The scene is an average Wednesday morning. It's becoming winter so it's getting colder and staying darker longer in the mornings. It was a sleepy morning in our house and Myles and I were procrastinating with the whole "getting up" thing. I bit the bullet and got up first. I came out of the bathroom from brushing my teeth to find a sleepy Molli snuggling with her daddy in our bed so I took that as my invitation to snuggle too. Molli climbed over Myles to get to me and we shared a pillow as I enjoyed snuggling my enormous six year old. With a six year old, the cuddles are becoming fewer and farther between than ever before. So I had no choice! We snuggled until it was clearly time to get a move on. Molli abandoned us and joined a freshly-awakened Baylor in his crib until it was really time to get going.
We brought the party downstairs to begin a slightly more hurried version of our morning routine. That being a fancy breakfast of cereal while I braid hair. We decided on two braids. I got a brush, comb, spray bottle and hair ties ready, my hair-fixing arsenal. I brushed through her waist length hair while she ate and prepared the braids by parting it down the middle. That was the beginning of the end for me. I used the comb to pull the parted hair to it's proper side and spotted something horrible! So horrible. I pinched up what I feared was a little bug and put it in a ziplock bag. Bagging icky things in ziplocks is my M.O. in any given situation involving gross things small enough to fit. With an increasing sense of panic, I looked more thoroughly in her hair and spotted another buggaboo. He joined his partner in the bag. Now realizing this was not a fluke, I turned the reigns over to Myles and ran upstairs and started stripping sheets with haste. Every inch of my home needed to be cleaned. Or burned up.
I hurried about the house clearing every room of anything that could be contaminated. She was in my BED! She was in Baylor's CRIB! Sheets, pillows, recently worn clothes! Since most of my local friends were most likely sleeping still, or getting their own kids ready for school, I did not want to begin a widespread panic and enlist anyone else in this war quite yet. Instead, I texted an east coast friend who pretty much reinforced my plan A:
My mom works in a school office so she and her fellow secretary are fairly akin to the ins and outs of lice happenings and have knowledge and resources for such an event. These ladies had my back and gave me a step by step of what needed to happen next. I took their advice because the cleanup with their plan was a lot easier than the cleanup of the pile of rubble that would have been my home had I gone with plan A and lit the entire house up in flames. I cleaned Molli's room corner to corner, bagged up half her room and the play room, washed all sheets, blankets, pillows, clothes, backpacks, coats, and hats, vacuumed every possible squishy surface and wiped down all the harder types. My washer and dryer ran nonstop for about two days. (I'm really excited to see our gas bill.)
I saturated Molli's head in olive oil to suffocate any living bugs left (gag) and wrapped it all up in saran wrap (see photo above) then gave her a spot on the (vacuumed) couch on top of towels and handed her the ipad, which was her best friend that day. We washed her hair with Dawn dish soap to get the oil out then rinsed with vinegar to help the nits come out easier. She claims that was the worst part of the whole experience. I suppose if I was six years old, skipping out on all responsibilities and playing with an ipad for hours at a time, that would have been my least favorite part too. Once she was clean and dry I put on my headlamp and did my best momma monkey impression and spent the next three hours picking nits out of her hair. So fun.
The entire time I was scouring the house and being a psycho, I was freaking out internally over phantom itches in my own hair. Seriously, lice induces insanity. My internal thoughts were an anxious mess and I couldn't stop googling everything. It was awful. My AMAZING friend and fellow lice survivor came over and searched my head (what a champ!) then when I got the all-clear, she helped me go back through Molli's hair again. I slept with oil and plastic wrap on my head, just in case. The thing about nits is that they're itty-bitty. They're small and not, like, bright purple or something super obvious. They're crazy easy to miss, no matter how closely you look or how bright your headlamp. For 2-3 hours a pop Molli's head was searched and ridden of all nits. Hallelujah, we are free! My friend searched my head one more time a few days later, just in case and I started to breathe again. We re-joined the land of the living and immediately the kids got fevers and we had to coop back up.
(This was pretty much the regular view in my house for a while. Everyone vegging out watching shows and movies while I searched Molli's head.)
Here are some of my thoughts from the other side:
1. Thank goodness for friends to search heads, deliver iced coffee and babysit lice-free siblings.
2. The internet has a way of making you believe anything. If you are hoping to not have to clean like a mad-person, you'll find 6,000 sources online saying it's unnecessary. If you feel dirty and crazy like you need to clean it all, you'll find 12,000 sources saying it's the only way out.
3. You don't need to use chemicals/pesticide shampoo to get rid of lice.
4. It's unpleasant but mostly for the creepy, ick factor. Lice don't actually harm anything, have diseases or necessarily affect everyone (Molli was the only one in our family who had any!)
5. The length of hair doesn't matter all that much. As long as it's healthy and not unusually tangled, it takes a while a to nit pick through, but it's not unbearable, and even kind of relaxing when there's nothing left (I can't believe I'm saying that. I'd turn on an audio book and get comfy). Don't bother considering chopping.
6. Other survivors come out of the woodwork with heaps of sympathy when they find out your battle. It's not a sign of anything dirty or bad parenting (but still such a stigma!).
7. You don't need a magnifying glass to search these things out. Lighting is key- get a headlamp!
8. Lice (not nits) are certainly contagious, but mostly by head to head contact. There must be a balance when you have a kindergartner who wants to hug her friends. For now we are snubbing friends, when we remember.
9. It doesn't have to be such a big deal. I mean, yes, it totally sucks, but if people could just tell people who might need to be more aware (aka- people who have been in close contact with the person/family) then everyone could be proactive and it wont have to go around and around. Catch it before it gets out of control! Communication, folks. Day one I was communicating with the school office, nurse and Molli's teacher as well as the childrens ministry director at church, Gavin's teacher and the preschool family with whom we carpool. As well as our close friends.
10. Some facts. Lice are small. They reproduce sexually and the females have one sexual encounter to last their lifetime but can lay several eggs (nits) each day. Lice cannot live more than a day or two off a head. A healthy louse will not purposely leave a head, except to join another head. This is pretty much a death sentence for it. Without wings or hind legs they can't fly or jump.
11. I'm going to be doing regular checks on all my kids for the rest of their lives, and you should too.
So my friends, we survived the nightmare of lice. I'm not proud, but I'm sure why I should bother being ashamed. We caught it and dealt with it as thoroughly as we could, aside from jumping ship completely. I wracked my brain trying to think of where it could have come from, but the truth is, it doesn't matter. It's not as uncommon as we all probably assume. I currently know of 5 families at 5 different local elementary schools with it. So if you're local, be aware and check your kid's heads!