Last Christmas we gave the boys this ant farm.
As is our custom, we popped it in the closet and forgot about it for six months. Summer came around, though, and we started getting crafty. After a very successful run at raising (growing? generating?) butterflies out of caterpillars we were all feeling great about our insect husbandry.
Turns out you can’t just go out into your yard and get ants for your ant farm (Of course you can. I’m a sucker.) We needed the ants with the special mandibles — harvester ants. Also, there was a dire warning about not mixing types of ants. I think if you do that your house burns down.
The first internet order of ants (weird new world) came mostly dead. Not in the funny Princess Bride way. Just in the mostly dead way. I shot an email to the dubiously named AntsAlive.com and, to their credit, they got another shipment out to us right away.
This time they were in it to win it. We had tunnels on day one.
The pamphlet directed us to give them fresh air each week by opening up the top for a few seconds. When I did, all our ants shot for the top. In one moment I went from feeling pretty good about giving these guys a cushy, blue gel paradise to feeling like their captor.
Alden and I sat down and I talked about how the ants have given us so much pleasure, how we should be grateful and considerate of what they want. Don’t we want our them to have a happy life? Finally we came to agreement and I took the boys outside for a graduation ceremony. We laid the farm gently on its side and watched them all jet for the open air. We wished them well, we gave them advice, and when they crawled up on us I told the boys not to sweat it. They’re just ants, right?
Of course one bit Elliot. Of course it did. Why wouldn’t ants with awesome digging mandibles be nasty biters?
Poor Elli screamed and cried. It obviously really hurt. His morning was ruined. But really, it was the ants who were about to have a very bad day. Because in less than an eye blink I changed from their caretaker to the their worse gigantic stomping nightmare. I scooped Alden up with one arm and Elliot with the other, which left my feet free to do their worst before I whisked the boys inside for tea and sympathy. Possibly I was also cursing, but you can’t prove it.
I guess the boys got an intentional lesson in care and consideration for creatures with less power than you have; and then an unintentional lesson in enforcing your limits with extreme prejudice.
After a few minutes of ice and kisses I looked Elliot in the eye and said, “Elli. I am going to go back outside kill all those ants because one of them hurt you. Do you want to watch?” And he did. That was his lesson in having a Sicilian mama.