The title is a bit hyperbolic, but that is how the past week has felt. No, we are not festering beneath a pile of bugs at the present moment. In fact, the LiceEnders ladies came to my kids' public school yesterday and did not find lice on my children, just a week after we found them. But oh, what a week it has been.
The quote from Romeo and Juliet, when Mercutio lays dying from Tybalt's sword and screams at Romeo, "A plague on both your houses!" (Act III, scene 1) has been circling in my head on repeat the past week. Yes, it's only been a week, but it feels like an eternity since my son came out of his bedroom around 8:30 at night and complained that his head itched. That little guy will use any excuse not to go to sleep, so our first response was, "Yeah, sure -- go back to bed!" but then, thankfully (?), as I went to kiss him and send him on his way I saw a small bug on his shoulder: an actual louse.
And the hell began.
Like a good teacher, I feel the need to teach you what I learned this past week so that when the lice come for you -- and they will -- you might feel a bit more prepared.
Here's what I learned the last seven days:
1. If you have lice, make that awkward call to all your parents whom your kids have played with the last two weeks. Call everyone. Yes, reporting that your kids might have given their kids lice is the parenting version of that awkward STD call that you hoped never to give/receive in your single years, but do it nonetheless. We caught the lice early because my friend, whom we vacationed with in Cape Cod over two weeks before, let me know that they all had lice. If it weren't for her, we would not have caught it early, and we might have gotten to the point my coworker described, after the eggs hatch, in which you part your kids hair to check for lice and bugs just scatter and fall out of your kid's head into your hands as if you were Moses parting the Red Sea of lice. I shiver thinking about that.
2. If you have school-aged kids, go out and buy the lice supplies NOW because when you find lice in the middle of the night, you're going to want to do something about it, stat. We are lucky to live in New York City where everything is open all the time, so at 9:00 p.m. my husband ran to one of three 24-hour pharmacies near us and got a Rid kit. We washed the kids' heads, had them sit with the toxic treatment for 10 minutes, and then picked through their hair with the gel and the Rid comb from the kit. But, that Rid comb is subpar -- go get yourself the GOOD lice comb. This one is magical. With the Rid comb, we got out a few bugs that first night (and they were still alive even after the toxic shampoo, so kill them by hand!), but not many. I got the better comb the next morning, and the difference was astounding: tons of nits (teeny tiny just hatched lice that look like black dots) and full-grown lice came out. They should just hand these combs out in the hospital when you give birth. No joke.
3. After that initial treatment, every day, for about a week, you need to comb through everyone's hair with a mixture of Pantene conditioner and baking soda. Get a bowl, squirt a big glob of that über thick and heavy Pantene conditioner into it (if I never smell Pantene again that will be just fine), pour some baking soda on top and mix it up. Slather that mixture all over your kids' heads, and comb through meticulously with the GOOD lice comb. Have lots paper towels on hand. Fold a paper towel over your knee and wipe the comb's contents onto the paper towel after each comb. Investigate each swipe and check for little black dots (nits) as well as the big bugs. Get right down by the roots to grab any eggs although you can't see them very well. My daughter has hair half way down her back, and it took me about an hour to do her hair. My son's hair is a short mullet, and it took about 25 minutes. My husband has super short but very thick hair and also took about 25 minutes. My hair, past my shoulders, takes about 45 minutes (it's way harder to do yourself). Get a bag of candy (we've used candy corn) and when you pull the hair too hard and the tears come, pop a candy corn in the kid's mouth. We have been watching Little House on the Prairie while nit-picking all week. Seemed like an appropriate choice: I bet they had tons of lice.
4. Be prepared to do laundry. If you don't have a washer/dryer, god bless you because I don't know what you'll do. We have been sleeping in sleeping bags with one pillow each for a week. Every morning I put all our bedding in the dryer, three different loads, on sanitize for an hour. Each towel we use each day gets washed in hot water and dried on sanitize. Everything that was in the kids' beds (bedding plus stuffed animals) was washed on hot, dried on sanitize, and put in giant ziplock bags in the hall. Our couch cover is off and in a bag in the hall as are our throw pillows (why do we have so many?!). I have read information saying that eggs/lice can't live more than 48 hours off a human head, and I have also read to bag stuff for two weeks. I'm erring on two weeks.
5. Be prepared to have your time sucked into a void you will never get back. This week has slayed me: the time spent on kids' heads nit-picking (2 ½ to 3 hours a night), showering, and doing laundry, laundry, and more laundry has been exhausting. And then there's the run to the drugstore because we're out of Pantene. Now we're out of paper towels. Now we're out of baking soda. We have gone through five bottles of Pantene, one huge box of baking soda (need another), and four rolls of paper towels. I don't even want to see our electric bill for this month.
6. You will go crazy on many levels: You will feel like there are lice everywhere. Every black spot on the bed seems to be a nit. Your head will itch like mad from the Pantene and baking soda, making you scared you have more lice. If you have sensitive skin like me and my son, your face and body will dry out from too much showering, too many toxic soaps/products, etc., and your entire body will itch, too. The eczema on my left hand is raging out of control and looks raw. I haven't found a nit on my head since Sunday, but all of me itches like crazy right now as I type this. You will feel like you are losing it.
7. You might officially lose it. We did. Wednesday night, around 9:15 when we finally got the kids in bed, they both laid in bed wailing about stupid stuff triggered by the exhaustion of going to bed late many nights in a row. I was nit-picking my own head and yelling, "Stop crying! Go to bed!" and my husband (always calm) said, "I think I'll go for a run." My snarky response was, "Sure, great idea, both kids are crying, I can't go to them because I'm covered in Pantene and picking my own head, I have spent the last two hours picking your three heads, sure, go for a freakin' run!" (I think I might have screeched the reply, actually...) The lice were winning at that point. They're like tiny terrorists and terrorist rhetoric is what you have to employ: Don't let the lice win! Fight the lice! You're either with the lice or against them!
8. Be kind to your friends when they get lice. Friday, when my work day was sucked away and I was home with two lice-infested kids, live bugs fell from my head into the sink when I brushed my hair, and I had laundry piles the size of small mountains, I was saved by two friends. One friend left a bottle of chilled champagne at my doorstep and the other friend offered -- believe it or not -- to nit-pick my hair for me. I took the train to her house and brought a bottle of wine, and when I got there she had made cookies! She then proceeded to pick through my entire head for me. I don't think anyone has been that nice to me, maybe ever. And just knowing that someone else had combed through my hair for me made me feel like I had control over the situation -- if only a little bit.
We seem to be at the end of the lice now. For four nights we have all been nit free, the LiceEnders did not find them on my kids (although my daughter's best friend now has them -- sorry!) which is a good sign that they may be all gone. I'm going to keep picking a couple more nights to be on the safe side. We are all using organic lice shampoo for now until we feel totally in the clear. I think I have lice PTSD.
Just to put it out there, I have always been hyper-vigilant against lice. My daughter understands that if she wants to keep her long hair, she has to wear her hair braided to school every single day. I repeat time and time again not to play with kids' hair (a habit of second grade girls), do not share hats, do not lay your head on that dirty rug in your classroom, etc. I have been on a rabid crusade against lice since we started public school three years ago, but in the summer I let my guard down and that's when we got it. I'm not sure what the solution is, or if you can effectively avoid it, and I must admit I feel a bit defeated. But if you do get it, and you're in New York City, I'll come pick your head for you. I've got to pay that good deed forward.