No, I'm not referencing George Michael and the finger-snapping ditty sung to us when we were naive, innocent, big-haired teens. I'm talking Bugs. That give you the Jitters.
Our kids aren't the only ones who can send off short, cryptic texts that say it all with one little acronym or word. Mommies can do it too. Sometimes I will get one that says "Hugs" after a hard day. Or one that says "Beer?" from a friend who desperately needs to get out. But the one that sends chills down my spine, the one that almost makes me drop my phone as I physically recoil from the horror of the message...?
One word. "LICE!!!". Sometimes it's followed by a frowny emoticon. Sometimes a garbled "aughggghhhh". Usually it's just that tiny four letter word. And you know what? Enough said.
Have you escaped the wrath of the creepy crawlies? I was one of those confident ladies, one of the untouchables. The kids would come home with the pink sheet of paper from the school nurse, warning us of another outbreak, and to check our angel's heads, tell them again to not wear other people's hats or use their brushes. I'd read them, look at the pure, unscathed scalps of my bug-free brood and send that ominous pink sheet into recycling. "Not in this house, nurse" I'd say to myself.
I work at the school, and therefore would get a "heads up" (woe is the reader who hates puns) of which kid/family was embroiled in the war against louse at any given time. I'd look at the kids with a sick curiosity. Part of me wanted to hug them and let them know that they were still lovable, despite the fact that they had bugs living, breeding and crawling through their hair shafts. But part of me also wanted to invest in a hazmat suit and walk around like Dustin Hoffman in "Outbreak".
But all of that changed. It all changed during what I now like to call "Battle of the Bugs December '08". Or, if I was going to give it a proper title:
"Nits Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas" or "All I Want For Christmas Is A Fine-Toothed Comb".
We got 'em.
December, 2008. We were a few months into what we also call "The Year Big Daddy Quit Supporting His Kids", so I was already in a fragile mental state.
The pink slips were coming fast and furiously that winter, but like always, I just tossed them aside. "Like God would allow that to happen" I'd think to myself. Until one day, I was standing over William as he finished a spelling worksheet. For some reason I happened to look down at his head.
And saw something move.
I blinked. Blinked again. And saw it move again. With the lightning fast speed and Ninja-like skill that only a disbelieving, stressed out mom possesses, I nabbed the moving thing between two fingers. Opened them up and saw a tiny, squirming, LIVE bug. On my baby's head. I squished it on a paper towel and instantly fished one of the pink sheets out of recycling.
Dear God. It was an adult louse.
Bile rose in the back of my throat. I tried to remain calm as I stood over William's head again, this time focusing on his scalp instead of his spelling. "Hold still" I told him. And began what would soon become a daily ritual that continues to this day. The checking of the head.
That day I found a few more bugs, scurrying from my view through my son's baby-soft hair. I think I started crying. No, I'm sure I did. Still weeping, I went over to Henry and of course found a few of the six legged bastards. Molly and Charlie were already at school at this point, which left one head to inspect. Mine.
I asked the boys to look through my hair, but that's kind of like asking a husband to find a matching pair of black dress socks on his own. It probably didn't help that at that time, I had hair down to the middle of my back. Thick, wavy hair. Dark, dark brown hair. It was like trying to find Waldo except there was no thrill of victory when you did find him.
Anyhoo. They didn't have any luck in my locks, thank God. So I called the school to let them know that we had fallen. I quickly contacted my friends who had been through this horror, got my shopping list and headed out to a drugstore in the next city over, where the chances of being caught by anyone I knew while I perused the lice shampoo aisle were slim. It was while standing in the aisle of a far, far away Walgreens when I felt something on my head. Again, the Ninja fingers darted in and again, came back with a sickening, squiggling bounty. And that's how I found out that I had been infested, too. That's also when I broke down and started sobbing in the middle of a drugstore.
This is one of those times when you find out who your friends are. Or, to be fair, you find out which friends have a strong constitution and a high threshold for panic and fear. Two of mine came through like latex-glove wearing angels at this time. One came over after I had shampooed myself and the boys. Wearing her gloves and her own beautiful curly long brown hair up in a tight bun, she stood over our noggins and proceeded to spend a good three hours going through each strand of hair. She showed me how to pull the nits off of the hair, how to tell if what you were seeing is really a bug or just a flake or random bit of dirt.
She went through my hair, strand by strand, talking to me in a soothing, calm voice, like the voice the nurses use when stabilizing mental cases in the E.R. She was awesome.
Charlie and Molly didn't get it. I figured out that either William or Henry picked it up at school, and thanks to me being an enabling spineless woman who lets her kids bunk with her, they brought it into my bed. Where I got it.
One of the most difficult tasks during this time was letting Big Daddy know. I had already heard how he and Secretary mocked my parenting/housekeeping/living/breathing in general, I could only imagine the fun they'd have with this one. But he had to know, in order to do the pillow tossing, vacuuming, spraying, etc. The kids also had to be re-inspected over and over to make sure the bugs were gone. So the news was shared.
And we conquered.
Or so I thought.
They came back, not once, but twice. At this point I had stripped all of our beds, thrown away all of our pillows and sprayed every single surface in the house and car with a giant can of RID spray. One night, in desperation, I went out on the patio with my kitchen shears and cut off 8" of my hair. My other "friend in need", a hair stylist, came over and gave the boys crewcuts. We tried the mayo treatment, the saran wrap/olive oil treatment (this was on Christmas Eve...I joked with my friends that my head was the appetizer..just bring bread!).
Finally I called our pediatrician's office and begged for a prescription shampoo. I had heard rumors of this magical potion. I was desperate.
So we got the magic lice killing elixir. It was $140.00 a bottle. Yes, $140.00. I got two of them and split them up among the five of us in the house. Charlie and Molly were still insect-free but I made them apply it as well...just in case.
It was a foul, strong smelling liquid. It smelled like the air smells after a neighbor gets their lawn treated by one of those icky poison spraying companies. I imagined the chemical seeping into my sweet little boy's bloodstreams and damaging their tiny babymaking equipment. I imagined 3-headed grandbabies. But I had to get rid of the lice.
But we didn't come out of this war without scars. My boys still succumb to me poring over their heads like a giant baboon, always searching, looking for nits. My head instantly starts to itch at the mere mention of these head-infesting demons. I have nightmares about bugs springing off of our heads.
Yesterday and the day before that, I got two separate text messages from two separate friends. Both texts were short, and both contained the word "LICE". My hands flew to my head and started scratching, and I texted back messages of support and sympathy. Offered up my services as a Class A Nit Picker.
What I don't tell them? I hoarded half a bottle of the super secret powerful shampoo. I have it in a cool, dry place. I keep it "just in case". I think I may go look at it now, hold it, just to comfort myself. Kind of like wearing a St. Christopher medallion or eating a diet rich in anti-oxidants, it's a safekeeping measure for me.
Just in case.