“Ugh. My head is so itchy.”
“Well, your hair looks like we styled it with an eggbeater, so wear a hat today and we’ll deal with it tonight.”
It was the week after my then five year old’s last day of preschool. He was sporting his first real haircut, (not including that damage control appointment a couple years prior. Under the “watchful” eye of my husband and brother in law, he hacked off a wad from the back and I learned how far I have to go in lessons of non-attachment) an ’80s style skater flip of curls. It was the compromise of the long beautiful spirals I loved and the blue mohawk he wanted.
Fully embracing the fresh summer we attended a strawberry festival that afternoon. Several times he whipped off the hat, exposing his ridiculous rats nest to itch his head like a madman.
“Come on! Put your hat back on. It was bad this morning, but now it’s all smushed from your hat and is even worse. I’m sorry. I’ll fix it when we get home.”
“But this hat is SO ITCHY!”
“I’m SORRY. Please.”
Now before I sound like a terrible mother, let me defend myself by saying I was 8ish months pregnant at the time and controlling his hair (which is a process that involves yelling- from both of us, copious amounts of conditioner and 15 minutes of crouching over the side of the tub) was feeling a little like an Olympic sport.
That night I drew him a bath and prepared for the main event. Shampoo, condition, crouch. Comb, yell, comb, get yelled at, recondition, comb, comb, comb. Un-crouch. Attempt to stand up straight. Phew. Then, applying the right combination of products, I’d be in the clear for a few days at best.
At bedtime, we read some books and as usual, I snuggled him until he fell asleep. Once I was off duty I made my way out to the couch and eventually the fear I’d been swallowing all day began to bubble its way up too far to go ignored.
So I googled.
Nothing good comes from google at 11pm. It’s the devil’s playground. You have cancer, mice are going to eat their way through your walls and cause an electrical fire, and New York City is going to fall into the ocean.
LICE. Parasites. Making themselves fat and cozy feasting on your blood and living in your ‘do. I’m losing my shit just thinking about it.
So, ready to face the truth, I marched into my son’s room, iphone in hand, both as a flashlight and the bearer of all news catastrophic. Deep breath. Gently, I ran my fingers through his still damp hair and drew back a chunk by his ear. The light beamed bright and not more than a few seconds later, like a cockroach at a one star hotel, an actual LOUSE dashed along his head. I think I screamed. I may have dropped my phone on his face. I can’t even remember. I think I was hanging from the ceiling trying to turn myself inside out. I was horrified. Upon closer inspection it was clear my son’s head was like Studio 54 for the parasitic set. Complete with open bar. He was TEEMING with those blood sucking bastards. I tried to find the words to yell for Bobby to come keep me from passing out. It was like that scene in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure where he rescues all the animals from the pet store fire but keeps saving the snakes for last because, well, they’re SNAKES, and when he finally makes it outside with them squirming through his hands he goes boneless in a heap on the sidewalk.
“What?! Oh no! What should I do?”
“I don’t know. I want to burn things. I can’t handle this.”
“I’ll go to the store and get one of those kits.”
“If this baby weren’t in the way I’d be in a ball rocking in the corner right now. So, uh, I’ll just be here doing some modified version of that. See you when you get back. If I don’t throw myself out the window first.”
When he returned, seemingly 6 hours later, I roused the kid from his bed and dragged him into the bathroom. He’s probably the heaviest sleeper I’ve ever known, so this was not going to be easy. And since I didn’t feel like laying awake, frozen in bed with eyes like saucers staring at the wall all night, waiting until morning WAS NOT in the cards.
“MOOOOOM! What are you doing?”
“Oh, honey. I’m so so sorry. You have lice and I have to get rid of them or I’m going to crawl in the oven.”
He did not care. I don’t think he was even awake past the first sentence. He sat on the toilet with his eyes closed as I slathered him with chemicals that for all I knew could make my unborn baby come out with a leg growing from her face. Aw, Ol’ Legface we could call her. At least her brother wouldn’t have lice.
I kept him upright for the ten minutes required to kill those bastards and coaxed him into the tub.
“Why won’t you let me sleeeeeppppp? I’m SO TIRED!”
As I rinsed the poison shampoo from his head, the evidence of the infestation swirled about. 10, 15, 20…the likes of which I had never laid eyes on until that fateful night. Now public enemy number one.
I still don’t know how I’d missed it. I had washed his hair not four hours earlier and yet, nothing. I was blissfully ignorant. Like those magic eye pictures, just a mish mash of design (curls) until you know what you’re looking for and suddenly it comes into focus. A tiger (YOUR KID IS A LICE BUFFET)!
I always thought they were white. Wrong. They are clever little bastards that adapt in color to match the host. I thought you’d have to be walking in an ever present dirt cloud a la Pig Pen to have 20 lice chilling on your head. Wrong again. Those mother f’ers actually prefer clean hair. THEY ARE SMART. THEY ARE TENACIOUS. THEY WILL TRY TO ROB YOU OF YOUR VERY SOUL. YOU CAN NOT LET THEM WIN.
I gave them 18 hours of my life and a generous slice of my sanity over the next two weeks. The true meaning of the term “nit picking” never more obvious. The kid watched movie after movie as I slid each nit down the shaft of his hair between my fingernails (because the combs only catch the actual bugs, and I was going to be damned if I ever saw a bug crawl it’s way about his head after it hatched).
Flicking them into a pool of rubbing alcohol, I whispered expletives at every single one. I doused him in olive oil, neem oil (which smells like raw garlic and crushed peanuts and the devil’s ass crack, but seemed helpful, so we forged on), tea tree oil and coconut oil. I stopped short of motor oil, but don’t think I didn’t consider it.
I washed EVERYTHING. On hot. At the laundry mat. (Sorry.)
Only a few times did Bobby find me crying, clinging to the tattered shreds of mental stability.
“You’ll be okay. It’s only lice. It will be over soon.”
“But they’re smart! And the cycle just keeps going. It’s like the Kardashians! I’m NOT GOING TO MAKE IT.”
“Yes. You will.”
“Check my head.”
I’m happy to say we DID make it. No one got their head shaved or stuck it in the oven. In the years since I’ve maintained near daily checks and so far so good. Maybe the lice community googled ME. Public Enemy Number One.
Did you kick some lice ass? Are you fighting the battle now? Stay strong and if you need, I’ll talk you down.