Lice hit our family hard – but brought us closer together.
A few days after returning from a pretty satisfying two-week family road trip, my husband got a disturbing text message from his ex-wife.
“You know the kids have lice, right?”
My stepkids had been reunited with their mother about an hour before that startling revelation, after a few weeks of being in the sole care of my husband and I. As I strapped them in their car seats, I was a proud stepmother sending them back. They were happy, had avoided sunburn, were well-rested and were spilling over with fun memories from the vacation. I felt like a good parent — one who had given all my kids a special gift in our modest family trip. I was already missing them as they pulled out of my driveway.
“WHAT?!!” I exclaimed, asking my husband to read the text again to be certain that he hadn’t read it wrong. Once confirmed, I yanked my own phone out of the charger and dialed up the mother of my stepkids to talk this whole debacle out. She seemed annoyed and angry when she first picked up, but the conversation quickly evolved into a game plan on how to eradicate the itchy pests in the fastest way possible and then keep them away. I apologized, and then apologized again. I knew it wasn’t my fault that they had contracted lice, but I felt pretty low for not even noticing the fact before sending them off to their mother’s house.
A quick check of my two bio-daughters’ heads proved that they too had lice.
My neighbor who had battled it in her household several months earlier confirmed the parasites on the heads of my husband and I as well. It made sense, really. Our trip had been one big game of musical beds, with sleeping arrangements changing nightly and the kids had also requested switching seats in our rented mini-van many times throughout the trip. My tired 6-year-old asked to use my pillow once on the drive, then her younger stepsister made the same request the next day. Blankets were passed around the vehicle, and pulled over heads during games of peek-a-boo with my youngest.
I called or texted every family member or friend we had visited with over the past few weeks and my sister-in-law quickly confirmed that my niece also had lice, and thanked me for letting her know to check. My husband and I set to work washing bedding, spraying furniture and pulling suffocation goo through our hair to get rid of the bugs, eggs and nits. In the midst of the Lice-Gate frenzy, I sat down on the couch and started crying. How had I missed the signs of my four beautiful children scratching their heads? What kind of parent was I, not noticing, and then visiting with many other families and exposing them to the lice too?
Why was this happening to our family?
But as the dead bugs were painstakingly combed from the gorgeous blonde hair of my daughters, and we got word that the adorable curly heads of my stepkids were now bug free too, I started to feel a little bit better about things. The freshly washed sheets were returned to the beds. The stuffed animals were quarantined. The hairbrushes went out with the nightly trash. As quickly as the bad lice news had been ushered in, it seemed, the threat was being eliminated. My terrible parenting had managed to ruin just one day of our lives but there was no permanent damage.
I’ve thought a lot about the whole incident — from the lice themselves to my low point crying on the couch — in the days following and determined that there are actually a few positives I can glean from this experience, too, like…
Our family is very close-knit.
The reason all six of us contracted lice was because all six of us were near enough to each other for the bugs to migrate from one head to another. This means we hug a lot. My kids share the same pillows when they lay on the rug to watch movies. My husband and I pull our kids into bed with us when they come into our room, distraught from a nightmare. After my daughters’ heads had been combed free of lice, but my husband and I had not done ours yet, I had to stop myself quite a few times from picking up my youngest to give her a hug and kiss when she raced past me.
Vacation had forced us to be even closer than usual — but even in our regular routine, there is a good chance most (or all) of us would have passed the lice between each other in our normal course of action. In this case, that family closeness meant a little more work on our end (and for my stepkids’ mother). In the long run though I’ll take six people with lice who came by them from being so close to each other that it was unavoidable.
We’ve all been there.
By “we,” I mean “parents.” I snapped a cell phone shot of our lice elimination kit and then hesitated posting it to Facebook. I realized I was kind of embarrassed and ashamed. I then realized that was exactly the reason I should post it — because I knew there were other parents out there who could commiserate and relate. Thirty-two reassuring and helpful comments later, and I’m more convinced than ever that parents truly do share in each other’s challenges and want to help each other through them.
Maybe we haven’t all dealt with lice, but we’ve had different versions of the same Hell happen in our own households. The stomach flu that hits every family member. The winter storm that knocks out power for three days. The mice in the attic (or kitchen) that we just can’t get to leave our residence permanently. In the midst of these minor crises, it is reassuring to know that other families deal with them too, and that we are all in this child-raising thing together.
Parents get it wrong sometimes.
I don’t pretend to be a perfect mom, but I’d like for people to think I’m a pretty darn good one. I’m around my kids a lot so I pride myself on being able to pick up on their insecurities, and bad days at school, and health problems right away. But sometimes, I get it wrong. I had seen my kids scratching their heads but had chalked it up to being in the sun, swimming in chlorinated pools and even from irritation from sitting in the car for long stretches. I did a basic glance at my stepson’s hair at one point and didn’t see anything suspicious and then left it at that (P.S. – If you don’t know what you are looking for, lice and their eggs are incredibly difficult to spot).
I was distracted by the trip, tired from being six months pregnant and maybe even a little bit lazy being in vacation-mode. I missed the signs of lice — so did my husband. I still feel pretty badly about it, but I also have to remind myself that for every one thing I get wrong as a mom/stepmom, I get 100 more things right. On the days when we make mistakes, we have to face them, correct them and move forward — and it’s healthy for our kids to see us go through that process.
The lice are gone (for now) and we remain vigilant against any recurrences. Just as we share our best moments with our kids, extended family and friends, we should share our low points too. Life isn’t about being perfect; it’s about living each moment, good or bad, to its fullest and having a positive outlook about our futures.
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