Originally published in Working Mother Magazine (May 1989).
The Fights of Spring
Carole Garbuny Vogel
© Carole Garbuny Vogel, 1989.
The burst of crocuses through soil and the return of robins to the North, herald the coming of spring for many, but not for me. In my home, this changing of the seasons is marked by the annual invasion of tiny black ants. These insidious creatures wend their way over the foundation, through minute cracks in the walls, and onto my kitchen floor where I suck them up with a vacuum cleaner. This method of ant control, while momentarily satisfying, has a low success rate. After a day or two, I am forced to take stronger measures.
My ecological conscience bothers me every time I use a commercial pesticide. Having written a number of articles ex‑tolling the benefits of nontoxic agents to combat insects, I feel like a hypocrite when I reach for the Raid. This year, I decide to follow my own advice. I trace a line of ants outside to where they crawl up the foundation. Katy, my first grader, and Joshua, my eight year old, watch in disbelief as I seal off the ant trail with cucumber peelings.
"That'll never work," announces the eight-year-old cynic.
"How dumb do you think ants are?" adds Katy. "They like food."
"Just wait and watch," I reply, praying that I won't lose face.
The ants miraculously cooperate. Repelled by a natural pesticide within the cucumber skin, they wander in circles but do not cross my barrier. Within hours, however, they find another route.
"I told you so," says Joshua.
"What's next, Mommy?" asks Katy.
"Talcum powder," I reply.
"That won't work, either," scoffs Joshua, as I begin to ring the foundation with a thin line of talcum. "I know a better way to get rid of them."
"Let's give my method a chance," I tell him.
To keep the talcum from dissipating in the wind as I dispense it, I crouch in a low duck waddle. The kids think this is hilarious and mimic me. They put their hands on their hips and flap their "wings," all the while making quacking sounds. This time I pray that the neighbors aren't home.
The ants apparently find the powder distasteful. For a few days, I appear to be the victor until rain washes the talcum away. Six-legged creatures again invade my kitchen and crop up in the bathroom, too.
"Mom, let me take care of them, please," pleads Joshua.
I ignore him again and sprinkle more talcum over the old trail. I run out of powder before the job is done and complete my task with cream of tartar. This works, too, until the next storm.
"There baa-aack!" announces Joshua with a musical lilt. He points to an aggregation of ants beneath the dining room table. Corn muffins from the morning's breakfast are providing a crunchy feast for them.
I have run out of talcum powder, cream of tartar, and ideas. In addition, I am tired of following my conscience. For the next few days we stomp on ants and squish them between our fingers with pieces of paper.
Katy has developed a disdain of all ants. She responds to them in a predictable but unproductive manner—she screams. Since my attempts at controlling her nemesis have failed, my daughter is upset. The tiny creatures have mobilized and entered her room. It doesn't help to point out that she has left a calling card for them in the form of a half-eaten cream cheese and jelly sandwich.
It is three in the afternoon and my latest manuscript has to be at the post office by five. "I can't help you now but Daddy will take care of the ants when he comes home," I try to console her. "Stay out of your room until then."
I return to my writing, unaware that Katy cannot wait. She ignores my advice and enlists the aid of her all too-willing brother. Armed with a loaded squirt gun, this one-person SWAT team takes aim and drowns an entire column of ants. New ones appear to take the place of their fallen comrades. The exterminator reloads his weapon and attacks again. This time Katy helps him by dropping Dixie bombs—paper cups filled with water. The ants never had a chance. Neither did the carpeting. By the time the battle is over, Katy's rug is sopping wet and I, having just discovered the war zone, am foaming at the mouth.
"I give up," I announce to my husband over the phone after the mess has been cleared. "Pick up some ant spray on the way home.
"You lost the ant war, did you?" he asks.
"Just the battle," I reply. "NEXT year, I'll try again."