Head lice: the parental nightmare

I knew it was only a matter of time. It’s inevitable: like pink eye, or the stomach flu, or when you learn that your kid taught another kid a four-letter word. Yes, I am talking about the first time that you find out head lice is going around your child’s classroom. 

Today was that day for us.

I was just routinely checking my email when I saw the subject line, in all caps, which perfectly described how I heard it in my head: “HEAD LICE REPORTED.” Worse yet, it was in my son’s very class. I’ll admit it: I was hoping beyond hopes that it was the other classroom in my son’s small preschool that was affected. I know, I know—it’s not very altruistic of me, but really, who ever wishes for parasites?

As soon as I opened the email I started scratching my head. It’s amazing what the power of suggestion can do. Information on how to check for lice and nits was included, and after I frantically texted my husband that a plague was upon us, he calmly responded that I needed to go to the drugstore and buy a special comb to complete this task.

I considered ordering one through Amazon to avoid having to make this purchase, but even 2-day shipping would be too long a wait. I would have had my husband pick it up on the way home, but of course it was his late night to work, and he wouldn’t be home before our son’s bedtime. Oh man, I really have to do this, I concluded.

Now I objectively know that lice is something that can affect everyone. Having it does not mean you are dirty or that you don’t bathe your kids or that you are a bad parent. Getting lice is super common among kids who just love to play together thisclose and, as such, spread it quite easily.

Objectively, I can recite those facts. Subjectively, I wanted to crawl under a rock and die because I knew buying this comb would label us as THE PEOPLE WHO WERE JUST IN THE STORE WITH LICE. I’d be making their heads itch. I also know that bugs of this type completely gross me out, and I wasn’t sure I could sit there and comb through my kid’s head without maybe puking on him. Yes, I am an obstetrician and work in a messy world, but this. This is different. I’ll take amniotic fluid any day.

After picking my son up from school we went to the drugstore to look for this special lice comb. I found the nearest employee and tried to act all nonchalant: “Do you know where lice combs are kept?—” and before I could finish he quickly nodded and bolted ahead of me to show me/run away from me. I followed with, “He doesn’t HAVE lice, but his school said we had to check—HAHA!” but I don’t think he cared or believed me. He pointed to the combs from 5 feet away from us. I thanked him and said loudly, “YEP SO GLAD HIS SCHOOL LET US KNOW SOMEONE ELSE HAS IT!” but he was already gone.

The cashier had a similar reaction. I considered nesting the comb in a grouping of similarly embarrassing products so as to help it blend in. Over-the-counter urine cocaine tests (yes, these are real), douches, and anti-diarrheal medications all came to mind, but it seemed like too much work. With an efficiency I’d never seen before, we were checked out, and I was off to do my motherly duties.

I kept my son occupied in a chair with candy while I meticulously combed his hair. I thought I saw some bugs and dry heaved, only to realize they were actually dandruff. Have you ever been so happy to see dandruff?! I can now say I have.

My moral of the story? Lice happens, and if you get it, oh well. My luck is that my son will have it by next week, and we’ll treat it and move on. But at least I can say I’ve earned one more Mom Badge, and despite my lack of grace, I did my duties and didn’t puke on my son.

But I’m still itchy.

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About Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, Medical Director, Pregnancy

Dr. Jennifer Lincoln is a board-certified generalist obstetrician/gynecologist and attending physician in Portland, Oregon. She primarily works on labor and delivery has recently been certified as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.


  1. Great post! Just think about those poor mamas of children with lots and lots of long hair, yikes! I think lice is one of those parenting rights of passage but it’s so not fun. For mamas of children with long hair, put it up when at school (braids, a bun)…helps a bit then look carefully each day so that you can find it early if it strikes.

  2. This cracked me up! I get emails like this weekly because my daughter’s preschool is part of a large K-8 school. I always hold my breath when I open them…


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