The tone in the classroom became serious.
Teachers whispered as they led us down the elementary school hall in standard single file formation for an impromptu visit to the school gym. Confused students filled the chairs as each was asked, one-by-one, to walk to the front. The school nurse stood stoically in her white overcoat, comb in hand. Then, it was my turn. I walked up in fear, the nurse poked around in my hair for a couple of seconds, and scooted me on. Lice check. All clear.
I remember my mom telling me in serious and stern words throughout my childhood: “Don’t ever use anyone else’s brush. And don’t try on hats in stores, because there could be lice in them, and then they’ll be on you.”
I took her advice to heart and resolved not to share brushes or put on hats…even those that belonged to close friends. They weren’t to be trusted. Who knew what evils were lurking near their scalps.
The plan worked.
I made it through adolescence bug-free. But somehow along the way, I’d missed seeing a picture of those little head beasts. My mind’s eye had imagined that they were super tiny…no bigger than a pinhead. What I’d realize later is that I had confused the size of a louse nit (egg sack) with the actual size of a head louse. I continued in that ignorant bliss well into my 20s until the day my head lice illusion was shattered.
Skiing and tubing out on a lake on a beautiful summer day, I’d been told that one of the younger girls with us had head lice. “Ok. Good to know. I’ll steer clear.” She sat across the aisle from me in the small boat and had pulled her hair back into a ponytail to keep it from blowing in the wind. As the wind blew in her face, I turned to look at her. That’s when I saw something crawling beneath her strands of hair. I. SAW. SOMETHING. CRAWLING! This was no pinhead-sized beast! My brain shook. I was speechless. I said nothing. I sat in silence wondering, “What evil was this?” How had I been so wrong…so misinformed?
Years passed, and soon, I had kids of my own. I was careful to share the same sage advice my mom had shared with me. I felt confident.
Then, the email arrived from the school.
Someone in my daughter’s class had gotten lice, and we needed to check our kids. CHECK OUR KIDS? Where was the white-robed nurse lady now?
I turned to the internet and learned the best ways to tell if bugs are using your kids’ hair as a nest. (!!!) They glue their nits on hair strands. And for the record, the cleaner the hair, the better. Apparently, they like to nest in a tidy spot. But to incubate the baby lice, they need a place that’s warm…an inch or closer to the scalp…and so the easiest place to look is under the hair in the back. The nits are brownish before they hatch and white after they hatch. Good Lord, help me. I saw nits. Now what?
I had read that chemicals were dangerous and often ineffective. And cutting off all of my daughter’s hair or covering it in mayonnaise wasn’t the answer.
Here’s the chemical-free approach that worked:
- I cleaned every sheet and pillow case in the house, and I threw the stuffed animals and blankets in the dryer for a regular cycle (30-45 min).
- I threw out any combs or brushes or hair scrunchies she’d been using…especially brushes that had attached bristles. I had heard rumors that lice could hide in the crevices, and I thought it would be pretty awful to go through all of the work to disinfect my daughter’s head only to reinfect her with lice that were hiding in her own stuff.
- I got the lice comb. It’s the most important tool for the job. And trust me: it’s the only one you need.
- I cleaned and conditioned her hair as usual and dried it with a towel (that I promptly put in the laundry).
- I pulled the comb slowly through every strand of damp hair starting at the scalp. I looked as closely as I could at the hair to find nits, and after every stroke of the comb, I checked the comb for nits and lice. As I saw them, I wiped them off with a clean tissue.
- I remained calm, even when I saw the first louse.
- After I saw and removed the first one, the fear melted away and determination took over. I’m not a fan of the whole bugs-in-the-hair thing (unlike other people who are into that sort of thing) so I became laser-focused on getting it done and getting it done right.
- I used barrettes to separate the hair into sections. It was time-consuming, and I’d say it took me about an hour to go through every strand.
- I repeated the wash/comb thing for two more days just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.
We got to the problem early on.
But it only takes one egg to start the infestation, so that’s why it’s critical to be thorough as you’re nit-picking. I’ve had friends who didn’t find the problem so early, and there were a lot more bugs and nits. But they got through it, too!
If and when your child (or you) get lice…
- You can do this.
- You don’t need chemicals.
- You do need to be calm.
- You do need to be thorough.
- And you do need to be patient.
- You will get through it.
Want even more information about lice?
If you dare, the CDC has a great write-up with awful pictures in their parasite (ew!) section: CDC – Head Lice.
And for a lighter look at head lice, check out my favorite head lice article ever: Lice Lies – Fact Vs. Fiction.