It happened in January.
My husband had just left for a month-long business trip to South America, leaving me alone in the greyest, coldest time of year to parent our three young children. No big deal. I could handle it. I was strong, capable and in control.
That is, until my daughter came home from school, clawing to scratch the insatiable itch on her head, holding a letter from her teacher explaining that lice had hit her classroom. I parted her hair with my hands and saw the tell-tale specks of black scuttling away from the light.
Then I died. My kid had LICE! So gross, right?! Only the dirty kids from the wrong side of the tracks got head lice, I thought. I went about dousing her head with that crazy-toxic louse-killing shampoo, ripped off all her bedding and threw it in the washer, and spent the next day picking nits out of her hair.
I thought that was the end of it. It had been nasty, but we made it. To celebrate, we went out for coffee and a treat at a specialty bakery in the next town with my kids and mother-in-law and sister-in-law. As I took a sip of my steaming maple latte, my sister-in-law reached across the table and pulled a louse OUT OF MY HAIR.
Did you catch that? It was in MY HAIR.
Then I died again. For real this time. I am writing this from beyond the grave.
I HAD LICE.
The shame soaked through me and we went home where I poured that awful shampoo all over my own head, did the same to all my kids again for good measure, and ripped off even more sheets, towels, hats, pillows and clothes for washing.
I was all alone. Just me and the head lice. I called my husband in South America in tears and told him what had happened.
Then I stood in my laundry room, surveyed the waist-high ocean of nit-covered garments surrounding me, and I just lost it. How could I possibly conquer this situation when there was no one around to help me pick the nits out of my own hair? I had never had lice as a kid, so I was just so embarrassed and ashamed, too sheepish to call anyone and ask for help.
So, I phoned my mom. From two provinces away, she listened while I cried and she told me she was hopping on a plane the next morning to come and be my personal nit-picker. Then she prayed with me over the phone, asking God to give me strength and help me find a way to get through this.
A few minutes later there was a knock on my door. A good friend of mine was there with a beautiful care package in her hands for our girls. She knew we were stuck at home, not wanting to spread my daughter’s lice, but she did not know that I had been stricken myself.
“How are you holding up?” she asked.
“I’ve been better,” I choked. And my eyes said the rest.
“Did you get it too?” she said.
I nodded, then the tears spilled over and I crumpled in a heap of despair.
“Do you want me to go through your hair for you?” she asked.
And I scooped up all my pride, threw it away forever and said yes.
I have never been so humbled as I was that night, as my dear friend stooped over my shoulders and sifted through my hair, plucking nits I could neither see nor reach. In the same way that Jesus rolled up his sleeves and washed the dirt off the feet of his disciples, getting real with the nitty-gritty of humanity, so my friend showed the same selfless love to me and I will never forget it, being on the receiving end of grace like that.
So there you have it. My kids had lice. I had lice. It was super gross but we survived.
So much of my shame and embarrassment came from the self-imposed stigma out there that it just shouldn’t happen to nice, clean people. But it does. And it’s OK.
So, lice. Let’s talk about it! Have your kids ever had it? Have YOU ever had it?
No judgement here, just nods of understanding and maybe a little reminiscent itching at the thought of it all.