I Live In Total Fear Of Lice

I’m tromping around the house in a nightgown I haven’t worn since I was pregnant with my 8-year-old and my least comfortable pair of underwear. It looks like I’m wearing a body-con dress meant to accentuate muffin tops and wedgies, and my mental state is equally bad. My brain keeps chanting, “Nothing is safe. Nothing is safe. Nothing is f*cking safe.” Lice Man said we needed to re-wash anything we’d worn in the last 48 hours, but his advice seems too simple. I’m washing every item I’ve looked at since the arrival of lice in our house (14 days ago, by my terrifying calculations). It’s the one day I’m actually grateful for the basket of clothes that I keep on hand just in case my body transforms into its 21-year-old self.

Yes, we’ve got lice at our house. And I’m fully ready to burn everything we own, just to escape this nightmare.

This story began, like many parenting stories, well before I was aware of it. I can only guess the details, but I envision it occurring at recess — perhaps my daughter asked a bestie to braid their hair together.

When I first noticed my daughter scratching behind her ears, I didn’t panic. She’d recently had ear surgery, and her surgeon told us we could expect itchiness as the skin healed. But the scratching continued for two weeks, and I noticed a weird rash on her neck. Could it be from the post-surgical antibiotics? I lathered her in hydrocortisone cream and sent her off to school.

But one morning, as I watched her scratch her head while shoveling Apple Jacks into her mouth, I decided it was time to solve the mystery. I took a picture of the rash, reverse-Google-image searched it, and was confronted with the diagnosis: Rubella.

Rubella? Dammit. I texted my friend who is an ER nurse. “It’s probably not rubella…” she kindly reassured me. My daughter continued scratching. “Not rubella,” I thought, meanwhile noticing my daughter wasn’t just scratching behind her ears. She was scratching her whole head. “Lice,” said that tiny, nagging voice of my subconscious. LICE.

Already flooded with dread, I peered into her thick, Rapunzel-length blonde hair. It was crawling. CRAWLING. My brain switched to trauma mode. Everything went slow motion, like a horror movie, and the LICE seemed magnified. I plucked one out of her hair. “HO-LEE SH*T!” I thought, bile rising in my throat. “IT CANNOT BE.”

Oh, but it was.

When my daughter retells the story, imitating me, she just whispers, over and over, “Oh no.” It seems very anticlimactic, considering what actually went on in my brain. I envisioned pouring gasoline over the entire house, lighting a match, and running. I frantically searched on Google for a cure. Any cure.

And that’s how I found Lice Man.

Lice Man was able to squeeze us in that same morning. (You read that pronoun correctly: three of our four family members had it. The fourth is bald.) He combed out our hair, heat-treated our heads, and covered our hair in a thick oil designed to smother any remaining live motherf*ckers. Halfway through our treatment, Lice Man left to take a call. He returned to the room. “Your mother-in-law is coming,” he said, “Your husband convinced her she better get checked.” Yes, she had it, too.

Three hours later, we left with a “Certificate of Treatment” (now proudly displayed on my bookshelf). For the briefest moment, as we walked into the afternoon sunlight, my anxiety disappeared. But before I even hit the unlock button for our car, I remembered I had to send my daughters back to school the next day. Lice Man assured me my daughters were fine to return to school the next day, as all the lice were toast. It was the other kids, he said, we’d have to worry about. In our three-hour discussion as he patiently combed out our hair, he explained that lice have evolved to “Super Lice,” and these evil creatures were now resistant to many of the home care shampoo kits. He said sometimes, kids who visited his clinic had to return for a second treatment when they picked it up from another unknowing soul in their class.

“When you get to school tomorrow,” I said as my daughters buckled themselves, “Do not touch anyone. ANYONE.” We did not spend all this time, money, and energy for lice to immediately come right back and do it all over again. “But my teacher likes to give hugs,” my oldest said. My youngest frowned. “What about my best friend? What am I supposed to say?” I advised them to give the peace sign instead.

The next morning, I doused them in lice prevention spray and put their hair up in tight buns. As my daughters walked into school, they held hands with their mutual bestie, whose hair swayed in the wind, right onto my daughter’s shoulders. It was then I realized just how little control I had over a lice recurrence.

My head began itching again. I went home to work on the endless laundry. Suddenly, the stuffies looked sinister. My daughter’s doll, with a mop of tangled doll hair, looked like she probably started this whole outbreak. I texted my cleaning lady who was scheduled to show up in two days, to give her an out. She replied, “Honey, I don’t care!” and sent me a meme of Dwight from The Office wearing a hazmat suit. Angels do exist, after all.

We hadn’t received any notification from school that lice was going around in my daughter’s class, despite her self-report that at least two other kids had it. I messaged her teacher, urging her to consider having the school nurse come and do a class lice check. “LOL!” The teacher replied, “Your daughter is the only one who had it.” “LOL!” I replied, and sent the names of the kids my daughter said also had lice. When my daughter returned home, she reported the school nurse came by after all. The relaxed response by school made me wonder if I was overreacting, but I was fully committed to freaking the f*ck out. Too late to back out now.

I bought the Nit Free Terminator Comb and checked my daughters’ hair every single day after school for two weeks. Every dark piece of fuzz, or speck of dirt found in their hair sent my brain into a spiral. It was anxiety on steroids, or, as I fondly named it, licexiety. I’d examine each foreign object with the sh*tty magnifying glass from the lice kit I bought from CVS. Then I would take close-up pictures and send them to Lice Man, wanting desperately to caption them, “Oh my god, I’m freaking the f*ck out! IS THIS MORE LICE?” Instead, I try to play it cool, “Hey, I found these in my daughter’s hair. Should I be concerned?” I consider throwing in an “LOL,” to make it seem like this isn’t the scariest moment of my life.

Lice Man actually has a name: Ryan. And this man is a goddamn hero. Before we left his clinic, Ryan warned me we might find some leftover LICE EGGS in our hair in the days following our treatment. But he assured me that since they had been heat-treated, they wouldn’t hatch. To be safe though, I put them in a white Pottery Barn cereal bowl, covered it with cling wrap, and texted him like a maniac. And in a modern act of chivalry, Ryan never ghosted me. Not once. What. A. Guy.

As time went on, my licexiety only got worse. I sent Ryan a picture of a black speck. “That looks like nothing,” he said. In retrospect, I believe it was a piece of pepper I found on the kitchen table. “Is lice anxiety a thing?” I asked Google. The AI-bot on my computer perked up, responding, “Yes, lice anxiety is indeed a recognized concern.” Indeed. Pompous Ass AI-Bot informed me the specific brand of anxiety I’m experiencing is called pediculophobia, and recommends I practice deep breathing, relaxation techniques, and communication with my children about the “situation.” A situation, indeed. A situation that deep breathing and relaxation techniques do not touch.

They say time heals all wounds. And maybe, it does. Over two months after our licecapades, I decided I was emotionally ready to let my daughters go to school without putting their hair in tight buns. “I’ve got this,” I thought. Then my phone pinged. It was a neighborhood mom — one whose daughter is in the same grade as mine. “I need advice,” her text started. “Kate sits next to a girl who has lice.”

All of a sudden, my head felt itchy. Very itchy. Time doesn’t heal everything, after all.

Laura Onstot writes to maintain her sanity after transitioning from a career as a research nurse to stay-at-home motherhood. In her spare time, she can be found sleeping on the couch while she lets her kids binge-watch TV. She blogs at Nomad’s Land.

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