Coming clean

They’re baa-aack! Ugh.

It’s time I share a dirty little secret with you. One I hoped never to have to share with anyone, until I realized that it is precisely that attitude that makes this such a tough situation. So here it goes.

My children have head lice. You heard me – lice. And this is not the first time it has happened. And, most importantly, none of us did anything wrong to cause this to happen, so get that out of your head right now. (After you finish saying ICK! and scratching your head, because you know just the thought of lice makes your head itch.)

When it happened the first time, just before Halloween, I was horrified. Disgusted. And hugely embarrassed. I mean, lice??? Panic kicked in. I had a babysitter scheduled for the next night (you know we almost never go out, so this was a big deal) and I had to call and cancel. . . . which meant I had to tell her parents, my friends, what was going on. We had a party scheduled for the next week . . . if people found out about this would they still come to the party? Would everyone have to know???

It was late on a Friday evening, Raymond was out of town, the kids were about to get in bed, and I had NO idea what to do. I called my mother and my mother-in-law, both of whom said go to the drugstore and buy “that stuff” but BE CAREFUL because it is horrible and toxic. (Gulp)
They said a lot of other things, too.

“This happened because Fletcher’s hair is too long.”

“You know, chickens have lice so I bet they caught them from the chickens.”

And while they may or may not have actually said “This wouldn’t have happened if you bathed them more often.” I know they were thinking it.

Or at least, I was thinking it and projecting that onto them . . . I was convinced I was the world’s worst mother and under no circumstances could I let anyone know about this.

It turns out it was a good thing it was late and I was alone with the kids. I couldn’t run out and solve the problem right away. We had no choice but to sleep on the matter, so to speak, which slowed me down, made me think things through a little more than my initial panic may have allowed. Once everyone was in bed, I did a little research – some of which made me feel a lot better, and some a little worse. Just in case anyone else out there is in the same boat, I thought I would save you a little time, come clean and share what I learned.

  • Lice like clean hair! I was convinced this happened because we had skipped bath here and there, but in fact it was just the opposite. Lice thrive in clean, straight, fine hair – exactly the type of hair my sweet children are blessed to have.
  • Bathing and shampooing doesn’t kill lice. In fact, lice go into a state of suspended animation in water and can live that way, totally submerged, for several hours – all the while clinging to strands of hair and not letting go.
  • Lice generally spread by head-to-head contact or by sharing hats, hair brushes, etc. They do not live for long without a human host (only about 24 hours) and they can not jump or fly.
  • You can not contract lice from birds or animals, only from other humans.
  • Girls are more likely to get lice not because their hair is longer but because they are traditionally more likely to put their heads together while working on an activity. I say traditionally, because anyone who has a 1st grade boy interested in Pokemon cards has likely witnessed a scene common around our house – a group of boys huddled on a sidewalk comparing and trading cards with their heads touching! (Not to mention the Lego building sessions! And the wrestling matches!)
  • Lice do not transmit diseases – or really cause any problems at all other than itching. And, you know, the gross out factor of having bugs living in your hair.
  • Chemical treatment of head lice may not be the best way to go. Let’s take out of the equation for just a moment the fact that RID, NIX and other commercially available products are pesticides – and that you would be applying that pesticide to your child’s head. Instead, let’s address the fact that lice resistance to the permethrin pesticide has been growing for years and in an increasing number of cases it just isn’t working any more.

So what are we supposed to do??

I am incredibly lucky to have a pediatrician who is on the cautious side when it comes to use of chemicals – or any medications for that matter. I called his office the next morning, was put through to his NP almost immediately, and the first thing she said to me was “Take a deep breath, it’s going to be OK.” The next thing she said was “Don’t use NIX or anything you find at the drugstore.” and she confirmed the information I had already found about the dangers of putting these chemicals on tiny heads and the lice who are not in the least bothered by them. Then, she gave me a plan of attack:

  1. Mayonnaise. Slather it on, massage it through the hair, then fit a shower cap over the mess and leave it there for as long as possible. Leave it on all day. Sleep like that, if you can stand it. It smells nasty, but it works. As a bonus, your hair will be shiny and silky once you get rid of the mayo!!
  2. Fairy Tales Haircare for Children makes a line of all-natural, organic lice treatment products and repellents. (We bought our at a salon we found through the Fairy Tales website, but I understand that Ulta now also carries the line.) We used the Lice Good-Bye foaming mousse, which kills both lice and their nits, and the Rosemary Repel Shampoo. We also used the Rosemary Repel Shield & Spray for a while . . . and maybe if we hadn’t gotten lazy about using it we wouldn’t have gotten the little buggers a second time! They also sell a metal nit comb which we didn’t buy as the mousse came with a plastic comb – but if we wind up here again I am going to spring for the comb because . . .
  3. Comb, comb and comb some more! Even if you don’t see any living lice, the odds are you will still have nits – eggs glued to the hair shaft an inch or so away from the scalp. And really the only way to get rid of them is to comb them out. One at a time. It’s kind of a pain in the butt, but once you get past the ick factor it can be nice to just sit and watch a movie and comb your child’s hair for an hour or so . . .
  4. Blow dry your hair. Better yet, use a flat iron. Heat kills lice.
  5. Wash everything. In hot water if possible. Anything you can’t wash, put it in the dryer on high for as long as possible. We were also told to put stuffed animals, etc. into plastic garbage bags , seal them up and leave them for a week – this is what they did in Lola’s Pre-K class with all the dress-up clothes. But this doesn’t seem to make sense to me. If lice can’t live for more than 24-36 hours without a human host then it seems that just staying away from those items for that length of time would be sufficient. Personally, we went the dryer route with most everything.
  6. Vacuum everything. Your house will never have been so clean. Vacuum the mattresses. Vacuum the car seats and headrests. Take the vacuum bag out to the trash immediately.
  7. Comb some more. Yes, that warrants it’s own number in the list even though I already said it once. You might think you have gotten rid of the little critters because the itching has stopped, but if there are nits left they will hatch in 10 days or so and start the process all over again. It’s a vicious cycle to break.

My last bit of advice I think might be the most important bit. Tell people!! I know, it is embarrassing. But why? Trust me this problem didn’t originate with you. You didn’t do anything to be embarrassed about and neither did your child. Your kid caught them from someone who caught them from someone who caught them from someone. Odds are good that everyone who has children or works with children or knows children will encounter lice at some point in time. And yes, there are snooty people out there who will turn up their noses and refuse playdates and act like you must be “dirty.” But really, do you want to be friends with those people? Frankly, those are the people who are making the problem worse – by not acknowledging that their child could have lice, by not treating it responsibly, by not letting their child’s school or friends know so that others can get a jump on the situation before it is out of control. Most people understand. Most people appreciate honesty. And the one person I told who acted snooty and standoffish . . . the next week I saw her child standing outside the nurse’s office before school waiting for a head check. Clearly she had no room to talk. (Isn’t that always the case??)


4 responses to “Coming clean

  1. I am so proud of you for talking about this–having lice in not something you should keep to yourself–you only hurt the people you don’t tell–anyone can get lice–take it from a past kindergarten teacher–but not telling the people your children come in contact with will only spread the lice.. I am also glad to hear about the new less toxic ways of getting rid of lice–I never got them as a teacher–found out it was because I hot curl my hair each day–but I have seen them more times than I can count. Heat is wonderful and anything you can put in a dryer should be put in–again–i am very proud of you for providing this information to all of to all–f

  2. As a child I had them twice. As a teenager working with kids as a lifeguard, I had them twice in one summer. Our nieces and nephews, who live in one of the ” best” areas and attend one of the “best ” schools in the country, have had them several times. People who turn up their noses are simply ignorant. Gross, I guess, but lice are an unavoidable part of life on earth. Good luck; you will prevail.

  3. Ash, a fantastic post, I hope you don’t mind if I share it with a few friends. Oakton Elementary has plenty of these little bugs going around, Chase’s kindergarten class seemed PLAGUED with it a few years ago. A friend also told me that once she’d figured out the common ingredient in all the natural treatments (rosemary), she purchased rosemary oil and put a few drops in her kids’ regular shampoos, conditioners and detanglers because it acts as a repellant.

  4. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this AGAIN – what an aggravation! But thanks for the insightful post and for your willingness to share.

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