Kindness to animals, unless they’re on the sugar bowl

Sweet. Sugar bowl and tongs all-in-one.

Sweet. Sugar bowl and tongs all-in-one.

They’re back.  I had forgotten about the yearly ant invasion of my kitchen pantry until this morning, when I saw the familiar black parade streaming under the door, up the wall, and onto the shelves.  In my panic, I could not remember what I had done last year to stop the flow.  I remember trying internet advice which, in my desperation, seemed plausible.  (My favorite was “ants won’t cross a line of chalk.”   I scraped sidewalk chalk all over the door frame, threshold, welcome mat, and porch floor, which did absolutely nothing. The welcome mat was still as welcoming.)  I do remember squatting and staring at the ground until I traced the highways and then the nest, and I think I made anthill life miserable until they decided to relocate.  But, details of exactly how I did this are fuzzy.

Toddler overheard this morning’s scream of discovery.  He ran into the kitchen asking “Ant? Ant”  Where is him?”  That’s when I realized that this year’s ant battle would be different.  Toddler is a sentient being, now.  He sees things and understands.  I cannot let him know I am killing ants.  I cannot let him see me squish the ants that cover the honey jar, the molasses jar, the cut-glass sugar-cube server that looks like a probe droid from Star Wars.  We do not squish ants.  We grant ants animal status under the mitzvah of Tza’ar Ba’aley Hayim (kindness to animals).

I am so proud that he doesn’t seem to want to squish ants, yet.  He wants to watch them.  He likes to watch all bugs, and he talks to them.  If another bug comes near, he’ll tell bug #1 that a “friend is coming.”

I see his colleagues squish ants galore.  I see chubby fingers push down and slide little ant bodies, one after another, across the pavement in tiny, red swaths of destruction.  This is wrong, unjust, cruel.

But this is precisely what I do in my kitchen.  Ants in my home are the enemy.  Ants outside are safe, or would be, if these weren’t the same ants that live outside and come inside for dinner.    So, I am two-faced.  I tell my kid squishing ants is wrong, that it breaks the mitzvah ofTza’ar Ba’aley Hayim, that it is just plain mean.  I read him a picture book from the library:“Hey, Little Ant!” by Phillip Hoose, which is about mercy, empathy, and looking at life from a bug’s point of view (there’s a song, too, and you can download the mP3.)  But then, as soon as Toddler is out of sight, I squish, squish, squish.

In my defense, I am also trying to prevent the ants from being available to squish in the first place.  I have to find the highways and wash away the chemical marking scents. I have to clean the kitchen and remove the tantalizing bait (the honey jars, the probe droid filled with Demerara cubes, even the balsamic vinegar bottle).  I will encourage relocation of the community.  If this doesn’t work, I may resort to wholesale insecticide and poison the hill with boric acid and sugar water.  Which is kinder for the ant: immediate squish-death or slow poison?

I find myself writing the phrase “I hate to sound paranoid, but” quite a bit.  And I hate to sound paranoid about sounding paranoid, but it does seem I am battling critter invasions far more often than most people.   Currently, my home is under siege from Carpenter bees (I can HEAR the chewing.  Forget about pesky sawdust and evacuated bee poo, hearing the destruction of my timber is Hitchcock scary).  Also, I found termites last week.  A couple of months ago, I removed a squirrel family from my attic.  I have spiders year-round (the hairy funnel kind, thank you, plus the less-frightening normal varieties).  My cockroaches are bigger than Hot Wheels cars.  And last summer I found a 10 inch-long skink under the crib.  ( I have no idea where it went after that, but I never saw it again.)

Although chiggers are technically an outside pest, they do invade my yard to such a degree (starting any minute, now) that they come inside on shoes and clothes, attracted to my apparently irresistible skin.  I am a chigger magnet.  My carbon dioxide, which is the animal off-gas that beckons a chigger near, must be so famous, so sought-after, that gradually, the Nashville chigger population has converged to this one yard to be closer to nirvana.  I have, on average, about 150 bites on my person at any one time during the whole summer.  From May to October, I look like I have chicken pox from the neck down.  I hear this complaint from no one else.  No one else gets chiggers in the yard.  Maybe out blackberry picking or on a Fourth of July barbeque, but not in the yard.

Oh, and I have to mention that my husband pulled a deer tick off my ear at breakfast.  I couldn’t reach it, myself.  The Toddler was thrilled, but the Teenager had to leave the room, her appetite destroyed.

So, given the magnitude of my critter invasions, I feel somewhat justified if I do end up destroying an anthill with boric acid.  It is either them, or me.  At least my poison is fairly nontoxic, and I am targeting a specific population, rather than broadcasting something horrible all over the yard.  Life is complicated.  As is the murder of ants.

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