When Little Fish was born, we had fire ants.
I had always seen them outside, but due to the drought they were suddenly coming inside to search for water. I definitely wouldn’t say we had an “infestation,” because that would be horrifying and gross. What we had was more of a randomized psychological annoyance. I would see maybe one a day; two or three in a heat wave.
These little suckers were scouts – so they were usually alone – but they were EVERYWHERE. They were messing with my head, I’m telling you! There was no predictability whatsoever. It’s like they had little ant meetings around a tiny bonfire every night (because..you know) and talked about funny places they could jump out and scare the bejeebus out of the big crazy human who is already a hot mess because she just had a small human come and and turn everything upside down…
Anyway… floors, walls, couches, countertops, the TOILET (!!!)… I was even bitten by one that was UNDER THE COVERS in my bed, you guys. I CAN’T.
If you aren’t familiar with fire ants, you can probably deduce just by the term FIRE that their bite is not pleasant. You would be correct. Sometimes it feels like a little sting or a painful pinch. The days following there is usually redness with a white dot in the middle and an itch. Oh the itch.
Since Little Fish was so squishy and new, the drama of the fire ants was magnified in my postpartum new mommy brain by a thousand. I spent feeding time with her nestled on one side, using my free hand to scour my phone for worst-case scenarios in the other. Apparently, fire ants have the special ability to sense if one of the ants bites. And if one bites, the colony has the ability to swarm and bite as well. The nerd in me thinks that is cool, but the mom in me pictures a baby in her crib covered in ants. NO. WAY.
Aside from checking ten million times a night to make sure Little Fish was still breathing, as all moms do, I found myself whipping out a light to check for ants.
Now, I generally don’t like the idea of killing living things. However, factoring in the possibility of pain and unknown allergies for my baby, I say, FINISH THEM.
Anytime I saw a fire ant in the house, I would smush it. And I do think we have that right as living beings: to protect our home.
I know if I was the size of an ant and I wandered into their nest, they would not hesitate to do the same to me. BUT! My question is,
Where is the line drawn on what we kill and what we catch and release?
How do we go about this in order to keep our kids safe while teaching them to respect life in the process?
When I was an elementary school teacher, a spider on the floor would send the students into a frenzy (at the worst possible time of course – in the middle of a test or two minutes before my big yearly teaching evaluation). Some kids would scream, some would get up and practically run out of the room. Others would stand on their chair. Then there were usually the one or two that would scream, “KILL IT! KILL IT!” or, “I’LL DO IT!” to really get the crowd going. As I became a more experienced educator, I actually found myself adding a class procedure entitled, “What To Do if There is a Bug in Our Classroom” to attempt to prevent my class from turning into a WWF Smackdown ring. Sometimes it worked.
Once I would calm everyone down, my students would look at me like I was some sort of alien creature when I safely captured the spider and released it outside. From working with kids for so many years, I think there is definitely something in our nature that causes a “Smush Reflex.”
I never once have had a child yell, “Oh no! Don’t hurt it! I think he needs help getting outside.” That is, until it became a part of the normal culture in our classroom.
It made me wonder if children had more coaching on this situation at home, then perhaps their outlook on life would be different from the start. I suppose now that I’m a mom, I can find out for myself.
As I think about how I want Little Fish to stop and think before she decides to cause harm to another living thing, I put together a small list of guidelines for how I approach this issue at home as well as out and about:
What kind of bug is it?
It is not JUST a bug. It may be small in this world, but it has a name and a purpose. Just like us. That being said, I like to familiarize myself with what lives in my area, so I know whether or not to freak out!
Does it pose an immediate threat?
Does it bite or sting? Is it venomous? If so, is the venom harmful to humans? Does it carry diseases or munch on your food in the middle of the night (EEK!)?
If you see one…
Will there be more? Is a sighting of one a sign that you may have a problem? Do you see egg sacs or a nest of some kind?
Is it indoors or outdoors?
Can it be safely transported outdoors?
Does it have an advantage to you or the environment?
Bees help the environment, and spiders keep pests at bay!
How I talk with Little Fish about a bug sighting will become her inner dialogue.
If a bug is stuck inside near a door or window, I talk to her about the bug’s problem and help her decide with me on how to help. I will use information I learned from step number 1 and use it has a learning opportunity. Then, based on what we have learned together, I will:
This is where I feel like I am the queen in the middle of a large medieval arena. My loyal subjects are waiting for me to give a thumbs up or down on whether an insect in the house lives or dies.
I can feel my daughter’s eyes watching me. Waiting.
I don’t like it, but something has to be done.
Based on what we know from number 1, it is time to:
b. CATCH & RELEASE
c. LET IT BE
Let it Be is my favorite (and coincidentally one of my favorite Beatles songs). Let it Be bugs are those that passed the Educate test. BUT, it is important to understand that some Let it Be bugs can still be dangerous if bothered. If a bug is outside in its natural environment, but does not pose an immediate threat or isn’t super duper poisonous, we let it be.
I talk to Little Fish. Since she is only two, I am very direct. For example, if we see a bee on the flowers in our garden, I say, “Oh There’s a Bee! DON’T TOUCH IT! They sting and it HURTS. The bee is gathering pollen from the flower to make honey. That’s good! Let’s watch the bee.”
Now sure, if that bee tries to land on my head I do have a tendency to scream like a banshee and run like the next person.
I would like to teach my child to stay calm and discover the information and beauty in other living things before reacting without thinking. I hope that she can take what she learns and use it in dealing with human beings as well.
Imagine. Raising a better person because of an ant. Changing the world, ONE TINY ANT at a time. Unless it is in my hair, because I CAN’T.
Thanks for reading! How do you teach your littles to respect other lives indoors and out in the garden? Comment and share your ideas!
The Open Air Mom