I ate ant poison when I was five. Yes, my mom warned me. But sometimes there’s a compelling reason kids disobey.
We had ants in our kitchen not because we left Twinkies on the counter, it’s what happens when you live in a wet climate. See ants are like the refugees from Harvey and Katrina when their homes flood they seek shelter. No one called pest control, ants were just a part of the San Francisco Bay Area life. You accepted it and involuntarily open your home as a shelter.
Word on the ant trail is, human shelters have sugar in their kitchens (which is their fav food), so when the ants sought refuge they came through the window above our kitchen sink. However, unbeknownst to them we ran the worse shelter in the city. Our mom didn’t believe in sugar.
There was no white sugar, no brown sugar, not even one of those smiling squishy bears full of honey. On the best night of the week dessert in our home was a hard dried date. The ants would have been better off heading for the bathroom to suck the toothpaste chunks off the side of the sink.
Once the ants came in the window they made a horseshoe shaped trail on the counter which ended when they disappeared through a tiny crack behind our cupboard.
I felt bad they were wasting so much energy looking for sugar, so I began flicking my finger back and forth breaking up their little horseshoe shape. I thought that might help them re-focus and smell the toothpaste chunks in the bathroom.
“Why are you doing that?” my mom asked.
“I dunno, to see where they might go.”
”Well, where do you think they might go?”
“I want them to make a new trail.”
“Ok, well this trail leads to ant poison.”
She opened up that cabinet door where I thought the trail disappeared – and inside was a cluster of ants staggering around this thing that looked like a tin flute made for preschool kids. “That’s ant poison”, she said.
I shrugged. Which means to my mom – keep explaining things.
“See that hole?” She was pointing to a round hole the size of a pencil eraser in the middle of the flute, “That’s filled with sugar water. They climb in the hole and drown.”
My emotions flipped from feeling bad for the ants, to outrage. I screamed, “WHY DO THEY GET SUGAR?!”
She put on that painted mom smile, “It’s not sugar. It’s a sweet tasting poison.”
She continued to explain how …the tin flute has a reservoir inside filled with the poison and when the ants climb in the hole …I interrupted, “You SURE we don’t have any sugar?”
She smiled assured me that there was no sugar in the house and I ignored the ants after that….until the morning I walked in and saw the ants had made two big poop piles on the side of their trail.
I guess I never thought about it, but ants do have to go to the bathroom. I can’t say I actually saw it fall out of their butt, but it was brown, and it was near them. One pile near the front of our cabinet, and the other at the back of the horseshoe right before they disappeared behind the cabinet to march into the drowning pool.
The poop piles stayed for days. Maybe weeks. (Time was a sliding concept to a five year old.) I didn’t want to ask my mom about it because she’d probably say, “Oh, I didn’t see the ants poop piles, would you clean that up please.” So I decided to pretend ant poop on the kitchen counter was normal, and I zipped my lip.
But then one day…..the poop piles were gone. Well, not really gone. The poop was in little tiny poops drops all along their horse shoe trail. They were pooping and marching, and marching in their poop. They decided to shit their way across our kitchen counter.
I was staring at the ants contemplating what would make ants decide to shit themselves and my mom nonchalantly says, “That’s some new poison.”
“Oh” I responded. (To my mom, this means please tell me more….)
“I thought we’d try some new ant poison since the other wasn’t working very well…..and I thought they might eat the poison if I put it in piles by the corner…. …but they didn’t eat the piles so I spread it out along the trail…”
As she is talking I was thinking perhaps ant poison is to ants what hay is to horses. And then I began thinking about my cousin, she wanted a horse. And then I wondered why I never wanted a horse. Didn’t all little girls want horses? Maybe I wasn’t a normal little girl. But maybe if we lived in the country and I could try riding a horse I might want on … and off in the distance I hear my mom say, “You know that’s poison right?”
I nod my head.
She continued, “Okay, because I know it looks like hot chocolate, but it’s not.”
Wait! Hold the horses. Sell the farm! HOLY HELL! IT SURE DID! IT LOOKED EXACTLY LIKE HOT CHOCOLATE. THE VERY HOT CHOCOLATE THAT WAS QUARANTINED FROM OUR HOME!
Why would she say that? Sugar was already a trigger point for me. Just saying ‘hot chocolate’ made me think of the commercials where kids with the red burnt cheeks held matching mugs full of hot steamy cocoa in their pretend TV mittens and with their grateful chipper voices they memorize lines like, “Thanks mom, this is the best hot chocolate ever!”
And I hear in the background “…. because it’s not hot chocolate. It’s ant poison.“
I nod at her. I acknowledge the fact she *said* it was ant poison.
But we did a lot of weird holistic earth stuff in our house. And maybe my mom read an article in Mother Earth News that said hot chocolate would kill ants. And, maybe just maybe this really wasn’t ant poison and it really was hot chocolate, but we weren’t allowed to have sugar, and if she mentioned it really was hot chocolate
I moved really close to the ant trail. I’d never seen hot chocolate up close. I wasn’t really sure what it was supposed to look like, but I knew from those commercials that the normal mom’s spooned it out of a can and added it to milk in a pan with a cup of sugar. Then they stood by the stove stirring this velvety cocoa delight while they sang little songs to their kids and once it was heated to a perfect temperature, they dropped a fluffy marshmallow in the middle and the world became perfect.
So when my mom stepped out of the room I licked my finger and dipped it the hot chocolate ant poison. I stuck my finger in my mouth. It tasted odd, kinda like a pencil lead.
I wasn’t really sure that was the experience I was supposed to have, so I licked my thumb to get a better sampling. I swiped the hot chocolate again and sucked my thumb hard. This time it tasted like a $20 stainless steel mug sold at WalMart! And a lightning ball a bolt hit my stomach!
I grabbed my stomach and bent over. With my head upside down I see my mom walk back in, “Did you eat that ant poison?”
Still holding my stomach I nodded my upside down head.
“HOW MUCH?!” She had this look that wasn’t mad, but almost mad. There wasn’t a way to communicate, “Two swipes because the first one didn’t taste like hot chocolate.”
A tear began to trickle, not down my cheek, because my head was upside down. My tears dribbled into my bad-haircut-bangs. These were tears of disappointment, not fear.
“LISA, HOW MUCH?!”
When I didn’t answer she looked at the ant trail and saw my finger divots. Then she yells, “IS THIS WHERE YOU ATE THE ANT POISON?!”
“Yeah,” And then hoping I wouldn’t get in trouble I added, “But It wasn’t very good,” as if that was my penance.
She sighed, “Oh so that’s all?” And she drug my ass into the bathroom where I either drank some bitter holistic tea and threw up, or I was told to push real hard and shit it out. I don’t remember.
All in all it was no big deal. She was cool like that. She figured I learned that when she says ‘poison’ she means it’s poison, and I’d reaped the consequences of doubting her words.
So, a few days later when she said, “I’m going out in the garden. Take the kettle off the stove when you hear it whistle,” I didn’t doubt her words. Even though I was five years old and I’d never taken a kettle off the stove before I figured if she thought I could do it, then I could.
I leaned against the ant poison counter watching the kettle. The flame was an angry orange and I could feel the heat across the kitchen. The idea of touching the kettle handle was scary. But I knew my mom believed in me. And I didn’t want to let her down. So, I came up with an idea that would block the heat. I would make a magic heat shield with her kitchen towel.
I ran up to the stove and yanked the towel off the oven handle as fast as I could and ran back to the ant counter. I took the towel and wrapped it around my hand to protect my palm when it was time to grab the handle.
I lifted my wrapped hand up to my face and noticed something, when I did that the rest of the towel that hung down blocked the heat. This was great! My palm would be protected when I grabbed the handle and the rest of the towel would block the heat on my chest which meant my lady hormones would stay in place so I could grow breasts when I became a teenager.
When the kettle whistled I grabbed the handle, and lo and behold I didn’t feel any heat at all! My magic heat shield invention worked. Well, that part of it did….
The part of the magic heat shield that was protecting my chest so that my lady hormones wouldn’t melt – that part was obviously attached to the palm protector portion, so when my hand went forward to grab the kettle handle, so did the rest of the towel – right into the flame. *POOF* And just like that my magic heat shield turned into a tiki torch!
I dropped my flaming magic heat shield on the kitchen linoleum and ran out to our lawn screaming, “MOM! I STARTED A FIRE!” I cried so hard I felt blind. I wailed. I scream-cried to the neighborhood, “SOMEONE GET MY BABY BROTHER OUT!” I cried so hard I thought my heart would fall out of my chest. Snot was running down my face. And I scream-cried some more until I realized the fire trucks weren’t there and neither was my mom.
I looked up. There were no flames coming through the front door. None coming out of the roof. Was it possible to only burn down half your house? Maybe the fire department says, “Call us back WHEN your WHOLE house is on fire and then we’ll send the trucks.”
I hesitantly crept in the front door and stopped when I reached the arch way of the kitchen. My mom was standing at the sink, with our huge barbecue tongs that held the remnants of my magic heat shield.
With snot running down my face I blubbered something like, “…it was a magic heat shield….and then (sob) it …(gulp for air)…just caught on fire…” When I was finished she pointed out a few design flaws. But just like the hot chocolate ant poison, it was no big deal. We never mentioned it again.