Sunday, September 20, 2009

Never say never

Once, I was leading a group of third-grade kids on a nature hike through the woods, and we accidentally disturbed a nest of yellowjacket wasps. Within seconds there were hundreds of wasps flying everywhere, stinging everyone. I vividly remember pulling them, one by throbbing one, off kids' bodies, their arms, even one unlucky boy's lip. We all ran like hell back to the nature center and spent the rest of the day doing first aid. I didn't get a single sting that day.

I worked at another nature center for a while that had an active honeybee colony. I had "check up duty" and had to look in on them often. Never got stung.

I have had lunch outdoors countless times with hundreds of elementary school students (oh, the sugary sweets! The juice boxes! The flailing arms, swatting at the wasps!) and never once been stung.

This afternoon, D and the kids and I were outside, and I went up to the side of the house to unravel the hose.

"Be careful." D said, pointing out a couple of yellowjackets lazing around in the air. "You don't want to rile them up."

I went about my business unwinding the hose, trying to get the kinks out. Then I noticed several wasps flying around near my ankles, and I decided it was time to bring the kids to the back yard, lest someone get stung. A few were flying up near my face. I felt one fly into the loose strands of hair that had fallen out of my ponytail.

Not being one to panic, I just ignored it. I figured it would leave as soon as it could, and that the less I interfered, the better. (Note-this is true! Swatting, running, yelling, flailing, all these behaviors are likely to provoke an attack. If you encounter a yellowjacket, best to be calm, and ignore it or just leave the area.)

"Come on, guys, the wasps are getting kind of nervous with us here. Let's go play in the back yard." D hurried them to the back yard and I dropped the hose and followed.

So, the wasp must have been a little put off by my nonchalance. I was standing by the fence chatting with D when, out of habit, I reached to tuck my hair behind my ear.

"Yeoowch!" I screeched, swatting at the side of my head, as a sharp dart of pain shot into my ear. I quickly turned and started toward the house, trying in vain to be nonchalant. Wow did it hurt!

Unlike honeybees, which die after stinging, yellowjackets can sting their percieved attacker over and over. What's more, in response to a perceived threat, they emit a chemical which other yellowjackets sense, and the others will almost always come to defend their nest. And that means stinging-lots of stinging. So, I had riled up their nest and they were pissed. At me.

"Get the kids inside! Get the kids inside!" I yelled. (So much for nonchalance. So much for not instilling fear of bugs into the hearts of my children.)

Poor sweeties. They both started screaming and crying. They were really scared! D got them inside and I rushed to the freezer for a handful of ice. I spent the afternoon with ice on the side of my head. I tried to be calm and keep hanging out with them while they played with D. I didn't want to scare them even further by just disappearing after this happened. They needed to see that it was really no big deal.

The incident occured about 6 hours ago. I am pretty sure I was stung twice on the ear and once on the side of my head. My ear looked strangely like a plum earlier this afternoon, in both size and color.

But, you know. No big deal. I'd rather it happened to me than one of them. And I'd rather they see that it's no biggie. People get stung sometimes, and it's no big deal. Yeah, my ear swelled up (another teachable moment!) and my ear was ringing for half the day, but whatever. The upside is, we got to talk a lot about how different animals defend their families and their homes. We got to talk about why I got stung and they also got to see that this mysterious thing they've feared --a wasp sting--is really not that big a deal.

I've never had poison ivy either. Tomorrow I think I'll go look for a patch of that and roll around.

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