I can’t stop itching. And scratching. And walking around acting like a dog with fleas.
It all started the second week of school with a note on attention-worthy pastel colored paper haphazardly stuffed into my youngest child‘s backpack. Welcome back to school - Please check your kid’s head for bugs. A student in your child’s classroom has lice.
I laughed, made some irreverent joke, crumpled up the paper and threw it in the recycling bin.
A couple of weeks later another note came home with Brooks. I actually read the note this time before I crumpled it up and threw it in the recycling bin. I told Brooks that if he comes home with lice, I am kicking him out of the house, setting up a tent in the backyard, and shaving his head and probably even his eyebrows until the infestation is gone. He laughed and asked if he would be allowed to pee outside. I replied in the affirmative and told him not to worry because I would totally leave a bucket full of food for him every morning and a bowl of water, too.
I stopped laughing when the third note came home with Brooks. I sat him down and asked for a class list of kids in his second grade classroom. I demanded names. He eagerly supplied not only the names of the kids, but he also drew me a seating chart and filled me in on all of the latest second grade gossip. I itched my head for at least 30 minutes after reading that note and took both of my boys for military haircuts that weekend.
When the fourth note came home, the panic started. Not only was lice in Brooks’s classroom, but those little suckers had hitched a ride into Phillip’s fifth grade classroom, as well. As soon as I checked all three kids’ heads and asked a neighbor to check mine, I developed the lice doomsday plan:
Step 1: I would immediately text my husband to come home from work and buy some clippers on the way home. My husband and both boys would clearly need to shave their heads. While engaged in an inevitable frenzied argument via text with my husband, I would …
Step 2: Call the salon and schedule an emergency appointment with my stylist for me and my daughter and schedule a mother-daughter massage. I’m just trying to be pro-active by scheduling the massage. If a louse hitches a ride on one of my sons’ heads and decides to bring some friends to my house, it is going to be 14 days of hell for my family. As the mom, it is very important that I remain relaxed.
Step 3: After the mother-daughter massage and having our hair checked for nits, cut, colored and styled, Cassie and I will leave the salon in the bathrobes that we requested for our massages. All clothing will be discarded in the garbage or burned. I’ll call Macy’s and ask for a personal shopper to meet me and Cassie at some private entrance as we will be arriving with only the spa robes on our body. We will need 14 days worth of new clothes, shoes, cosmetics, purses and undergarments. Sure, I could ask for my husband to pack bags from home and drop them off at the hotel, but I will not take any chances. Those lice are hungry and will clearly stop at nothing to feast on my scalp!
Step 4: Cassie and I will drive to the nearest hotel and book a room for 14 days. (We are so not shaving our heads. It is much safer for everyone if Cassie and I just remain safely ensconced at the nearest Hilton.)
Step 5: While lounging on the bed in the hotel, I will schedule my entire house to be cleaned top to bottom and de-loused. I would probably need to order all new mattresses, furniture and carpeting for the house, too. I will call home and tell all three of my boys how much I miss them, how it will suck being stuck at the Hilton for 14 days and how they are so brave to stay home and protect the house from further infestation. I’ll hang up the phone and spend the next 14 days enjoying mother-daughter spa services and ordering room service. It will be difficult to be away from home for so long, but I think that Cassie and I will manage.
Sure, my plan may not be affordable for my family nor is it practical, but I cling to that plan, the new little happy place inside my head every time I catch a glimpse of the pastel colored-notes, like Easter eggs that no one wanted to find before the hunt ended and only discovered weeks later by their odor.
The notes won’t stop coming. A student in your child’s classroom has lice. The school hallways are littered with kid-friendly posters with bubble-letters introducing “The Facts of Lice.” A student in your child’s classroom has lice. Three weeks ago, Brooks brought home two notes in one week and proudly exclaimed that the nurse put on gloves and checked everyone in the classroom for lice and two boys had it! “Now, the boys are getting it, too, Mama!” A student in your child’s classroom has lice. The school administration asked that all students place their coats in garbage bags as soon as they get to school. A student in your child’s classroom has lice. The district nurse was called in to assess the situation and recruit other nurses to check the kids at our school. A student in your child’s classroom has lice.
And everywhere I go, I hear the rumors: 9 classrooms at the school have students with lice. A teacher has lice. A kid in our neighborhood has lice . . . again. 7 kids in one classroom have lice. 25 kids in the school have lice. The next morning, 11 kids were sent home with nits. The lice topic was added to the agenda at Tuesday night’s PTA meeting and the place was packed. (At that meeting, I was frightened to learn that the children with lice are simply referred to as hosts. It is very disturbing to listen to a room full of angry parents refer to their children’s peers and classmates as “hosts.”)
In the beginning, the hosts were children that I didn’t really know. I may have heard their names, but the hosts were certainly not friends of ours. And then, the lice started getting more organized. And our fear made them stronger. They landed at another neighbor's and devastated us all. Her house is immaculate. Her house is perfect. Her house looks so clean that you honestly could eat off the floor in her bathroom. Are none of us safe?? I itch my scalp, curl into a fetal ball, close my eyes and imagine my happy place at the Hilton.
As the rumors fly faster than I can reply to the text messages inundating my inbox, the stories of their incredible feats frighten me. These lice are not ordinary lice! My school’s lice scoff at the online information about them. Our mutant lice launch military campaigns while our kids practice spelling words. They march into classrooms with entire armies, and louse commanders catapult soldiers onto the heads of every student. How will my family ever remain louse/nit free? I imagine a Thanksgiving dinner in which I lean forward to pass the mashed potatoes and spy an army of lice campaigning across my son's scalp!
I consider cancelling my weekly volunteer shifts at our school.
And then I picture each little kid in my head, and I refuse to think of them as hosts any longer. They have names like Sally and Frankie and Sam and Lucy. They have freckles and glasses and wide jack-o-lantern grins with a bunch of missing teeth. And I remember one of my favorite sounds in the whole world - the sweet little chorus of “Hi, Miss Crystal. Hi, Mrs. Alperin. Hey, Brooks - It’s your mom!“ I’ll take the risk and show up with dirty, greasy hair tightly pulled back into a ponytail and loaded with straightening serum, blow-dry lotion, volume-inject mousse and half a canister of hairspray.*
(*Lice don’t like dirty hair because they slip off the strands. Lice also don’t like hair products. I can’t remember the reasoning for the ponytail, except that our principal has recommended that girls with long hair wear ponytails or buns. And she is a very smart lady, so I’m doing it!)