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Ant Attack

When I was around five years old I was living in New Orleans, happily playing outside one day. Suddenly I noticed a ticklish feeling on my ankle and leg, and looked down and saw a swarm of red fire ants enrobing my lower limb. I stared in fascination, until the pain registered. And then I started screaming.

I remember that day vividly.

When we moved back to Texas four years ago, I celebrated a return to many of my favorite things in the South – excellent margaritas, even better Tex-Mex food, and winters without shoveling the sidewalk. What I did not look forward to, though, was the return to southern bugs, especially chiggers and fire ants.

I tried to teach the girls early on to look for the tell-tale mounds after a fresh rainfall and steer clear of them; one particularly memorable day, just after morning showers had passed on and we were playing in puddles in front of our house, Cora saw a big ant pile and, curious, picked up a fistful of the fluffy dirt to look at. As red ants began swarming out through her clenched fingers, I flashed back to my childhood and began hitting and shaking her hand, even before she started crying.

Since then the girls have become experts on ant piles and will happily head outside after a rain to find them in our back yard and neutralize them with dry molasses – Cora, in particular has become quite the expert – and we’ve avoided major run-ins.

Until this week.

A couple mornings ago we were scootering to school and stopped at a crossing to wait for cars to pass. Maddie and Cora rested their scooters in the grass, chatting and waiting patiently. When the coast was clear they picked up their scooters and began walking across.

“Mommy,” Cora suddenly cried, “I have ants on my scooter!”

I looked and sure enough, there were red ants crawling all over her handles, quickly scurrying to her hands and arms. Cora speedily dropped her scooter and we began efficiently cleaning her off before they even started biting. She noticed one crawling on her leg and bent down to brush it off.

Which is when she saw Maddie’s feet.

“Maddie,” she yelled, “You have ants all over your shoes and feet!”

If Maddie and Cora’s scooters had been set upon the fringes of the ant pile, Maddie had stood right in it. Her white socks and sneakers were crawling with the ants, and her scooter was rapidly being coated with the buggers.

We quickly got across and did the only thing I could think –take her shoes and socks off. I turned her socks inside out, trapping the ants inside, while my mom began beating the shoes and getting the critters off. I dug Maddie’s extra pair of socks out of her backpack and quickly got them on. It took several minutes of careful cleaning to get all the ants off both girls and their scooters, and when it was all over they had about a half dozen bites.

Which is way better than the three dozen bites they would have had if Cora hadn’t had such a good eye.

For the rest of the morning I imagined ants were crawling under my sleeves or across my neck – I couldn’t shake the feeling. When I got back home I cautiously turned the socks back right side in and a good dozen ants were still happily crawling – I threw them as-is straight into the washing machine. And while both girls handled themselves quite well, staying calm and acting quickly, I kept thinking back to my own childhood morning and don’t think I handled it nearly as well.

From now on, we avoid the grass entirely on wet mornings. My heart can’t take it.


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