No…not that one. Lice. That horrible, no good word, with whom nobody wants to be associated. It’s the four letter word that will temporarily turn your world upside down.

Only at Walmart is there a huge sign for lice.

Only at Walmart is there a huge sign for lice.

We’ve just wrapped up round #2 of these microscopic beasts, who chose to set up camp in my kid’s hair. It started when I got my neighbor’s text, “just found 2 eggs in Clair’s hair”. Oh no. NO. I cannot handle this. Not now. This is bad. SO bad. Not again. Nooooooo!

It’s usually bedtime when the lice text is circulated. Just as the kids are about to drift into dreamland, it’s time to eject them from their warm, comfy nests and begin the check. I comb through every inch of hair. Strand by strand, I hold my breath, heart thumping like a tribal conga drum, waiting to see if the next strand will unleash the nightmare.

The first time my kids had lice, I was totally in denial that our family…my kids…could possibly ever get lice. I know. Seriously, who did I think I was? My kids were swimming 3-6 days a week. I figured chlorine kills everything, right? Wrong.

The elementary school had notified parents that lice was on the loose. Those news flashes always send my kids into a tail spin. Convinced they too had the dreaded creatures, they begged me to check their hair. I told them over and over that they did NOT have it. I thought they were over reacting and I wasn’t about to feed into their frenzy. The girls began complaining that their heads were itchy. “Oh, c’mon! You’re imagining things”, I told them again and again. This went on for several weeks. Their paranoia seemed not to cease.

Turns out they weren’t all that paranoid.

I got the lice call from my son’s preschool. The teachers were doing head checks and his turned up positive. Not only did he have eggs, he had live critters. Lots of them. A full on village was living in his hair. Teachers guessed he’d had them for a while, since they’d hatched. I asked his teacher to check my head too. Just in case. You guessed it. I had ’em too.

The least disgusting image of lice I could find.

The least disgusting image of lice I could find.

I immediately called my daughters’ school and divulged everything. The lice siren was sounded. They were yanked from class, and checked by the nurse. Yep . OMG. So all that complaining about itchy heads had been valid?! …And the Mom of the Year Award goes to…SO. NOT. ME!

I was a Googling fool. I could not get enough information fast enough. I had to know how to exterminate these things…these awful creatures that had taken over my children’s clean, silky tresses. I called a few lice salons. Yes, they do exist. The only ones I could pull up in my searches were astronomically expensive. I’m talking $200 or more, a head. As much as I would’ve loved for someone else to do the dirty work, it was totally out of my price range. No way could we afford $1,000 to make these things go away. Ugh.

I recall having lice as a kid. Shivering, naked in the bathtub, my mom meticulously combed through my long, ultra-thick hair with that infamous metal lice comb. She used pungent smelling liquid poison from the local drug store. To this day, I clearly remember the smell, how cold I was and that it took ions to finish. I don’t remember anything else being a big deal regarding lice.

Grasping for straws, I called the pediatrician. She said lice is a different animal from when we were kids. Over time, it has mutated and become stronger and more difficult to kill. Awesome. So, I was faced with body builder bugs who had picked a massive fight with our family? The doctor prescribed lice killer for us. We needed two rounds each, she said. First round now, second round in a week. We opted for this option, despite the fact that it wasn’t all that cheap either. Each prescription was $40. A quick math calculation revealed the undesirable truth: 4 kids, 1 adult, x2= definitely not in this month’s budget.

Prescription lice treatment.

Prescription lice treatment.

I wasn’t totally confident that the prescrioptions alone would remedy our situation. There were many cyberspace testimonials about how mayonnaise had cured them. In collaboration with the RXs, I did a mayonnaise treatment on each of us. To this day, mayo reminds me of lice. Tea tree oil and rosemary oil became my new BFFs. According to my internet searches, these oils don’t kill lice, but they can help to prevent it. I also bought homeopathic lice remedies from the health food store, along with shampoo that promised to prevent lice. You name it, I’ve tried it.

The weapons

The weapons

More online searching and talking to people lead me to believe that we needed to evacuate our lice ridden home and caravan to a nearby hotel. Apparently if lice don’t find a host, they’ll bite the dust within 24-48 hours. Our extraordinarily kind hearted hotel manager friend took pity on us, and put us up in his hotel for two nights. Things were beginning to look up.

After I’d sealed in our whole sectional couch with black plastic trash bags, I bagged up most of the contents of each kid’s rooms. Every stuffed animal was a suspect. Whatever I didn’t bag and banish to the garage, I washed. Oh, the laundry situation was daunting, to say the least. I struggle to keep up with our family’s every day laundry. Now that dozens upon dozens of loads had been added to the line up, I was beyond overwhelmed.

Maybe I went a little overboard.

Maybe I went a little overboard.

During the lice saga, I ran into a friend. I told her the unabridged version: how I’d ignored the kid’s itchiness complaints and they’d hatched and we all got it. She looked at me with eyes as big as saucers, and in a whisper said, “I really think you shouldn’t go around telling people that”. Really? I’m not one to hide the truth. It is what it is. Lice happens. Obviously it can happen to anyone, at any time. So, why are we all so ashamed of it? When we catch a cold, we don’t care who knows. When we get the flu, we don’t slink around keeping it a big shameful secret.

In fact, I was so open about our family’s lice, that I posted on Facebook about it. I posted all the drama. All of it. And you know what? People told me they were baffled that I’d spoken so candidly about it. Heck, I posted un-glamerous pictures of the kids and me with plastic bags on our heads, while we carved Halloween pumpkins. I showed everyone the garbage bags piled up to the ceiling in the garage, filled with our lice infested belongings. Never did I think twice about it.

Happy Halloween! Don't we look scary?

Getting into the Halloween spirit with bags on our heads.

The kids eventually returned to school, free of lice, and we moved back into our home and unpacked all the trash bags full of belongings. It truly was one of the worst experiences of my life. For months, I lived in fear about a repeat attack.

Fast forward about a year. Round #2. Thankfully only one kid had it this time. These days, when the lice gong sounds, and the warning lights flash, I check everyone’s heads immediately. We’ve had a few false alarms. But, this particular time, my head check had revealed a few nits. Isn’t that word just plain gross? Nits. There they were in all their glory, attached to my daughter’s beautiful brunette hair. How dare they.

There was nothing I could do that night, besides send the group warning text to the moms of every little girl I could think of who had been around my daughter within the past few days.  This time I executed the attack differently. I’d heard of a local lice salon, that was more affordable. Plus, since only one child was affected, that was an avenue I could explore.

The salon’s front door and pamphlets inside the waiting room promised discreet service. There were private rooms, where the culprits got checked. The lice technician, who seemed rather bored with the whole thing, checked all my kids and me. As expected, we were all clean, except the one. For some reason, I was so much calmer about the whole process this time.

Maybe it was the fact that someone else was helping me. Maybe I was just a pro this time. The lice salon told me to just wash what my daughter’s head had touched in the last few days. Wash all bedding, clothes she’d worn and stick anything unwashable in the dryer for 30 min. Not only was the salon treatment quick and efficient, there was no endless bagging up of our home, no moving out to another residence, no alternative treatments.

Our partner in crime, the technician, said that lice really isn’t as easy to catch as people think. Lice can’t jump or fly. They only walk. I marveled at the ease of this lice episode. The hair product they used was a proprietary, chemical free solution.

One week later, we all reported to the salon for follow up checks. We were each given the all clear. I bought peppermint oil to spray in our hair, to help prevent lice from setting up camp in our hair. Apparently are scent driven, and don’t like the smell of peppermint. That’s great news, because, have you ever smelled tea tree oil? It’s nasty. I can deal with smelling like a candy cane though.

This time, I didn’t broadcast to the big wide world of Facebook about our lice affliction. Maybe because it would’ve been publicly outing my one specific kid who had it. Maybe I’m conforming to society’s freakish secretiveness surrounding the almighty louse.

Whatever the case, I do know that four letter word: lice, really isn’t shameful. It’s just an extremely unpleasant part of life. Lice doesn’t mean you’re a filthy person with subpar hygiene. Anyone can get it. In fact, your more likely to get lice if your hair is clean. Lice can’t attach themselves to dirty hair as easily, or hair with lots of product in it.

I sure would like to believe we won’t have to deal with lice ever again. But, with four young kids, I’m pretty sure there will be future incidents. I’ll be prepared.