For Christmas, our 5yo received an ant farm. Its one of those classic kelly green rectangular framed pieces with the flat farm scene smashed in between the plastic windows. It took us a little while, but we finally ordered those ants. Its pretty awesome to wake up hearing our daughter exclaim from her room that she’s going to get up and see what her ants have been doing. She counts them in her collection of pets. “5 caterpillars, 23 ladybugs, and a lot of ants.”
The day they arrived, I had just pulled the car up to our driveway when the mailman zoomed to a halt right in front of us. He jumped out and ran up to my driver-side window and motioned for me to stay put. Out of breath, he explained that he had a package for us. It was much earlier than our mail is normally delivered so I thought it must be one of those special a.m. deliveries. It wasn’t. With wide eyes he gave the reason for not waiting to deliver it until later, “it says ‘live creatures’ on it.”
We spent the afternoon reading and re-reading the directions, letting the ants calm down in the fridge, filling the farm with white sand and a bit of water and adding a couple crumbs of bread. After a while we were ready to put the ants in their new home. Since then, they have been steadily digging their tunnels.
That night, while we had guests over, someone pulled off one of the little caps on the side tunnels. A single ant escaped and you would have thought a venomous alien tarantula was loose. “Watch out! Everyone back! Get away from the table! Aaaaahhh!!” Okay, I admit, it was mostly me freaking out. And, I’m pretty sure it is my fault that the kids were at all concerned. But, you should have seen all the warnings on the packages that: “THESE ANTS WILL BITE!!” (for yet another explanation for why we have a “respect” for biting ants see this post from our other blog).
As if I wasn’t already at my max ant-absorption point, the other night we watched a documentary about ants. It was one of those documentaries where you knew that most of it was staged and that the story was mostly, if not entirely, fiction. What I liked about this documentary is that it presented ants in a different light than every other way I’ve ever heard anyone talk about ants before in my entire life.
In the past it was, “go to the ant you sluggard, consider its ways and be wise” or something super positive about their cooperation (always in opposition to our human ability to do the same) “compared with ants we are hellacious at cooperating” (see this post for that full quote).
In addition to being fascinating, I’ve also found watching ants to be a little depressing. To be honest, especially now that I am a mom, I feel like I am moving around about as much as they are. Maybe I am not lifting 100 times my own body weight, but I’m pretty sure my physical exhaustion at the end of many days rivals those tiny creatures. So, its not that I am feeling inadequate or a sluggardly. I think that what depresses me is the level of self-sacrifice, the martyrdom and the individual meaninglessness. The message of no individual ant matters…not their desires, not their needs, not their lives in comparison to the future of the colony and the queen is drilled home every time I watch ants (and this happens to be what the documentary focused on as well). It also confuses me when people hold ants up as creatures to be emulated. When I look past the cooperation that’s going on, I think their lives look like rather miserable lives for a human being to strive toward.
The documentary magnified ants and used enough human terms to make me feel like I was in their world. When the workers slowly killed off rival queens by starving and then dismembering them one by one, I cringed and looked away. When they fed them to their own larvae I gagged. Thank goodness all our girls had fallen asleep by this point.
As we put the kids in their beds I kept imagining myself as a giant-headed nurse-ant caring for the eggs, larvae and pupae. When I crunched my baby carrots and hummus, somehow still immersed in an imaginary ant world, I felt like a psychopath. It took me a while to get to sleep and of course I had weird insect ridden dreams.
This morning I overheard this conversation from the playroom,
5yo: “You can’t be a princess! You have to be a worker.”
3yo: “I’m not going to be a worker ant.”
5yo: “Then we can’t play ants!”
And that is fine with me.