed animals… all of it, if I didn’t have to pick anymore bugs or spend anymore time oiling and dish soaping anyone’s hair.  I broke out the big guns… give me the f*ing chemicals.

Two days later and two treatments later, we were free.  I would pull back the blankets and there were dead lice on the sheets.

It took 3 weeks to wash all the piles of stuff that needed to get washed, putting the two loads of wash a day that I normally do, on the back burner.  The clothes were now piling up.  Then I needed to run the sheets again to be free of lice, eggs, whatever…

It didn’t matter.  We were in the clear.  The lice was gone.  I swore… I WOULD DO EVERYTHING IN MY POWER TO NEVER, EVER HAVE LICE IN THE HOUSE EVER AGAIN!

So, do I freak out about the lice letter? … Heck, yeah!  I will have a child in the school system for the next 20 years.  Short of a vaccine… they will always be out there, ready to infect my kids, my house and take over my life.

Who’s head’s itchy now???!!!

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