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20-40-60 Etiquette: Party decision is a head-scratcher

[File art: Pexels]
[File art: Pexels]

QUESTION: My friend had a birthday party for her daughter. Several days ahead of time she confided in me that her two older children had head lice but they had been treated, so the party was still going to be held. She politely asked me not to tell anyone. What should I have done?

CALLIE’S ANSWER: I would have done what my friend asked and not told anyone but made the choice to go or not go on my own. Unless it was a party that kids were sharing hats, I wouldn’t be too worried, I think. But I’m not at the head lice stage yet.

LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: Just thinking about this scenario makes my head itch. Even though lice won’t harm a person, having lice is traumatizing for all involved, especially for the parents trying to root out the bugs. Several days ahead of time should be enough to treat lice, but it requires aggressive action and washing in hot water practically everything in your house. Many experts say that children can return to school after the first treatment and a visual inspection hours afterward, although parents should continue checking them for unhatched nits for the next couple of weeks as a precaution. So think about that when deciding about the party.

In your situation, I don’t know why your friend told you that unless she was worried about it and seeking absolution. Where is the party being held? In her home? The location might help make my decision, even though lice can’t survive away from a scalp. I am reasonably sure your friend is right about the treatment working, especially if she has done visual inspections and doesn’t see any more evidence of lice. Neither you or the others will be harmed, and the chances of your children getting lice after the others have been treated appear to be slim. However, if you want to sit this one out, feel free to do so quietly.

Most importantly, know that lice can happen to anyone — it doesn’t matter if your house or hair is clean or dirty or where a person lives. These parasites aren’t picky, so make your decision about the party and don’t give your friend’s circumstance another thought. It is hard being a parent; she is probably more worried that it happened to her family than she should be. The moment will pass quickly and should without judgment from others.

HELEN’S ANSWER: Head lice is definitely contagious. If I had several children at home, I would not send my child to the party, for fear that everyone in my house could be infected. As far as telling people about the lice, that is up to the mom who is having the party.

GUEST’S ANSWER: Richard Rosser, author of “Piggy Nation,” a series of books, a cartoon and more on etiquette: Wow! Your “friend” really put you on the spot. I don’t know which is worse, that she told you about the lice, or that she asked you to keep it secret.

As I see it, you had four options: First, tell the other parents and ruin your friendship. Second, keep quiet and hope no one at the party (including you and your child) gets lice. Third, keep quiet, but keep your child from attending the party. You could tell your friend that your child has lice (too ironic?). Last, agree to go along, but only after having all three of your friend’s kids checked by a lice removal specialist (also known as a nitpicker). I hope this answer helps you sleep tight tonight. Oh, and don’t let the bedbugs bite!

Since 2009, Callie, Lillie-Beth and Helen have written this generational etiquette column. They also include guest responses from a wide range of ages each week. So many years later, Callie is 20-plus; Lillie-Beth, 40-plus and Helen, 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email