I am suffering from PTSD. We are finally done with the four letter word parents dread – LICE. There, I have admitted this simple, yet ugly reality that we were facing almost two weeks ago. I know – Yuck! I was almost too disgusted and embarrassed to write about it, but there really is nothing to be embarrassed about. Head lice can strike anyone, regardless of how “clean” you are, regardless of socioeconomic status, and no matter how careful you are to avoid getting lice. We suffered through lice several times as kids. When one of us would get lice, the rest of us would get it. My mom would line us up for the hours long process of shampoo and combing out the hair. Unbeknownst to me, she was also suffering through the endless laundry and bagging up stuff as well, usually on her own while my dad was away at sea. I had also watched my sister-in-law, a working single mom of three beautiful girls with long flowing hair, go through the awful lice drill. My sister-in-law is one of the cleanest, most protective, and vigilant moms I know and seeing her girls get it really showed me that anyone can become a victim of these nasty little bugs. When she was going through the first, or even the second bout of head lice, I remember thinking that she was overreacting or going to extremes to get rid of it. As with many things you think or say before kids – I get it now. She knew exactly what she was doing and had every right in the world to be upset and a little traumatized, in addition to being extremely cautious to make certain that they never have to deal with lice again.
We had just returned from a wonderful vacation in the Outer Banks complete with great friends, lots of cute kids (9 kids under the age of 7), an abundance of beach and pool time, terrific food and drinks, and plenty of relaxation and fun. When we finally arrived home from our trip and put the boys to bed, I was tired and felt like I needed a good shower. As I combed my hair before the shower, I saw it – a tiny, disgusting, live white bug on the teeth of my comb. The panic set in and I began to furiously comb my hair searching for others. I found three little suckers in all, but it was more than enough to make me itch from head to toe and imagine nothing but hundreds of these gross things crawling all over my head. I interrupted story time with Les and Isabella to inspect her head, thinking that she must have it too. I did not find anything on her head that night so I let her go to sleep. Les was clean too. It appeared that I was the only one with a bug problem, for now.
The next six hours involved an expensive trip to Walgreens for lice killing supplies, lots of laundry and bagging of anything that could not be laundered, cleaning. vacuuming, and hair washing and combing for me. Les was going back to work at 6:00 AM the next day so he was somewhat limited in his ability to help. I called my mom and asked her to come over the next day. She thoroughly inspected my head and found no more live bugs. I treated my head a second time and let her comb through my hair. We decided to check Isabella’s head again and lo and behold, we found several eggs and a few live bugs. We spent all of the boys nap time shampooing and combing out her hair – trying to remain calm and not totally freak out (which is what we were really doing). I had completed 5 loads of laundry (on hot cycle that takes 1.5 hours and hot dryer setting) and had another 8 loads on deck. I sprayed and cleaned furniture, carpets, and cars. I stripped everyone’s beds and bagged up all pillows and stuffed animals. My mom was a lifesaver that day in helping me go through hair, clean, and most importantly trying to help me not lose my mind.
I was close to losing it. You become paranoid about getting all the eggs out and making sure that they are all dead. I followed my sister-in-law’s advice and treated Isabella and myself with something every day for a week. The harsh chemical shampoos are too strong to use daily, but I tried tea tree oil, LiceMD (non-pesticide shampoo), Cetaphil, and olive oil. We used over-the-counter pesticide shampoo and one of the very expensive new prescription shampoos. Even though we did not find anything on the boys, we treated them with Cetaphil and with LiceMD for a few days in a row. Jacob, my hyper-sensitive kid, is now probably forever afraid of combs and won’t let me near him for even the nightly brushing after bath. I slept apart from Les for the past week to make sure that he did not get anything. I have never done so much laundry in my life – every day washing all clothes, towels, and sheets. We had no pillows on the couch, no stuffed toys, no Barbies or American Girl dolls. I threw out all brushes, combs, and probably $100 worth of bows, headbands, and hair ties for Isabella and myself. That hurt. I could have probably bagged them up for a few weeks or washed what I could, but I was taking no chances.
I think we are finally through the worst of it. I am sleeping in the same bed as my husband again. We now only have to do laundry every few days, the typical amount for a family of 5. We aren’t boiling the brushes and combs for now. We will begin taking stuff out of bags soon and again have pillows, stuffed animals, and Barbies to play with. The PTSD may linger for a little while. We are still not doing story time in the kid’s beds with them, doing it on the floor instead. We still put Isabella’s hair in two braids for camp and on weekends. We continue to look through everyone’s hair at the end of the day during bath or shower time. Right now, I am debating on whether to Let Isabella go on the camp field trip to a bounce house on Friday. One of the kids in the neighborhood thinks they got lice from the bounce house last year, and that is stuck in my head, feeding the paranoia and fear about going through this again. I hate to make her miss her first field trip, but I just don’t think I can handle that right now. I might just have to take her somewhere better, maybe Busch Gardens or Water Country instead to make up for not being able to go on the field trip.
I know I’ll have to get over this and eventually return to normalcy. I mean, I was a pretty careful mom because of my history with lice as a kid and my sister-in-law’s experience. I never let Isabella share brushes, hair things, crowns, hats, or anything. She knew these rules from a very young age and even independently told a little friend at a dress-up birthday party that she could not put anything on her head that was not hers. What a good, responsible kid. It doesn’t matter though. I still don’t know how Isabella and I got lice. No one else staying in the beach house, 16 other people, had any lice or even any sign of eggs. The only thing we did that was different is that Isabella and I went to a movie theater the day before we left the Outer Banks. It is completely possible that someone who sat in those movie theater seats before us, even days before us, had lice and an egg or a bug transferred from the seat to my head and then to Isabella’s as we snuggled. I know that movie theaters were one of the popular ways that bedbugs spread throughout major cities and maybe lice can be the same way. Who knows? We will never know, and that is part of what can drive you insane with lice. Unfortunately, I don’t think this will be the last time we have to confront this dreaded pest. The kids will go to school with other kids, sleepovers and birthday parties will happen, a bounce house or gym will happen again (maybe just not this Friday), and we will go to a movie theater again. We might just have to bring a towel to put on the seat at the movie theater, and I’ll know to have plenty of wine on hand to get me through if there is a next time.