My name is Jennifer Burby.
I got head lice at the age of 34.
From my daughter. Who got it at school.
Who really knows where or how she got it. She just did.
I somehow dodged the head lice bullet during my own childhood.
Both of my two daughters have been in daycare since they were a couple months old, which are breeding grounds for lice. We would routinely receive emails from their schools advising of lice outbreaks in the classrooms and instructing us to check our children’s hair. Same happened at their summer camps. Neither of my girls ever got it. They’re in the pool a lot, so I chalked it up to lice not liking chlorine.
And I’ve gotta be honest here.
Until I got it myself, despite rumors that lice preferred clean hair, I thought it was something reserved for country folk.
People who resided in Appalachia and lived off corn dogs and Mountain Dew.
I am now one of those people. Maybe it’s karma for being judgy.
Let me backtrack.
A couple weeks ago, my four-year-old daughter started complaining her scalp was itchy.
Thinking it might be head lice, I did a quick examination and found nothing.
I guess she has a dry scalp. I’ll have to get her some of that Neutrogena stuff for old people next time I’m at Walgreens.
A week later, my mom, who lives out of town, came and spent the weekend at our house.
And slept in bed with my daughter.
Next morning, my mom said my daughter kept waking throughout the night, complaining her head was itchy. And she was profusely scratching it.
I did another, more thorough investigation, and found tons of tiny white specks resembling sesame seeds (only smaller) throughout her hair.
Could it be? I thought. Can’t be.
So I got on the computer and Asked Jeeves what head lice look like.
The search results returned with eggs that looked exactly like the specks in my daughter’s hair.
The search engine results also said you’d have to properly identify a live louse (apparently, this is singular of “lice” because I just had to look it up) to confirm the existence of head lice.
I wasn’t messing around. This was balls to the walls.
I went to the garage and retrieved my husband’s head lamp, which he uses for long runs in the morning when it’s still dark outside.
I would have put on a HAZMAT suit if I would have owned one.
Marched back up into my daughter’s room with the lamp on my noggin and a flicker in my eye.
Two minutes later, I spotted one. And then another.
My ignorance expected lice to be large and conspicuous. Raisins with legs.
They are tiny. Small as fleas. And a light brownish color that makes them hard to detect in dark blond hair.
Seeing them made me feel homicidal. Like the moment when Tracy Flick discovers Paul Metzler is running against her for student council president in the movie Election.
I sped to the nearest pharmacy and searched for the most potent product available. Yes, I am ordinarily hyper sensitive about what I put on my and my families’ bodies.
Not this time.
I wanted to poison the lice and make them die slow, miserable deaths. I wanted to make them pay for the torment they put my daughter through.
(Insert sinister laughter here).
I returned to the house armed with Rid, takeout dinner, and a bottle of wine.
Three glasses of wine and some elbow grease later, with the help of my mother, all the lice and eggs were gone from my daughter’s hair and she was on her way to dreamland.
But then my own head started itching.
Like, really itching.
Was this my imagination?
I started frantically looking through my own hair and saw a little devil staring back at me.
The fear of God was in his or her eyes. It knew what was happening next.
Then my husband mentioned his head was feeling itchy. But he was unfazed, as he and his younger brothers got lice “several times” in their youthful days of yore.
(They grew up in rural Hillsborough County, so that was unsurprising to no one.)
I got out the head lamp and examined his head.
Yup. He had them too.
While other married couples were savoring fine wines and filet mignons on their Saturday night, my husband and I were on the couch in front of the tube, watching reruns of Dateline and picking nits out of each others’ hair like a couple of primates.
Then, I had an epiphany. Two weeks before, I attended the out-of-town wedding of a longtime college friend. My girlfriends (all of whom have kids) and I spent the hours leading to the wedding getting all dolled up together in the hotel room. This also involved sharing each others’ hair brushes and accessories.
So I had to send a text warning them they could have head lice and prayed they didn’t have it and give it to their families.
Here’s the other problem. Not being very attentive to detail, I didn’t know I had to put the lice shampoo all over my entire hair and scalp. I thought I only had to put it on my scalp and not on the rest of my hair. So that’s what I did. And they returned several days later.
I’m sitting at work and my head is itching like crazy. So I’m going crazy. Trying to prepare for a trial but all I can think about is how my head feels like it’s on fire.
I sincerely believe that infesting someone with a pile of head lice would be worse than water boarding.
We did everything to get rid of the lice.
Even hired a professional lice-killing lady to come to our house, douse our heads in olive oil, and remove the lice and eggs. Five hours, six hundred dollars, and one wasted Sunday later, they were finally gone.
Once and for all.
Except my head remained subconsciously itchy and I kept buying products to kill any that remained alive. My favorite, hands down, was this stuff right here. They sell shampoo and conditioner, the shipping was quick, it smelled nice, and I had Farrah Fawcett hair after using it. And I’m not being paid one red cent to endorse this product. I genuinely loved it.
Here’s the problem with head lice that most people who haven’t had it don’t realize. They reproduce quickly. Just because you wash your hair and kill all the live lice, you still have to contend with their eggs. They all have to be removed from your head. If you leave one behind, that egg will hatch, grow into an adult, and lay more eggs a couple days later. So you really have to stay on top of finding the eggs and destroying them. You also have to wash your sheets and towels, vacuum the house, boil your hair brushes in hot water, and isolate any dolls or stuffed animals that could contain eggs.
But perhaps it’s a parenting rite of passage.
A badge of honor.
I survived head lice, so I can now get through anything.
Finish an Iron Man. Climb Mt. Everest. Swim with sharks.
I also want to eliminate the shame associated with getting head lice, which most people deny exists, but really it does.
Trying to protect my daughter, I told her she had the case of the “itchies.” I didn’t want her to tell her little friends she had lice in her hair and risk her becoming a pariah. Know what she did? Marched into the school the next day and proudly told her teachers she had bugs in her hair, and that I gave her a “spa night” to get them out.
Oh, to be as carefree as a child.
Disclaimer: parents of students in my daughter’s pre-K class: Yes, she was the first reported case of head lice. And I’m sorry. I hope she didn’t give it to any of your children. She was not the second reported case of lice. Don’t know who that was and can’t claim it. But the mama of that child is free to give me a call and we can swap war stories over tears and libations. The identity of your child will remain privileged and confidential.