Stirring up a Hornet’s Nest

Today, I am unhappy to say that I know what Katniss feels like when she unleashes that nest of mutant killer wasps.

It all started innocently enough. My three girls had joined forces with two neighboring boys for a game of Cops and Robbers. As our little vigilantes sought justice in the woods behind the house, their mother and I watched from the patio. Alas, the true offenders would not be brought to justice.

The youngest boy suddenly started screaming. At first, I thought a branch had broken on him or he’d gotten caught up in a pricker bush, but the screams got louder even as he exited the woods. Two of my girls started screaming and crying and the older boy started yelling. His mother ran to the youngest to assess the situation and calm him. That’s when we both noticed the several yellow jackets swarming around the top of his back, head, and neck. My girls swatted and pulled at their skin as others attacked them. In a frenzy, we all ran in different directions, swatting, swinging, crying, and pulling. Even almost to the front edge of the house, the yellow jackets followed and continued stinging. We ran to the street to escape. My neighbor and her boys went the opposite direction, around and eventually into their house. My only daughter who had escaped the assault, stood well away, no doubt petrified watching what befell her sisters. We all ran to our house a few doors down, where I stripped clothing as needed, applied witch hazel, baking soda paste, and benzocaine, administered antihistamines – all while trying to ignore the stabbing pain in my own thumb where one had gotten me and not start sobbing and repeatedly tell my daughters to stick out their tongues to see if they were swelling.wasp-nest_1592591c

After checking in with my neighbor (her sons were okay – thankfully), comparing notes, and sharing some antihistamine, I settled my girls in front of the TV with ice packs to take their minds off the emotional and physical trauma (yes, soma for the masses). By the time my husband arrived home from work, I was a limp dishrag hunched over the laptop researching for the next best bee sting remedy. I recounted how I couldn’t tell if I was shaking as a reaction to the venom coursing through my veins or the surge of adrenaline. In any case, the adrenaline had left its host a quivering mass of nerves and worry.

I don’t know if it was the unexpected nature of the event, the anguish I felt for my children’s pain or my own, the dreaded anticipation of an heretofore unknown allergic reaction – or simply the mama bear effect, but the whole experience sucked. I watched the snot run down their faces and mingle with their tears, heard their wails of distress, even ran to their aid to take those striped demons out, but there was nothing I could do to stop it. The one yellow jacket I saw bent and broken, its bright yellow in contrast against the black of my cell phone on the ground where it got thrown, was only dead because it had already driven its sharp stinger into the precious flesh of my children.

My one daughter who didn’t get stung didn’t want us to open the windows. My neighbor said her sons didn’t want to go outside. I myself had shuttled them up the hill and into the house as quickly as I could, slamming the door behind me. Trying to catch my breath in the aftermath, the only words I could form for the helpless feeling I had watching my children in pain was, ‘parenting is scary.’

It’s a wonder any of us want to leave the house, a host of dangers lying in wait. Unexpected. Uncontrollable. Unwarranted. Oy vey.

I decided to pack a more comprehensive first aid kit to keep in the car or in our backpack on hikes. I’m trying to come up with a plan to keep my children from being afraid to explore outside. I’m trying to take away the positive that when the stinger hits its mark, I can and will step up to the parenting challenge.

May the odds be ever in our favor.

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10 Comments

  1. poor kids, (and mom) … getting zapped with their angry stings is frightening and unexpected, and no matter how quickly we apply salve or ice packs, the throbbing continues on for quite a while, reminding us that even a fun afternoon in the woods can carry a painful threat, and all the fun turns to shock and ouch and worry.

    my own mommy version of the worst unexpected event (well, one of the worst) was when my then only six months old son, with the bright red hair and fair skin, got a nasty sunburn while napping in the shade near the swimming pool (where our older son was splashing). I thought I had protected him by leaving him in the shade, but the reflection off the water blistered his tender skin. I was horrified, terrified, and so ashamed. Parenting gives us the illusion we can protect them, but we slowly wake up to the fact that we can’t, and that alone is enough to drive anyone completely bonkers.

    Glad to hear you at least managed to soothe away the initial symptoms, and I’m sure you’ll come up with some sort of clever way or another to help them timidly be willing to step outdoors again, even if maybe a bit more cautiously this time around. Sorry your babies (and you) got stung. Since we try to make everything a learning experience, maybe it will help educate your kids on how to react to the unexpected. Quickly, decisively, and try to remain calm while solving the problem. Good mommy. 🙂

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    • Jennifer Butler Basile

       /  September 19, 2014

      “Parenting gives us the illusion we can protect them, but we slowly wake up to the fact that we can’t, and that alone is enough to drive anyone completely bonkers.” – There really is so much responsibility that comes with so little power,eh? A potentially excruciating, raw deal! I suppose the take-away is that we try our damnest to keep them safe and will no matter what. And try not to obsess over the times we may not be able to.

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  2. Jennifer:

    I totally identify with your musings about how hard it is to stay level headed in the face of such scary events. As a mom, whenever I confront these sorts of events, I am reminded, as I was in reading your article, how my own mother used to say that she wished she could “put me on a little cloud, where nothing could hurt me.” It’s overly schmaltzy and unrealistic, but I share the desire to protect my kids, even when I can’t.

    Thanks for sharing and I hope everyone feels better.
    Amy

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    • Jennifer Butler Basile

       /  September 19, 2014

      I thought of your mother’s maxim as I looked at the gorgeous, puffy clouds building in the sky yesterday afternoon. My girls imagined what they saw in their shapes. Even after the traumatic events of the day before, they haven’t lost their childlike wonder. Even if I can’t put them on a cloud, we’ve lived to see another happy day. Thank God.

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  3. Our rule, always “leave the house.” We choose not to be tethered by fear, lurking danger, or the memory of past experiences. It’s about experiencing life, even when it stings. I feel your pain (literally and figuratively) and respect your mama bear instincts but bees happen. 🙂 And if that’s the worst that kids are exposed to, it pales in comparison to what they might be subjected to later in life. My ‘moral of the story’ (not that anyone subscribes to it), simply be aware and don’t allow fear to rule. 🙂

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    • Jennifer Butler Basile

       /  September 19, 2014

      Sound advice, Eric. I definitely agree we cannot let fear rule our lives. But in the moments that follow a traumatic event, it’s hard to think of anything else. Luckily, time has dulled the sting of the venom and the experience. One step outside the door at a time, right?

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  4. You poor things. For me, I grew up terrified of stinging things, a combination of my own experience with a wasp and the fact that my mother is allergic to — yep, yellow jackets. I learned very young how to administer her “bee shot kit” to her, and back then they didn’t have the fun little auto-injection pens like they do now. Though I never had to use it, I still remember the needle on that syringe, and it was long!

    So I kind of have a reverse situation going on, where I’m the one looking out for my mom. Thankfully she and I have both grown much calmer and less afraid. But those things are definitely a lot more aggressive late in the season.

    The good news (speaking relatively) is that you found out your girls aren’t allergic. It’s scary to face the big wide world after something like that, quite probably even more scary for you than for your daughters. I’m a big fan of empowerment, like learning to identify places nests are likely to be. It’s far from failsafe, but sometimes it’s the kind of thing a kid can get a hold of to make them less afraid of going outside.

    You know your girls better than anyone, so you know best their threshold for serious fear versus the normal trepidation they might have for a bit. In all my quasi-parenting, I never forced my girls to do anything they were really afraid of. It’s the way my mama raised me, and while I might not be the best example, at nearly 15 and 11 my girls are doing pretty well.

    Sending lots of soothing, protective energy to your whole family, and to the little boys as well.

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    • Jennifer Butler Basile

       /  September 19, 2014

      Empowerment is such a strong tool. As Eric said, staying inside doesn’t preclude any manner of danger. So we need something in our ‘bee sting kit’ for sure! And while strong communities and support won’t stop yellow jackets, they make stepping outside worthwhile. Thank you so much for your kind spirit and support.

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  5. I liked how you described “the mama bear effect.” It is a good description of the mindless instinctual urge to protect, defend and KILL! Get those yellow jackets!

    As a parent and as a child OF parents who did a pretty good job of letting me experience life and safety, I like the analogy of how a seeing eye dog is trained. They are introduced to every imaginable sound, setting and smell so that they may calmly respond. Given the precious burden of choice our children carry–which is very much like carrying the responsibility of sight–I think the more experiences your children (and you) have the better. It is one more situation they can see into, understand and choose to react to in an informed way.

    Now you have passed the yellow-jacket panic attack checkpoint. A very well-written and enjoyable article. It makes me think that choice is best exercised in the face of LOTS of experiences. Good and bad.

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    • Jennifer Butler Basile

       /  September 23, 2014

      Definitely glad that checkpoint is behind me, Laura! I, too, like your seeing eye dog analogy. As a consummate worry wort, I would hope my children would do better than I being introduced to every imaginable sight, sound, threat! But knowledge and experience are power – especially if we can remind ourselves that not only did we face a challenge, but survived it. A good reminder for parents and children alike.

      Thank you for reading and your thoughtful comments.

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