Call the lice checker, order the cupcakes

Gone are the stigma and the tears. The creepy-crawlies are now reason for a party.
Rebecca Eckler
Call the lice checker, order the cupcakes
Photo illustration by Sarah MacKinnon

It’s only spring but, already, savvier parents are marking their calendars for one of the stranger end-of-summer social events: the lice party. By February, Karin Kutasewich, the owner of the Toronto franchise of the Lice Squad, had already booked dates for August, when many children will come home from camp. A number of parents have arranged for the Lice Squad to come to their homes on the exact date their children return. It’s straight off the bus and into the backyard, where the parents sit around gossiping and the children are checked for lice.

Yes, no longer is having lice an embarrassment to be kept hidden. Kutasewich’s largest “lice party” thus far included 30 children getting lice checks—and treatments, if needed—while mothers relaxed in the backyard with wine and cheese. Kelly Watson, owner of Nit Happens, which offers treatments outside the Toronto area, once did a lice party for 16. “It was a poolside delousing,” she laughs. “There was a full barbecue going on.” It took four hours to get through everyone. “Lice are a part of life,” says Kutasewich. “If you have it, you can’t ignore it. So you might as well make it a good time.”

Summer aside, a popular time for lice parties is after March break or Christmas holidays, when many children go to tropical places that offer hair braiding, a breeding ground for lice, thanks to great numbers of people using the same comb. Schools routinely check for lice within a couple of weeks after a break. “That’s when you can see the eggs or the lice,” said Kutasewich. If there are signs, she says, “mothers invite the closest friends of their children over”—along with the lice checker. “It’s bad karma if you don’t tell other parents,” said Watson.

That’s a far cry from a couple years ago, when lice professionals were sometimes asked to park their logo-festooned cars down the street, for fear the neighbours would find out. Kutasewich has parents who call it a “spa day,” and Toronto’s Lice Squad has a clinic where parents bring cupcakes and the children can watch television. One child who attends a prestigious private school in the city reportedly told her mother after visiting the clinic, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a lice checker.”

Making lice treatments fun is a growing trend. In New York, the salon Hair Fairies (there are six other locations around the U.S.) specializes in lice and has video games and toys. One client, a little girl, asked if they did birthday parties. Another time, two friends met up there, neither knowing the other had any reason to visit the place. They followed the treatment session with a play date, since both were missing school anyway.

But there’s an economic advantage to lice parties at home. Because many lice checkers don’t charge per child for home visits, the parents can all chip in. No matter how long the checker is there, it’s one fee of around $250 before tax (there are extra charges for follow-up treatments, shampoos and combs). There’s an emotional benefit, too. “I have so many mothers crying when they find out their children have lice. They are devastated,” says Kutasewich, “and children will follow their parents’ response.” The parties make it easier. Lina Deciantis, a lice checker, recently worked at an event that had strawberries, muffins and coffee for parents. The children enjoyed brownies, played the piano and drew pictures. “There is no finger-pointing or rumours,” she said. “The party is a form of acceptance.”

It also works. “We had a lice party because we realized the girls kept getting it back,” said Lori, who didn’t want her last name used. Her daughter attends high school in Toronto’s east end. “It was so frustrating to get rid of it, only for it to come back weeks later.” So she sent a group email to her daughter’s friends and their parents. “It was surprisingly easy to get everyone together,” she says, though the party itself was tricky. “There was one family who thought they never had it, and they were the culprit! Not only did the child have it, so did the mom and dad.Well, they all had the shower caps on with the lice potion on their heads and wouldn’t leave the room.” Still, she says, “it was a brilliant way to nip it in the bud. And it was a good time. Well, as good a time as you can have under the circumstances.”