I have a confession to make,” I said. My upper lip twitched with uncertainty about revealing some of my early-mom ridiculousness.
“Oh?” said my 26-year-old son Harry. “About what?”
We were at Sunday brunch with Harry’s first cousin Dylan, who was in NYC for a visit en route from Tucson to London. We’d been talking about the funny ads that used to run in the back of comic books in the ‘60s and early ‘70s for pets like “sea monkeys.”
“Well, talking about mail-order pets just reminded me of your ant farm,” I said. “Do you remember having that when you were six years old?”
“I do, but it disappeared right away. When I asked Gloria about it, she told me the ants had all died.”
“Aha,” I said. Until that moment I had no idea Harry had asked our housekeeper about the ant farm. “I thought it was odd you never mentioned it again. I had kind of hoped at the time that you’d just forgotten about it. So do you want to know what really happened?”
“You have to tell us now, Mom,” Harry replied.
“Well, after you and Dad finished setting it up and putting the ants in, you brought it into the kitchen to show me. I was loading the dishwasher, so you left it on the counter for me. When I went to take a look, the ants, probably still in new-home-freak-out mode, were all clumped together on one side. I looked over the instructions and was not pleased to learn that the ant farm was supposed to be kept in a dark place, like a closet.
“I remember thinking, ‘What fun is that?’ I’d envisioned the ant farm sitting on your dresser where you could see progress everyday. Annoyed, I put it on the floor of the coat closet and shut the door.
“When you went upstairs later with your dad to get ready for bed, I checked on the ant farm. It looked nothing like the picture on the box, with ant tunnels every which way. They’d burrowed only in one spot, which looked more like a hole than a tunnel. I reached for a toothpick and tried to move a few of the ants over to another spot on the sand.”
Harry and Dylan’s jaws dropped simultaneously.
“I know, so crazy, right?” I admitted. “The first ant I prodded up to the sand line turned upside-down, wiggled its legs and then stopped moving. Suddenly, half the colony was on alert, surrounding the murder victim and trying to carry him back to their only hole. In an instant I’d become an ant killer. Horrified, I put the whole thing in a plastic bag, tied it up, and took it outside to the the trash bin.
“That is hilarious, Mom,” Harry said, as he and Dylan both started laughing.
“Your dad thought it was funny, too. ‘You can’t control everything, you know,’ he told me. And then there was that word again: control.
“You may not know this, my Pilates instructor didn’t either, but in the 1990s, there were so-called child psychology experts who theorized that if a boy was feminine or wanted to play with ‘girl toys,’ it was because his mother was controlling. I never wanted to believe that, but it still irked me whenever I heard the word used to describe me. You did love your Barbie dolls, and I didn’t want anybody who might believe those theories to judge me.”
“I did feel really bad about the ants, Harry,” I said. “At least I can make fun of my controlling self now. And I’m glad you two are here to laugh about it with me!”
Note: As for certain so-called child psychology experts, they’re still out there. If there’s a transgender or gender creative child in your life, steer clear of anything written by Dr. Kenneth J. Zucker of Toronto, Canada. He is famous for believing that gender-nonconforming children could be “cured” via reparative or conversion therapies. Ugh.
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