As a former teacher, I was instructed to look for certain issues. Some examples: Kids who squint, meaning they might need glasses, kids who frequently mix up letters like p and d and b and q, who might be dyslexic, and for kids who scratch their heads a lot, meaning they might have head lice.
How to look for head lice? They said small white bits in the hair, resembling tiny grains of rice.
Commercials on the television show you a special shampoo. They say you use it and it kills all the lice. Easy peasy.
If, like me, you managed to get through a hundred of those grade school examinations by nurses with chopsticks, you probably don’t have a bloody clue what to look for when it comes to head lice, or how exactly to get rid of it.
I sure didn’t.
Until the Head Lice Incident of 2010. Dun-dun-dun!
One morning, my littlest girls got up and they absolutely could not stop scratching their heads. Sassy actually said, “I think I have lice! My head is so itchy!” I said, “Lemme look.” I didn’t see anything. On and on the scratching went. I checked Moo’s head. “Is that a flea? What the fuck is that?! Omagod, Omagod, Omagod, there are bugs in my baby’s hair!”
All four of my kids got lice. Never did find out from where. Due to the amount of infestation, I was able to determine Sissy was first, then Moo, then Sassy, then Bubba. And it probably traveled head-to-head in that order, because that’s exactly how they pair up and that’s the exact order of how the affection flows between them.
I went next door to ask my neighbor if she knew anything about lice. She did. She was a nurse and an expert on lice, as it turns out.
Nothing I could ever do would be enough to thank my neighbor for her wisdom and guidance. She stood in my kitchen and told me what to do and when to do it and how to do it, and I did it.
It happened in July. In July of 2010 I had 23 different guests in my house. We had house guests and sleepovers and people shared beds. For over two weeks, people were sleepin here and there and with this person and that person, and Sissy had been here and there with her friends, how teenagers do.
I had to call halfa dozen people and tell them to check their kids’ heads.
Now, having been a teacher, watching the dual-six-figure-income parents come pick up their still nannied-for kindergartners with head lice, I did not share the belief that lice were something that belonged to the dirty and the poor. I was, at the time of the lice infestation, a total neat freak. I was, at the time of the infestation, not poor. But I can tell you, without even flinching, that if you are poor or dirty, it will take you a lot longer to get rid of lice, which is why the stigma probably exists.
The head lice take over your whole life. The nit-picking: combing and hunting, takes hours and hours. It can take hours and hours for one kid, if that kid happens to have long hair. Thicker takes longer. Curly takes longer. Blonde hair can make it harder to see the baby bugs, but dark hair makes it harder to see the teenager bugs.
There are a lot of things to look for, on the scalp and in the hair. Three different shapes, sizes and colors of bugs, hatched eggs, which are the tiny white bits, could fit through the eye of a needle, and unhatched eggs, which are black, and about the size of a flake of ground pepper. Basically, the task is to make sure the only thing on the scalp and in the hair, is hair. Every tiny flake of skin from scratching, every tiny dandruff, each grain of sand or dirt — all has to be pulled out.
The lice like the warmest part of the head, which is at the nape and around the ears. That’s where to check.
If there’s a bad infestation, a fine-tooth comb will tear out hair and reveal bugs still in it. Your kid will cry. A lot.
If it’s really, really bad, putting your hands in the hair will feel like your kid rolled around in a sandbox.
After you use the pharmacy product, or the OTC product, or some sort of oil that suffocates the living head lice, you gotta rinse all that out and comb it with a METAL nit comb.
The cheap plastic ones that come with pesticides WILL NOT DO IT.
The metal nit comb can actually do all the work, but it’s a little hellish when bugs are crawlin out of your kids’ hair, onto their faces, their necks, their ears, their clothes, your clothes, the comb, and your hands. It makes the ewwww factor a lot higher, so I recommend liquid intervention beforehand, whether you choose pesticides or oils. Regardless, you’ll need a bowl of water to trap the finds of your hunt.
I strongly recommend you have a bag with a nit comb, a fine comb, a pile of hair clips or bobby pins (for sectioning the hair), tweezers, hair scissors, good lighting, your eyeglasses and/or a magnifying glass.
If your kid is mildly infested and you hafta hunt for eggs and bugs, I wouldn’t bother with the pesticides. It really is best, no matter what, to treat everyone in the house until no one has had a single bug on their head for 21 days. “An ounce of prevention” and all that.
After comb-outs, you’ll want to wash everything that may have come into contact with the head lice. Their clothes, your clothes, the towels — all in hot water, or on high in the dryer after. If you’re me, BOTH, thanks.
You’ll wanna boil your nit comb between kids, or buy one for each kid. You will need to designate a comb or brush, and maybe hair clips for each child and yourself so you don’t cross-contaminate.
During this time, your head will itch. I mean, The Mister is bald, and his head itches when the kids have lice. EVEN WHEN HE WAS IN IRAQ. It is likely that your head itches right now.
Head lice are psychological terrorists.
I compulsively asked my friends to check my head. This is when my neighbor the nurse told me I had anxiety disorder. She was right. During the Head Lice Infestation of 2010, I was on the verge of collapse, wired for sound, completely edgy and unable to sleep. FOR A MONTH. I was obsessed and it was exhausting. I vacuumed the whole house daily, including the upholstery. I washed sheets and towels like you would not believe. My husband was deployed, so I was not at my best when it started, and by October, I was in the therapist’s office.
It took me about three years to stop obsessing over head lice. I am not kidding.
You can read about how lice don’t like dirty hairs or afro hairs or oily hairs, bleached or dyed hairs or hairs that smell like lavender, coconut, tea tree oil…To some extent, it’s true. They’re less likely to invade a head with a smell that repels them, but they will anyway. They like a nice clean head, the more hair the better, the thicker the better, the smoother the shaft, the easier it is to glue their eggs on. Oily-headed grungy hipster heads are not immune anymore than coarse hair or hair that doesn’t smell appealing to lice. Moo has used coconut shampoo since she got out of “No More Tears.” Sassy and Sissy use tea tree oil shampoo and conditioner for their curls and I am pretty much made of lavender.
The heat from blow dryers and hair straighteners and curling irons can weaken the glue and kill unhatched eggs or bugs caught in the heat.
Putting a silicone product in the hair, keeping the hair up in braids, buns, and ponytails, and putting in hairspray can all deter them.
None of this is a guarantee, but it’s all worth a shot.
For the Head Lice Infestation of 2010, we started with an OTC pesticide, and we used olive oil every other day for 21 days. We saturated the scalp and hair with olive oil, wrapped the hair with plastic wrap, put a shower cap on, threw a towel over their shoulders, and they had to stay like that for three hours and thirty minutes. If it was late, they had to sleep in it. Then they washed the olive oil out and shampooed. It’s good to buy some cheapy shampoo that strips hair for this, because if you have a nice healthy head of hair like a shampoo model, your hair will retain the oil much more than someone with dry, curly hair.
The oils suffocate the bugs, which breathe through holes in their backs. Water doesn’t kill them. They can hold their breath for three hours, but the oil forces them to speed their respiration. Unlike with pesticides, the head lice haven’t evolved to resist the oils.
During the 21-day period in 2010, I also washed everyfuckingthing in the house, but I’ve since read it’s really not necessary. So this time around, I washed the bedding and the snuggled stuffies. I am not obsessively vacuuming. The Mister vacuumed the upholstery the first night, and we haven’t since. I only used olive oil on Sassy, but I had to start with pesticide on Moo, because a few minutes into the olive oil, I could see that we were in too deep. If you use the pesticide and still see a lot of living bugs, you’re going to need a prescription for serious shit, or do it the old-fashioned manual labor way.
This time around, because I know I am an excellent, over-vigilant, extremely anal-retentive nit-picker, I am only doing comb-outs every other day, and olive oil every three.
I think this has happened in two summers because I don’t do their hair often in the summer. They’re allowed to roam freely, their hair swingin like ropes for lice to attach to. This stops now. When they exit this house, they will have limited rope. We will begin a comb-out ritual one night a week, which is recommended.
I recommend this site and this site for further reading. I also read a fascinating article by an MD who was an entomologist and a specialist in parasite somethin somethin, but I can’t find the link, which sucks because it helped me relax a lot…
I also recommend having short hair or perhaps only having boys who will let you shave their heads…
Anyway, I’m hoping this is helpful to parents who hafta fight this battle, and I am living proof, through this situation right now, that living with anxiety disorder can improve dramatically.
I know, I know, your head itches. I’m sorry.