This is a shortened version of Catherine’s post. To read the full article, or to have access to a large number of great posts, visit her insightful, hilarious, and just plain wonderful blog, The Ten Thousand Hour Mama.
It’s probably a bad sign when a household ant infestation feels like a metaphor for your life.
A few times a year since we moved into our house, tiny sugar ants appear. They swarm on crumbs and march in lines along room perimeters. After a while—and usually more rigorous housecleaning—they go back to whatever outside home they have.
This time is different. I keep fighting the ants, and, predictably, more show up. And they are spreading.
Perhaps it’s not shocking that this particularly bad ant infestation mirrors a time in my life that also feels chaotic.
More tasks than hours
I know this sounds dramatic. And things are fine, really. These are just the musings of an overstretched mom/writer/daughter/grandmother/wife/entrepreneur with a bug problem.
Just so I’m not vaguebooking, suffice to say I’m busy at work, looking into starting a new business and helping my elderly grandmother whom we just moved from Alabama to Oregon. In an ideal world, I would also spend time with my husband, occasionally work out, see friends and—oh, yeah—keep my house somewhat sanitary (and ant-free).
Yet—and yet. My to-do list gets longer, and the ant infestation is now, apparently, permanent.
A less than surprising ant infestation
Anyone who has been to my house will say I am not the most fastidious housecleaner—as long as they’re being honest. Most nights I’m too tired to make sure every dirty dish is out of the sink, and let’s just say that scrubbing the shower is not at the top of my priority list.
So when a few ants find stray crumbs under the kids’ booster seats or behind the toaster, it’s not that surprising.
I’ve stepped up my attempts to June Cleaver my house since the most recent ant situation, though. I wipe down counters. I vacuum every time my toddler upends her plate of Crispix. I rinse out the sink obsessively.
But when I wake up in the morning, I’m inevitably greeted by a pile of ants that have turned the most minuscule of crumbs into an invertebrate rave. That overnight mess reminds me of my running list of responsibilities: My tasks multiply like so many ants on a stray Cheerio.
Toward the end of a very long day recently—a day that involved an epic car tantrum from my older daughter and no end to sibling rivalry—I had to use the bathroom. During the five seconds of alone time a potty break bought me, I noticed a stream of ants marching up and down the tub.
I noticed that whenever two ants passed each other, they paused. They touched each other with their feelers. And only then did they go on their merry way.
Every single ant did this. Not a single ant ignored another. No ant’s high-five was left hanging. No ant shunned another for their baby ant’s unbrushed hair or lack of proper rainy day footwear.
Yes, I’m projecting. But I’ve been thinking about those ants constantly.
Life lessons from invertebrates
I should probably be pissed that those ants stop to gently tap each other’s antennae. After all, they’re communicating something along the lines of, “Hey, I just found the motherlode of crushed bunny crackers under the couch. TELL EVERYONE!”
But being the person I am (read: an overanalyzer who has a lot of feelings), I have been thinking about how that constant stream of check-ins might help me, too.
So despite feeling overbooked and overwhelmed, I reach out. I’ve been making a conscious effort to text with friends I don’t see often enough. I invited a friend I know wouldn’t mention the Great 2017 Ant Infestation Situation over for a play date. I send pictures of the girls to family spread across the country.
When I get a text back, even though it’s just a gentle “ping,” it makes me feel a little more connected to my hive. (Yes, I know I’m mixing metaphors. Give me a break; I’m hosting close to 100 million ants in my home.)
In this way, I’m trying to be a tad more ant-like. I still will spray the eff out of an ant conga line with my Mrs. Meyer’s counter cleaner, but I’m also taking my lessons where I can get them.
I’m also giving some of those ants a free pass—not because I suddenly feel emotionally connected to them but because there are just more important things in life than sanitizing my house.
As I finish up work, I can hear my kids playing with my husband, dad and grandma upstairs. We’re about to eat a big pile of spaghetti, much of which will probably end up smashed in booster seats and flung under the table. (Hey, ants, more food!) I’ll hold my grandma’s hand, listen to her retell the same stories and tell her that she is loved. I will pretend to be Pluto or Elsa or whatever character my preschooler requests, and I’ll tell my toddler the word for every single snake, lizard and tortoise in her new-favorite reptile book.
Just for tonight, ants, I declare a truce.
Catherine Ryan Gregory writes about becoming a good mom—or at least a good-enough one—at TenThousandHourMama.com. She shares craft projects, children’s book recommendations and ideas on how to raise a generous, caring and socially conscious family.