Lice or Death

It’s been my recurring fear since the first day we dropped our girls off at school. Bullies, I could handle. Learning disabilities, I’d take in stride. But an infestation of tiny wiggling brown things feeding off our scalps? Ohmygoodnessno. When it comes to insects, I’m not known for my soundness of mind. I fear creepy crawlies the way some people fear the zombie apocalypse, and this school year has been especially agonizing with two different classfuls of children passing around lice like trading cards. A new notice is posted every few weeks, and I rifle through my girls’ hair as if it were a matter of life or death. Because it is.

Mercifully, we’ve always escaped the nitmare. Always, that is, until yesterday morning. With Dan out of town on business, I was doing my epileptic octopus routine trying to get both girls ready for school at once, and it wasn’t until halfway through my final pigtail that I noticed the wings. Or at least, they looked like wings. (Whatever you do, never ever ever search for close-up images of lice to determine whether or not they have wings. Ignorance, in this case, equals the bliss of keeping your breakfast down.)

I called our pediatrician in my most nonchalant and responsible grown-up voice to let her know hello, good morning, and I just saw a louse in my daughter’s hair. In the following second of silence, something of my mental state must have transmitted through the phone line because the doctor’s next words were “IT’S OKAY.”

Now consider my viewpoint: A second brownie after dinner is okay. Whipped cream on my latte is okay. Flesh-eating parasites laying their eggs in my baby’s hair is not even in the same space-time dimension as okay. However, when you’re the parent on duty, no one else can challenge the forces of hell for you. It has to be you, and well… I guess it just has to be okay.

That is the only plausible explanation for how I was able to massage pharmaceutical mousse into a nest of nits and then pick them out with my own fingers. (So much shuddering in my soul at this moment, I tell you.) It’s how I could pile all the linens from the house into the laundry equivalent of Mt. Doom and not faint at the sight. It’s how I could clean for eleven hours straight, tuck two little girls who had been shampooed and combed within an inch of their lives into sleeping bags, and get back to cleaning. Had my husband been home, I probably would have spent the day relocating to Antarctica, but since our lives scalps were depending on me, I somehow tapped into new reservoirs of strength.

And good thing too, because this morning started well before dawn with a little girl wailing for me from a sleeping bag full of vomit. Pre-Infestation Me would have freaked out because I only have two hands whereas ten or eleven were clearly called for, and our washing machine isn’t big enough to fit a sleeping bag, and my brain doesn’t do problem-solving before noon, and do you know how many hours I spent cleaning that particular child yesterday? New me, though—strong, capable, nit-picking me—smiled gratefully at the vomit because it wasn’t alive and told herself, If I can survive my child bringing home head lice, I can survive anything. And I realized that the doctor might have been on to something because even as the mess and the need and the undignified demands of parenting grew around me, everything was really, truly okay.

Lice laundry
Expected completion date: March 2015


Please consider this a golden opportunity to share your own personal horror stories. They will be salve to my soul which, while it is fundamentally okay, can never unsee those search results. 

Share this Story


  1. I have had the vomit. I have had the lice. But TOGETHER?? Oh, my goodness. Each one is bad enough on its own. I honestly don’t know how to wrap my head around that one. Lice sucks because it is hours a day picking through heads, I got over the gross factor pretty quickly, but the TIME…ugh. I am so sorry. I would come nit-pick for you if I were closer!

  2. oh my goodness, you are a WARRIORESS!!!!!
    you get the mom of the decade award!!!
    i am SO sorry you are facing this dearie! may this be over SOON!!!
    (ps. this article could go into a parenting magazine. it made me laugh and cry all at once.)

  3. oh.my.word! i can sooo totally relate. i feared lice like the plague that would wipe out humanity … though, for me, not as much as vomit. vomit immediately creates chemical changes in me that spin me into full-blown panic attacks, so mixing the two will takes months of recovery.

    but it was a sunday morning about 3 or so years ago, and i woke up vomiting non-stop. my girls were at their dad’s that weekend, and he was to bring them home shortly. i called him and forbid him to bring them home so they wouldn’t catch what i had. then i called my then-fiance-now-husband and told him he had to come take care of me. i ended up throwing up with diarrhea for a whole week with 2 ER visits. beyond death for me. in the middle of it i found out BOTH my girls had been sent home from school with lice! their dad said he was taking care of it. when i was finally able to keep food down and walk from one end of the house to the other, my girls came home … with lice. he had not taken care of it. he had shampooed their hair and picked the nits, but he did not wash any of the bedding or vacuum the house. at all. he spayed their pillows and bedding with some lice-killing (in my mind i’m thinking poison that my girls were laying their sweet heads on each night) spray. ewwwww!

    so after spending a week on the floor of the bathroom and several IV’s in the ER, i was very thankful not to have vomiting or diarrhea anymore. but then i was thrown into washing their bedding, vacuuming, and picking nits out of their long hair, for another week or so … b/c he had not been killing them; they had just been multiplying.

    i’m not sure i would have said everything was “okay,” but we did survive. and i learned how to recognize and pick a nit … ewwww, okay, i’m shuddering

  4. Oh Sweetie! I’m sorry, cuz lice is a PAIN. And vomitting to. I mean, COME ON!

    When the school sent home the warning notice, I checked Eden’s hair. When she started itching her neck, I checked her hair. The nurse checked her hair. Finally, we had a break in our perpetually grey Seattle skies, and a fellow mom at the playground checked her hair for me in full, natural sunlight. INFESTED. I think those buggers has at least a week to really get in there and propigate.

    By the time the kindergartener had lice, so did the preschooler, and mom, and dad AND THE BABYSITTER.

    We were not popular.

    We rounded up every table and desk lamp in the joint and put them “Where were you on the night of the 16th” style around the girls. Then we watched every Star Wars movie — in both series — while we went throught their hair strand by strand. We did this three days in a row until the nurse finally cleared us to go back to school.

    My parents took the kids the following weekend just so we could fold the moutain of laundry.

    (And we had a drier. Lordy, your drying racks!)

    The kids came home once more with lice the next year. (Beauty parlor at school.) And Cate came down with it on a road trip in Spain. I used Spanglish and mime to get the medicated shampoo from the Pharmacia, which miraculously was open on a Sunday.

    I’m kinda a rock star at it now. And I swear to you, no joke, I would come to Perugia to help you if I were still on the continent!

    Breathe deep, drink coffee, and cry a little.

    (I’m proud of you.)


  5. HOLY SHUDDER. You win Mom of the Year. Also, Stout Heart of the Year. Also *runs away shuddering* …

  6. Oh NO NO NO NO! I am so with you – this is one of those childhood milestones that I do not look forward to! And too unfair that it’s happening while Daniel is away. I’m SO sorry. You are being so brave about it all – the laundry, oh the laundry! Can you take some stuff to a laundromat? I am thinking a hot dryer would help kill some of those nasty eggs. BLECH. You are earning that Mother of the Year patch, I do believe.

  7. Been there, 21 years ago. I had the willies for years after. As I recall, the whole process needed to be repeated in about 10 days, to clear up any nits that might have been missed and hatched. My little girl was only a toddler at the time and picked up the wee beasties at day care. She was too traumatized to let me comb her much, so I did it while she was asleep. I checked her head every night with a flashlight for many, many months after….

  8. My family of 6 kids endured the plague of lice not once but twice when we were children. At the time I had waist length blond hair – I still wonder sometimes how my mom resisted the call of the scissors….

    Anyway – as I recall the chemical treatments didn’t work very well for us. What did work like a dream however was tea tree oil shampoo.

    Hopefully the treatment you used worked for you — but if it didn’t… try the tea tree oil.

    – Laura

  9. Oh, you. All of you. I didn’t get around to replying to your comments in a timely manner, but every single one of these made it easier to handle the idea of multi-legged creatures burrowing into my little girl’s hair.

    Meg – Only a true friend would volunteer to help nit-pick, I know. I would totally take you up on that if I could!

    Rain – I love you, but I think the only kind of magazine this story would fit into would be a Scare People Away From Parenting one. 🙂

    Ame – Your story! I’m shuddering. I hope it’s okay if I thank you for reminding me that it could have been worse. Can I pass on the Mom of the Decade Award?

    Rachelle – Your story absolutely made my day. I’m still smiling from it. (And bless you for remembering our drying racks. I felt like that would just be too much to work into the post, but that’s right — I took down lice + vomit WITHOUT A DRYER.)

    Liz – “HOLY SHUDDER?” Bwahahahaha…

    Sam – It really did seem like a Murphy’s Law kind of situation, what with being alone at home and not having a dryer. We did survive in the end though. Thank you for your sweet sympathy!

    Laurie – Oh my, nighttime reconnaissance? I could hardly face those things in broad daylight!

    Laura – SIX of you? Your mom must have been at least part saint not to turn to the clippers. 🙂

© Copyright 2015, all rights reserved.
Site powered by Training Lot.
Password Reset
Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.