‘I have a dirty little secret. We all had it. It started out innocently enough. It was the worst 3 weeks of my life and I don’t wish this torture on my worst enemy.’

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“I have a dirty little secret. We all had it. It was the worst 3 weeks of my life and I don’t wish this torture on my worst enemy.

It started out innocently enough. My third grader would scratch his head when he was watching TV or playing video games; I thought it was nervous energy. Then my daycare provider told me that my middle son was scratching his head too. My first thought was that maybe I had bought some bad shampoo. I never thought that their little heads would be invaded by the vilest of creatures. We shower every single night. We don’t go camping. We don’t share brushes with friends. How did we get lice?

It was May of last year. My oldest had earned perfect attendance for the third year in a row and we were so proud and excited. My husband and I work full time and we have 3 kids, so the fact that everyone had been healthy all school year was incredible. Life was good.

And then the little bugs invaded our life.

I don’t know if I have ever experienced the total exhaustion that I experienced the 3 weeks we battled those little creatures. It was an all-out war. We bought it all. We started with the simple things. And eventually spent hundreds on products that did more harm than good.

I now know female lice can live 30 days, and in that time can lay 100 eggs – known as nits. Our heads provided meals to hundreds of lice.

I now know head lice are spread by the direct contact with the hair of someone who has it (turns out that my oldest had rubbed heads during a classroom activity with a child who had an active case).

I now know the importance of focusing on combing the hair and getting all the nits and eggs and I know what to look for.

There is a huge difference between lice and dandruff. Lice clings to the hair shaft, while dandruff brushes off.

We learned all this the hard way.

Here are 10 things I learned:

1. Confirm that your kids do indeed have lice before treatment.
Through my research, I learned that the American Academy of Pediatrics says people should confirm they have a lice infestation by being seen by a nurse or physician before starting treatment. I thought I was being proactive by treating myself when I treated the boys, but all I did was burn my scalp unnecessarily with a pesticide. So, every time I checked the boys,I started to itch and was convinced I was infected. I had my school nurse check my head during my planning blocks which completely wasted time and wore me out. I did eventually get the buggers, but we will get to that later.

2. Don’t buy medicated shampoo.
The stores sell fancy shampoos. They look really promising, but they are expensive. Really freaking expensive! They are time consuming. And the little scoundrels could eventually become immune to the treatment so I don’t recommend it initially. Just buy the nit pick and check your hair thoroughly -for days!! I mean really really check your hair.
And you can’t check your own hair. You really must have someone do it for you; someone who knows what to look for. This is not the time to be surreptitious. Make sure everyone in your house knows about the epidemic. Heck -you really should tell anyone you feasibly could have rubbed heads with.

A little rosemary, tea tree extract or even head and shoulders shampoo could initially work a heck of a lot better than all those fancy shampoos. I now know that there is only a 1% chance a louse is anywhere but an infected persons head, but when you are in full battle mode you don’t do enough research. You just focus on vanquishing this scourge.

3. Never share brushes.
We threw out our brushes. We threw out everything that had once touched our head and could not be thoroughly washed and dried on high heat. I even tossed my scrunchies. I even trashed some of my cute hair ties I had saved from middle school. I figured the money I’d have to spend on more lice items would be more than replacing a few hair ties. I bought new brushes and labeled each one. There would be no more sharing. Sharing is not caring.

4. Your dryer will get a lot of use.
We did a lot of laundry; we did a shit load of laundry. Almost everything had to be washed and then dried on high heat. Yep that’s not something you know until you live a nightmare. It is the heat kills the buggers.

So today and probably forever, I will throw the boys sweatshirts and hats in the dryer after we have been out somewhere. I never want to experience this agony again. I washed the sheets and pillow cases.

Sure, the internet will tell you that you really don’t have to, but my mental anxiety took hold and everything was washed daily for 3 freaking weeks. I changed our towels daily. I also vacuumed; you just never know. Yes, it is highly unlikely the bugs are anywhere but a head,but why chance it?

5. You will look at everyone suspiciously.
My boys would tell me about a kid at school who was scratching his head, or about a kid who was absent a day (maybe 2) and then came back to school with a haircut. The boys knew what that meant. And they were always right. As soon as they told me about their classmate, I would get that wonderful school email that stated…” A student in your child’s classroom has been affected by lice….” I would not judge this child, but I also did not invite them over for playdates immediately and I made sure my child did not hang his jacket near his classmates or sit on the carpet and rub heads during story time.

6. The bugs may come back.
We had washed everything, we had used the special shampoo, we had vacuumed and basically disinfected the house and our bodies, but they kept coming back.

I now know what to look for – little black dots on a pillow case is never a good sign. I now know what they look like. My husband took a picture of one that he took out of my middle son’s head and enlarged it on his phone. The vermin still appear in my nightmares, but at least I know what to look for. And yes-they are ugly!

Don’t get them confused with grass, twigs, sand, or little playground bugs that will probably also be in your child’s hair. I have learned just how gross my kids’ heads are -even after they take a shower!

You can wash everything, vacuum, change all the brushes and towels, and put every single stuffed animal into a sealed bag for weeks and they may return. Why?

Because you never truly got rid of them on the head of the host!

7. It’s not the length of your hair, but the thickness that matters.
We got haircuts. We all got haircuts. Even the baby -who really wasn’t at risk -got his first haircut. It tore at my heart a bit, but we weren’t taking any chances. At this point -we were all lice free. I cut mine as a preventative measure. I knew that checking 20 inches of hair would take hours and my husband was not up for that challenge. So, I cut a lot and I donated 12 inches and loved my new haircut. But, unfortunately, it did not prevent those little buggers from attaching. See, I am super close with my boys. I tried not to let them lie all over me, but it happened. At some point, I rubbed heads with one of them and one of those miscreants crawled into my nest of very clean and very dry hair. If only I had known the beauty of hair gel and leave in conditioner then!

My husband was the official lice checker and it took him 20 minutes to check my oldest son and 30 minutes to check me, even with my shorter hair because my hair is thick. Lice checking became our romance time. Pitiful I know. Each evening, I would strip down (after my kids went to bed) and my husband would check me. I actually got excited about some alone time with him. He would stand there with his nit comb and check each strand of hair. In my head I pretended he was stroking my hair out of love. Honestly, it kept me sane.

8. They like clean hair.
You hear someone had lice and you automatically assume they are dirty. I used to have this outlook. I grouped lice with roaches. I now know this is not true. The wicked little creatures actually prefer clean hair. The cleaner it is -the easier it is for them to attach and to hide. So now I gel the heck out of all of our hair.

9. Just call the professionals.
My friend told us about professionals. When we were going through this trauma, so were two of my closest friends and their families. Yes it does spread like wild fire. Somehow it spreads to your kids closest friends. The professionals came to our house, put our kitchen on lockdown, and set up shop. They had us wear an old shirt, cover our shoulders with an old towel and had us sit down for thirty minutes to an hour while they carefully checked every single strand of hair and treated it with a super safe, but very very effective oil. They then gave us a natural treatment to use every other night and told us to check every week just to prevent this from ever happening to us again. I took this as my personal mission.

I vanquished the vermin!!

It is truly one of my greatest accomplishments.

10. Be prepared to look greasy for days.
We were still following the treatment plan that the professionals gave us and using the special shampoo when we went to Savannah for my brother’s wedding. The biggest day of his life and a day in which I knew pictures would be taken all day and I had to treat my hair the night before. I will have a constant reminder of my hell month as I look back at all the beautiful pictures and the first thing I notice is my head. It looked like I hadn’t bathed in weeks, but I had never been so thorough in the bathroom. My hair was full of product.

Occasionally, my head will itch and the panic will surge up inside of me and I will freak out inside my head. But then I realize that it’s just a regular inch and there is no bug invasion of my scalp. We have been clean for almost 3 years. And I have two little detectives that come home and tell me who has recently been absent and came back with a haircut. I haven’t been as vigilant about checking the boys every Sunday. But my oldest won’t let a week pass without an inspection. He is my little lice detective.

You may be sitting there feeling good that your life has not been turned upside down by these little buggers, but if you start to ask around you may find that many many of your friends have experienced this hell on earth.

Maybe you think you are too clean to ever be affected. Wrong again. They prefer clean hair. The cleaner, the better.

Maybe you are sitting there starting to feel an itch? Don’t worry, it’s probably nothing. But you might want to put on your big girl (or boy) panties just in case. Your world is about to be turned upside down.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Andrea Smolin. Follow her journey here. Submit your story here. For our best stories, subscribe to our free email newsletter.

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