It usually starts with the letter home, written in that passive-aggressive style schools do so well: "We've had some unwelcome visitors in the class..."
As everyone knows, this is code for: "Your grubby child has given everyone the hair plague. Don't come back until you've painted a red cross on your door and shaved their heads."
I knew it was coming. It's like getting your first period - you don't know when it'll happen, but you know it will be painful, messy and smelly.
So I always assumed the kids would bring nits home from school one day, along with the usual collection of paintings, creative pottery and facts about dinosaurs.
It fact, we picked up our first case of headlice during a visit to Australia over Christmas. I'm sure these ones were bigger and itchier than the British version. We discovered them on the plane home. So there we were - me, the husband, the three-year-old and the six-year-old, all scratching our messy, dirty hair like a bunch of feral gorillas. Just to make sure the other passengers knew what was going on, the kids kept shouting, "My head's itchy, Mummy! It's REALLY itchy!" Yes, we were THAT family.
We arrived home facing not only the hell of jetlag, but the horror of having to delouse ourselves before returning to school and work the next day. I sat the three of them on chairs and started combing the mini-beasts out of their tatty hair. Oh, the whining, the wriggling, the moaning I had to endure - and that was before I started on the kids.
Yes, my 38-year-old husband was the worst. It's a special moment in any couple's life when you have to remove crawling bugs from each other's scalps. It puts a whole new spin on having animalistic urges - by the end of the session I was ready to bite him myself, before dragging him into a swamp TO DIE.
At last we were nit-free, or at least as far as I could be sure. I took the kids to school, hoping neither of them would give the game away by scratching. I braided the daughter's hair so tightly her face was free from expression, like a mini-Nicole Kidman. I made the boy wear a beanie indoors.
I spent the whole day dreading a phone call from the school, wondering if that letter would be waiting for me at pick-up time... But thankfully, we were OK.
All the same, it wasn't a great time. For me, the hardest thing was discovering that unlike many other parenting experiences, having nits is still taboo. Talking about it involves lots of whispering and nervous laughter. There's lots of trying to sound jolly while saying things like, "Apparently, lice only like really clean hair," as if the particular species of nit on your kid's head only wears Boden and eats organic.
My usual response in stressful situations is to crack a joke and have a laugh, but I found myself embarrassed and on the defence. Just like STDs in your twenties, it turns out nits aren't such a natural source of humour when they happen to you...
But we got through it and now I can see the funny side. So for those new to nits, here's my survivor's guide.
1. CREATE AN EMERGENCY KIT.
This should contain:
2 bottles of nit solution
(one for the adults, one for the kids)
4 combs (so there's always one to hand)
Thick conditioner (makes combing out easier)
Lollipops and Kids' DVDs
(to distract them from wriggling)
Wine / beer / gin
(to distract yourself from the whole thing)
A sense of humour
Make sure you have all these things in stock at all times. If your child is starting school in September, go and get them now. Seriously. They're more important than the uniform, a coat, shoes etc.
2. MAKE IT A GAME.
Draw up a chart to see which member of the family has the most live nits.
My daughter got 13 the other day and we all cheered. It's a good laugh, and the kids get a bonus maths lesson too.
Feel free to award a prize to each member of the family,
3. TELL YOUR FRIENDS.
Especially if your friends are 39 weeks pregnant and have a toddler with curly hair
(sorry, Taryn.) Just make a joke of it and be honest.
4. REMEMBER YOU'RE NOT ALONE.
Everyone, EVERYONE who has children will get nits at some point. Probably more than once. It's OK to indulge in a bit of schadenfreude as you picture Wills and Kate combing insects out of each other's hair. The nits don't care. (All right, so Wills and Kate probably have a dedicated Nit Butler for this kind of thing, but you get the idea.)
We'll never win the war on nits, so we might as well chuckle through it. Good luck everyone!