"Watch your heads, and sit down over there," said Grandma, motioning to a large trunk beneath the musty slants of the attic eaves. And then the storytelling began....

Antiques were folded into dusty boxes around us, their significance left unlabelled but for Grandma's remembering tales. I listened to the stories of my ancestors from the keepers of their treasures in that damp, dark haven where history and the future came together. And during those childhood hours in the attic, I would hear my calling—the.eternal quest for stories told and untold. I answer it still.
Musty smells and mothballs will take me there again, sitting on a box in my memory, enraptured. I hear knockin' on the attic as voices in my head—whispery phrases that need a turn, stories aching to be told, or simply memories wanting another moment of my time. When I hear that knockin', I know there's a voice to be heard and a story to be told. So, be careful on the ladder, watch your head on that beam, and have a seat on that trunk over there. Lean in, for I have some tales to share...

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Bed Bugs Bite

     A few nights ago, in the dark, late hours past midnight, I was stretched out on the couch reading a book, when I heard from my son’s room a screech and a bumbling scramble. I ran to the room. Keid stood near his dresser, stuffed alligator in hand, gesturing towards his bed.
     “What happened?” I asked, accustomed to the nightmares of this sensitive child of mine.
     “Mommy, it was a giant bug! I felt it on my shoulder, and when I jumped, it ran all the way down my arm!”
     “I swung my arm and it flew off me.” He shuddered.
     “Do you know what it was?”
     “I think it was a giant ant. Probably the queen of an ant colony,” he said. “Yes, I’m sure it was the queen.”
     We checked his room, at half past midnight on a school’s night, shaking blankets, checking under pillows and the bed. Nothing. No signs of an insect of any variety.
     “I see nothing, hon.” I was disappointed I couldn't relieve him of this stress. Of my three children (the other two girls, ages 7 and 4), my 9-year-old son is the most positive in spirit, yet the most easily crushed when the world does not adhere to his expectations. And I knew he’d expect the ant-in-his-room situation resolved before he'd be able to relax enough to go back to dreams. 
     Experience has taught me it was doomed to be a no-sleep-night for both of us.
     A couple of years earlier, my son had declared he wants to be a scientist and travel the world to study animals. I would have to appeal to his love of creatures and seize this as a teaching moment. “Well, Keid, you know that if it was a queen ant that surprised you tonight, you are in no danger. She was probably dealing with the business of her colony and used your arm as a shortcut to get where she needed to go. She won’t hurt you and will be too busy to bother you again.”
     Keid agreed to get back in bed. He asked me to perform the sleep-well ritual we began when he was a toddler (I circle my hands over his head and chant 3 times: “Bad dreams, go away. Good dreams here to stay”). Much to my relief, he fell asleep quickly.
     Deep in my own dreams some hours later, I awoke with a start to find my son staring down at me. I glanced at the clock. It was 3:15 am.
     “What, Keid?”” I grumbled.
     “I got up to get a drink of water and now I can't go back to sleep,” he said. "I think I saw the giant ant again."
     I threw off the covers. “Get in bed. I’m coming.”
     After another thorough search of the covers, walls, and floor, I re-tucked him under his duvet and performed the necessary sleep-well ceremony over his head. I waited with him, as I always do with my kids after a sleep disturbance, until I saw the calm and gentle rhythm of his breathing that indicated he was sleeping. I climbed back into my bed at just after 4 am.
     The next day, after kids were shuffled off to school, the husband off to work, and all the daycare kids delivered to me, I stood in the kitchen, preparing mid-morning snacks for my “littles." I finished filling the bowls, and was wiping the counter with a paper towel when I spotted it.
     The ant.
     It could only be the Queen of All Ants that had so mysteriously and resolutely disturbed my son (and therefore me) the previous night. She marched across my kitchen floor like a woman who belonged there. Like a woman with a mission.
     It was inexcusable-even for an ant.
     And there was a paper towel at hand.
     I thought of how the alarm clock had sounded hours earlier than I had felt was really necessary. The struggle of getting my tired son out of bed, ready for school, and onto the bus—fully clothed, brushed, and fed—raced through my mind. The morning chaos of making lunches, loading backpacks, greeting daycare parents, and accepting six extra children into my home, all while getting two of the daycare kids, my own three children and my husband  off to school (my husband works as a special needs educator), weighed heavily on my mind as I watched that enormous, armored insect cross the crumb-littered tiles of my kitchen.
     I glared at her accusingly, and she lifted her antennaed head, glaring back at me before dismissing me and continuing her journey.
     Yes, we understood each other. This was to be a territorial war.
     While she may have held the power of surprise and fear in the dark of night, I held the power of my foot and the willing paper towel in the bright light of day.
    I frowned down at The Queen and considered her fate, exhausted both from the disrupted night’s sleep and the knowledge of the demanding day ahead of me.
     Perhaps it wasn't long enough—the considering. Perhaps the implications of such murderous thoughts didn't cross my mind when they should have. I admit it. I don't usually kill bugs that aren't sucking my blood, aiming their stingers at me, or moving towards me with teeth bared and fists raised.  But in that moment, I was more temper than compassion. More impulse than caution. It had been a long night, and I was exhausted already-a mere two hours into what I knew would be an even longer day. But that should not have colored my decisions. I like to think I’m better than that. Calmer. Gentler. More forward-thinking.
     But alas, being human in my weaknesses, yet animal in nature, the combination of these traits in such a time as this was foreboding.
     Instinct won out over forethought.
     I dropped the paper towel over her armored body, lifted my foot and stamped it down, snuffing the life out of her. 
     My son would sleep well tonight! And damn it, so would I!
     The day took up its busy pace, as days tend to do. I met the buses (3 in the morning, 3 in the afternoon), cooked the lunch, potty trained the toddler, cuddled the baby, and snuggled the preschoolers. I read books, picked up toys, and played Barbies and trains, blocks and games. I supervised the outdoor play, negotiated turns, talked the big kids into leaving the wii for the great outdoors. I picked up the toys again, changed the diapers, cleaned up the potty accidents, and cheered for the successes. Daycare ended, dinner was gobbled, homework was done, as well as the dishes. We even managed to squeeze in a little family playtime. Through it all, I looked forward to the hour I could retire and catch up on the much-needed zzz’s.
     Finally, time came to tuck in my children. As I stood next to Keid’s bed, I remembered the morning's ant drama. I looked forward to a good night’s sleep for both of us, and was happy to have such good news to report.
     “Keid, guess what?”
     “What?” he asked, as he pulled up his covers.
     “I found your ant today. She was in the kitchen this morning. And you’re right, she was huge! She had to be the queen.”
     “So, I just wanted you to know you don’t have to worry about her anymore. She won’t be bothering you again. I killed her.” I grinned at him—the proud mama taking care of her child. The Great Problem-Solver. 
     He frowned.
     “What’s the matter?” I asked.
     He sighed in the heavily exaggerated way 9-year-old boys do. “You didn't have to kill her, Mom.”
     “Well, I thought you’d be happy she wouldn't be crawling through your bed in the middle of the night.”
     He went all future-scientist on me. “It’s just that she’s The Queen! She has a whole colony depending on her, Mom. Maybe she even had eggs. I'm so sad she's dead. You should have just scooped her up and moved her outside.” He turned over, his back to me, and sighed again. “Goodnight, Mom. I hope you sleep well.”
     Well, damn. 

1 comment:

M.C.V. Egan said...

Kids sure know how to make one feel guilty.... Long live the queen