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The 5 Emotional Stages of Lice

Photograph by Getty Images

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, approximately 6 to 12 million children ages 3 to 11 will contract head lice this year.

I recently became the lucky parent of one of those children. As I've gone through the cleaning and literal nit-picking process, I've come to believe that there are five emotional stages of a lice infestation. Much like Elizabeth Kübler-Ross's five stages of grief, these begin with denial and end with acceptance.

At least a reluctant, head-scratching sort of acceptance.

RELATED: Got Lice?

1. Denial

When I first received "the call" from a school nurse, my response to her was, "No." In my head, I repeated the word "no" approximately 92 times. No head lice. No bugs in my kid's hair. No. I rejected that reality wholeheartedly.

Then I considered the other possible realities: Were there bugs crawling around in my other children's hair? No. Please, no. Not true. Oh no, were there bugs crawling around in my hair? No. Or eggs? No. Would it be better to have eggs or bugs in our hair? Neither: the answer is just "no."

After I discussed the appropriate lice treatments and care with the nurse, I went to my mentally happy place. There was sunshine, a cool ocean breeze, an endless supply of wine and exactly zero lice milling about in anyone's hair.

2. Anger

The more I learned about lice, the less fearful I became. They don't transmit disease. They die after a day or two without a human host. Most doctors, researchers and nurses recommend that kids return to school after they have been treated for lice, even if the nits (or eggs) aren't yet completely eradicated.

I could handle that. I mean, technically, we all have microscopic bacteria and "bugs" crawling on us all the time anyway. What's so especially nasty about lice?

Moreover, as far as home-cleaning goes, one only needs to vacuum every carpeted and upholstered surface carefully; launder any bedding, blanket or clothing that the lice-infested person has used; and follow simple instructions for removing lice from stuffed animals, helmets and anything else that might have touched that person's head.

In theory, that cleaning is easy. In reality, I spent nine straight hours vacuuming, laundering and nit-picking, and that was only on the first day of the infestation. Our pile of laundry grew so big that we gave it a nickname: Mount Laundry.

And on that first evening, at 9, when all of our bed sheets still weren't entirely washed, my children watched as I walked into my bedroom, closed the door behind me, pounded my fists on my bed and moaned, "No, dammit, no, I hate these lice, I hate these lice, I haaaaaaaate these liiiiiiiiiiiice!"

And I still hate them. I hate head lice with a red-hot, fiery anger.

Contracting lice doesn't mean that you, your children or your home are dirty. Lice won't kill, maim or transmit diseases to anyone. They are simply a nuisance.

3. Bargaining

Every morning during our lice infestation, I have awoken like a child on Christmas and hoped that this would be the day that I wouldn't spot a single nit or louse in my kid's hair. My constant cleaning! My meticulous use of our local Lice Center's head spray! My extra nit-picking! It all had to do something. I did all the work, ergo I deserved all the rewards.

Let's just say that finding a head full of lice in someone's hair is gross.

But finding two solitary nits after a couple days of constant lice removal is soul-crushing.

Among other things, it means more laundry.

4. Depression

"I don't think I can do this anymore," I told my husband one day on the phone.

During this lice-infestation, he has taken over dinners and bedtime like the true partner-in-parenting that he is. But because my daytime work schedule is more flexible than his, I have been responsible for most of the lice-cleaning. Particularly during those first few days, it was overwhelming.

"The laundry is the big thing. It's too much," I said to him. "It's just too much."

"I told you I'd finish it when I get home tonight. Don't worry," he said.

"But you can't," I said, narrowing my eyes at Mount Laundry. "If I wait for you, then we won't have anything to sleep on until hours after the kids' bedtime."

I wanted to give up. I wanted to dive right into that pile of laundry on the floor and just take a nap.

But then I realized that diving head-first into a pile of potentially lice-ridden laundry probably wasn't a good idea.

I scratched my head for what felt like the millionth time.

5. Acceptance

Over time, I have grown to accept the work involved in removing lice from one's home and head. Indeed, eliminating head lice from one's home requires hours upon hours of cleaning and caretaking. It requires hours of nit-picking and hair treatment.

RELATED: 'Parents Should Come Clean About Lice'

But contracting lice doesn't mean that you, your children or your home are dirty. Lice won't kill, maim or transmit diseases to anyone. They are simply a nuisance. Disgusting, but not dangerous.

That, I can accept.

Right after I finish my 1064th load of laundry.

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