Years ago I remember announcing, with some confidence, that if I ever got lice I would immediately shave my head. This was in my early twenties, during a lice outbreak at the camp I was working at at the time. During that outbreak, luckily, I never got lice, so my long brunette locks remained afixed to my oddly-shaped head. I was perhaps not thinking of the shape of my head when I made that promise, but it is one reason I am glad I didn’t follow through with that at the time. Having a child who has the same head (it is flat on the top with two corners. If we ever cross paths in real life, remind me of this post and I’ll let you feel it so you can see what I mean) has reinforced for me the fact that shaving my head would not be a good idea, but I digress.
Fast forward ten years to last week, when my kids and I were up at that same exact camp, volunteering at Family Camp for the week. It was a lovely time, if exhausting, full of fun and friends and activities and hugs. Lots of hugs. Lots of heads touching. You know where this is going.
On the very last day of camp I was pulled aside discreetly and informed that somebody who had been in close contact with myself and my kids had discovered that they had lice, therefore I should check my kids as soon as possible. Lice. The word made a pit develop in my stomach. This is not a new pit, it’s a pit that formed back when I promised to shave my head at the first sign of lice, and it’s a pit that has come back over the years of numerous head lice notifications from my son’s elementary school, and it returned and deepened this past December when my son announced at 8 PM one evening that his head “feels itchy!” This announcement led to the discovery of ground zero for the family’s (previously unknown) “Christmas spectacular” lice infestation, which led to subsequent chemical head baths, laundry parties, and poor Hard-Working Dog the beloved stuffie being banished to the freezer.
Yes, sadly, we are no strangers to the super sucky (pun intended) world that is head lice. So, at camp, as discreetly as I could, I commenced examining my youngest child’s fluffy blond head, which proved difficult as everywhere one might go that would be bright enough for such an examination is full of people, and it’s hard to look casual while examining your squirming child’s head for tiny blood-sucking bugs. I tried in our cabin with my tiny, LED flashlight, but I couldn’t really see anything, plus her head was so filthy from a week at camp that it was impossible to determine what might be a louse egg and what might be a bit of scrambled egg left over from that morning’s breakfast. But still I told myself, “she probably doesn’t have lice, right? I mean … That would be too cruel! We just had it in December!” And so I put it out of my mind, with difficulty, and tried to ignore the phantom itches I kept feeling.
Fast-forward to the night we came home. By 11 PM I had dug out the ol’ lice-findin’ comb from the junk drawer and was scraping it over my misshapen scalp above the kitchen sink. The results from that exercise were fairly inconclusive, though I did find a few things that I INSISTED to my husband MUST be eggs, while he googled and assured me that the internet disagreed. But still, that night and into the morning I found myself going through all of the stages of lice-grief: Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining, Frantic Combing, Hollerin’, Googling, More Frantic Combing, and finally, Acceptance. The acceptance came in the morning when I found two live lice on my daughter’s head. This was followed by: the stomach pit, the trips to the pharmacy, and the laundering, with my husband and I snapping into motion like two lice-destroying professionals. The Lice-Busters. That’s who we are. It’s tedious and freaky work, lice-bustin’ is. However, as my husband pointed out when he passed me in the kitchen with a full load of laundry while I stood and oiled up our child’s head with lice shampoo: “This doesn’t feel as bad as last time!” And I was inclined to agree.
Because as creepy and awful as it is, it’s really a very normal, common, elementary-school age kid thing to have happen. It seems like there’s still a lot of shame and embarrassment around it, which I kind of get, but at the same time I want to say to lice-infested families: it’s not your fault, parents, that your kid got this! Especially if your kid is a touchy-feely, hugger-snuggler like mine. We need more of those kids in the world, even if they are more likely to get lice from all the huggin’ they’ll be doing. I don’t want my daughter to feel bad about the hugs and love she gives freely to her friends, even if it does cost me $60 in lice shampoo and more in hot water and laundry soap, and a day that feels creepy and is a bit of a nuisance.
And I have clearly grown up a lot in the last ten years, because while I have had lice twice, I have shaved my head zero times. This is a big deal for me, as I am someone who fanatically rinses out her dishes before she uses them because she’s afraid of ingesting dust-mites. I’ve realized, finally, that lice are a creepy nuisance, but that’s about all. They’re not life-threatening, not even life-altering. They just suck a little bit. Pun intended.