Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Good Night, Sleep Tight...

IKEA furniture is designed to be easily assembled.

And remain assembled.

When you move, you don’t take apart all your IKEA furniture and put it back into its boxes. If you did that, people would rightly question your sanity.

Had someone seen me, in my son’s room, wielding tiny Allen wrenches and muttering under my breath about vermin from the depths of hell, that person could also rightly question my sanity.

But I was not compulsively cleaning or in the throes of a righteous rage that was compelling me to dismantle my surroundings.

It was because my son’s bed had become possessed by demons of the underworld: bed bugs.

A few months ago, I wrote about babywhumpus’ mystery hives. They were chronic, and I put him through numerous blood and poop tests, for everything from tuberculosis to giardia, and all the results were normal.

Then, the Sunday night before a very busy weekend, I heard Pete call to me from FJ’s room “Karen, could you come here a minute?” It was a serious and stern voice, plus he used my first name and not a moniker like “Honey.” I thought I was in trouble. And as it was bedtime preparations for Finn, which are not always awesome, I knew it wasn’t trouble of the good kind. I glanced at the front door, but escape was not an option. I entered, and Pete showed me a small, flat, brown insect. It was flea-sized, but definitely not a flea, as it had no wings and was distinctly not black. It looked more like a small tick, but not quite.

My stomach sank, and I went through a number of emotions in rapid succession. Denial (Fleas, right? Not what I think it is), then despair (Because I’m pretty sure it is what I think it is), and then a mix of anger and relief (crap, this is going to be a pain in the ass to get rid of, and thank goodness my son doesn’t have some sort of auto-immune disease worthy of a differential diagnosis on House, M.D., though Hugh Laurie is hot and... Wait, what was I thinking about? Oh... bed bugs). This took a few seconds (see musings re: Hugh Laurie), and then I marched back to the living room to consult the Oracle.

It didn’t take much time on the Intertubes to confirm my suspicions: it was a bed bug. We put FJ to sleep in our room, and I started slowly taking the bed clothes off his bed; comforter, sheets, pillows, stuffed animals. Then I took the cover off of the ladder on the side of the bed, the thing we never have to wash...

It was a grotesquerie.
If you need any convincing that you should be watching out for this, let me describe what you are seeing. The little white bits are eggs. The bigger white bits are larvae. There are translucent nymphs in there plus immature, brown bugs. Then there are the full-grown bugs, which are about the size of an apple seed. They are in no way microscopic. They are full-on bugs of the order Hemiptera, which are considered the “true bugs.” It includes aphids and cicadas. They are not related to ticks.
They are truly awful and disgusting, and I hate them. Yeah, I know, I know: they are just doing what they evolved to do, blah blah BLAH. They were sucking the blood out of my child for three months, and they deserved to die.

P.S. Are you itching yet?

I did some research on Angie's List, and I made a call. A technician came and did a visual inspection, confirming the bugs in FJ's room. Then they brought in a bug-sniffing dog (no lie), a beagle mix named Ricky. He came in with his handlers and cased the joint. He went nuts in FJ’s room and had a minor alert in our room, which may have been nothing. Nowhere else. It was the same price to treat both bedrooms and the living room, so that’s what we opted for.

But we couldn’t do it until after our vacation, which meant we had to continue to live with the little bastards for almost a month. It was gross. It was stressful. But FJ's hives ceased, in the meantime, so we knew for certain this was the source.

Even now, six months after we have (hopefully) eradicated them from our living space, I can’t think about it without experiencing the same anger and disgust I felt when we first discovered that they were feasting on our son. It’s the reason this essay has remained unfinished; a disjointed smattering of paragraphs spreading over page after page, without coherence, beauty, or humor.

Because bed bugs suck.

And once you have gone through it, you see the world differently.

It changes the way you travel, the way you look at a movie theatre seat, how you think about second-hand stuff. You certainly stop saying "Good night, sleep tight..."

Bed bugs are equal opportunity feasters. They don’t care if you are rich or poor. They don’t care who you are or where you live. They don’t care how clean your house is. You will always hear stories about the seedy hotel, the questionable hostel, or the hoarder house, but all bed bugs need is blood, which you have in abundance, carry around with you, and keep making more.

They are absolutely everywhere, so train your mind away from the stereotypes and onto how to keep them out of your life.

If you live. If you walk the earth. If you travel. If people travel to you, you could get them. You could pick them up at a public place, but the most likely way is through travel, be it in transit, like on an airplane or train, visiting people, or staying in hotels. We don’t know how we got them, but it doesn’t particularly matter.

It's expensive to get rid of them, and the likelihood that you can do it yourself is slim to none. You know what? Just don’t even try. Chemicals won’t work. Natural treatments won’t work. Once you have them, you need to call someone. Someone who knows what they are doing. Someone who will bring in the dogs. And I’m not kidding.

You can do your own visual inspections if you know what you are looking for--get on your knees or on a ladder and get close up, with a flash light, during the day. Inspect cracks and crevices in wood, along baseboards, in the corners, behind pictures, on the wall behind furniture, in furniture. You might not see them, but that does not mean they are invisible to the naked eye or are not there. You may not react to the bites. You may have a delayed reaction to the bites. The bites may look like hives. Or mosquito bites. Or nothing at all.

You need to call someone, and not just anyone. You need to call someone who knows about bed bugs; who has dealt with them; who may even specialize. Not your regular pest dude with a black light who will look at your bed frames to make you feel better. These little true-bug bastards can live for a year without feeding, so if they are in your luggage in the basement or attic, they can wait patiently until the next time you leave for an exotic destination like Indianapolis or Trenton.

You don't want to live with them, and you don't want to spread them.

The best detection is with bug-sniffing dogs. These dogs are trained the same way that drug-sniffing dogs are, and they can detect the presence of bed bugs down to a single egg casing.

Then, the treatment will happen. And treatment means baking the house. Heat. It’s the only thing that works, so just get used to it. Your furniture, walls, clothing, anything that won’t melt or come apart will need to be heated to 120 degrees for a sustained period of time. It takes five hours.

You will have to move without leaving the house. You may need to relocate your animals; you may need to find another place to sleep and hang out during treatment day. After you have moved all your crap to the center of the rooms, they will bring in heaters and fans, hand inspect anything that can’t be treated, put down a chemical barrier, and heat the ever-living crap out of your house. One guy or gal will stay behind to turn your stuff, making sure the heat gets to everything, so remove and inspect anything you don’t want them handling. (Our goodie box went to the basement.)

When you come home, it will look like someone ransacked your moving day, which is basically what has happened. They will go through all your drawers and the boxes you packed. Everything will be moved and tossed around. And you will have to put it all back together.

I used it as an opportunity to really clean and repaint two of the three rooms we heated. It made me feel better to get something out of it aside from the absence of blood-sucking parasites.

Now, when we travel to hotels, we take off the headboard and inspect it with a flashlight. These usually slide up and can be lifted off their brackets. We inspect the baseboards, corners, behind pictures, mattress seams, and frames. We check bureau drawers. It's a pain in the ass, but not as much of a pain in the ass as packing up all your stuff and spending 1500 dollars to get rid of bugs later.

Which reminds me... Fair warning to all travelers coming to our house: when we retrieve you at the airport or other terminal, your luggage--ALL your luggage--is going into garbage bags. When we arrive at our house, you will be putting all your clothing, etc. into another garbage bag, and it will be going into the dryer. Anything that cannot go into the dryer will remain on our porch in garbage bags or will be hand inspected for the presence of bugs. Don’t take offense. We will happily undergo the same treatment when we visit you.

Because we are NOT going through this again.

And we don’t want you to go through it a first time.

Here is a flickr album of our fun experience.

What you need to know, in general

Bed bugs are visible to the naked eye. In all their stages, from egg to nymph to full-grown bug. The most common thing people ask is, "How big are they?" And they are genuinely shocked that the little assholes are not microscopic. Far from it. The eggs are about a millimeter in diameter and the full-grown bugs are about the size of an apple seed (1/4" to 3/8" long or 5-9 mm). They look a lot like a tick, but they are not related. These are TRUE BUGS, bitches. If you come over to my house, I'll show you. I have some of them preserved in alcohol. I'll offer you a drink first. Cocktails and bed bugs!

Any place can have them. It does not matter how high-end the hotel or how clean the house.

Look for them in mattress seams or backpack seams or suitcase seams or toiletry bag seams, but they also love wood (who doesn't?). They will make a nest in the corners of your wooden bed frame, in the screw wells, or on the wall by your bed. They like baseboards, too.

Cold only works to kill bed bugs after 7-10 days in the freezer. Heat works more quickly, but heat treatments are still sustained for five hours.

They don't fly.

They mainly feed at night, but you can still find them during the day. In fact, that's when you need to look for them. During the day, with a flashlight (not a black light). They do not fluoresce. Using a black light to detect them is useless.

They can live for a year without feeding. So they could be sitting in your suitcase, just waiting for you to take them on a trip. A vacation with a dozen or so of your most blood-sucking friends.

You need to hire a professional who knows all of the above. That professional needs to check your entire house, not just your beds, and preferably with a bed bug sniffing dog. Basement, living spaces, storage, luggage: all of it needs to be checked.

Here is a list of informational links on bed begs.

Bed Bugs: An Informational Link List

There's no need for me to re-invent the wheel; there's a lot of good information already out there. I've compiled a few sites below.

University of Minnesota information:
Bedbugs! All about bed bugs, from the University of Minnesota.

Bed bugs in residences: University of Minnesota Extension
Bed bugs and traveling: University of Minnesota Extension
What can I do about bed bugs? University of Minnesota Extension
Does cold kill bed bugs? University of Minnesota Extension
Bug bombs and bed bugs (Hint: they don't work)

Other Information:
The Mayo Clinic: Bed Bugs
The Bed Bug Registry: Look it up before you travel!
Pest World: Bed Bugs: Look up an exterminator in your area.
Bed bugs: Wikipedia
Detecting Bed Bugs using Bed Bug Monitors: Rutgers Extension
New do-it-yourself Bed Bug Monitor: University of Minnesota Extension
Results from Bed Bug Search on U of MN Extension Site

The company we used to get rid of our bed bugs:
Plunketts: The Dogs!
Plunketts: Heat Treatment
Plunketts: Bed Bug Profile

Bed Bugs: A Photo Set

Photos from our bed bug infestation, including heat treatment and clean-up.
ScrewHives?BitesMore bitestestsVein
Vials...BraveTestsBattery of Testsnestnest closer
first discoveryBug ZeroAdultNest. Gross.Another adultbig bugs
Screw nestscrew nestAnother nestDown on the cornerMagnify!Ready
bed bugs, a set on Flickr.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Winter'stale

It's about this time of year when I start to hate my socks.

It's about this time of year when my fantasies turn from what I would do if I won the lottery to dreaming of going barefoot.

It's about this time of year when I start to resent the time that winter wastes, walking home from school is an exercise in rage repression, and taking off all the wet layers coating my snow-loving child, usually all the way down to the underwear, makes me want to scream, cry, or both.

Last night and this morning was an ultimate boner parent move. I got all of Finn's cold, sodden clothes off and deposited them near the back door, swearing I would deal with them in a moment. Then I got the kid set up with some Justice League and a blanket so I could work on dinner, and the soggy pile by the back door  just slipped my mind. After dinner, Pete put it all into the washing machine and went to rehearsal. I put the boy to bed and watched "Grey Gardens (2009)" and forgot all about it because Edies.

This morning, Pete was crashing around in the basement, and I thought, "Is he cleaning the catbox? That usually takes him 30 minutes. They are going to be late for school." Then it dawned on me, "Fuuuuuuck... all Finn's stuff is still in the washing machine, and winter is outside the door, right where I left it.

Fortunately, we have a lighter winter jacket for him, and it's going to be in the high 30's today, which means that Minnesotans will be out in short sleeves. By the time they were leaving, the snow pants were dry, and we had him outfitted in other gear, but we had to get him over some tears at not having his everyday thing, and I was sitting in a pool of Mom Fail. It's a warm bath of soothing guilt and self recrimination I am all too used to, as no one can criticize me like I can. After all, I know my sore points best.

I'd love to chat about this more, but I have to head out to the grocery store before Winter Storm Abraxis or whoever descends upon the city this afternoon. Then, it's back to the freezer for us. Not the deep freezer, though, so we should be thankful, right?


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

If you have a child who sleeps, take a moment right now to thank your lucky stars or your vengeful father-god or dancing goat deity or light a bit of incense to gaia or just revel in well-rested, over-accomplishing sanctimony as you sip a glass of wine that is not tinged with the bitter taste of resentment and rage while your cherubic angel dreams away in its bed of heavenly flowers and glittery faerie poo.

Chronicles of a Folk Family

A Reminiscence

June, 2013

Sometimes life is so deliciously weird. You find yourself standing at the hostess stand in a Ground Round at an Oshkosh convention center waiting for them to bring you a milk, to-go. Because you're a mom in a folk family.

We're here for the Irish Festival, where daddywhumpus's Celtic folk-rock band is playing two sets over the weekend. It's the first of the festival season and the first where we are attempting to be a family. I am deeply uncertain of our success and my happiness, and when I say "deeply uncertain," I mean "pretty sure this is going to be a fucking disaster that ends with me feeling like Folk Nanny."

It's Friday night, and since we did not haul our own alcohol (I did not think there would be room in the car with four humans, luggage, merch, and gear). And I figured, it's Wisconsin, where you can bring your kids to the bar and civil servants can't unionize, so clearly their blue laws will be at the very least a lighter shade of blue than Minnesota's. After all, having lived relatively close to the Wisconsin border for most of my time in the Great North, I know how common it is for us to make our own run for the border to get beer after hours in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes.

But no. They stop selling "in the city" at 9:00 in the gas stations and laundromats where they sell alcohol, so it was looking like a long dry night in the hotel room for me.

I am adding "check out local liquor laws" to my festival spreadsheet. I can put it right where "check out local breastfeeding restrictions" used to be on the "travels with baby" spreadsheet.

Now, babywhumpus is watching "Despicable Me" on the laptop, munching on peanut butter crackers, sipping his to-go milk, and I am enjoying a lovely Wisconsin pale ale that daddywhumpus procured in an adjacent town.

Unfortunately, we have not had a chance to discuss norms and expectations for a family festival trip, and I am unsure of how strict and demanding I should be. He is here for music and the band, and it is a business, but I do feel that attention must be paid to the fact that our child is here and respect must be paid to the fact that the main responsibility for his welfare, entertainment, care, and feeding will fall to me while daddywhumpus plays music, glad-hands, and schmoozes.

It's kind of like an extended work week for me, really, but it's my mobile office. Do I just let this play out and then we discuss afterwards for the next one? Do I try to find a moment when we can talk about it before the melee starts tomorrow?

After all, a simple visit to our local Irish Festival ended once with me storming dramatically out during one of their sets, as I was so furious with the situation. It's not one of my prouder moments but really, considering the white hot rage I was feeling at the time, it was the least crazy thing I could do.

I don't want to be in that position again.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Pants on Fire

A Reminiscence
(Note: This is from sometime last year before FJ started Kindergarten. In an effort to create more, or anything, I am wading through a sea of drafts and notes, hoping to spark something.)

When people say, “Children are so innocent” or “Kids never lie,” first of all, they clearly have no children, and secondly, they mean, “Kids will say out loud whatever shit comes into their heads, like ‘Mama, that man is really fat!’ causing shame and embarrassment for all within earshot."

There’s a difference.

Sure, exclaiming that someone is fat may be the truth as that kid perceives it, but kids are not innocent. Kids are all about self-protection and ass-covering from an early age.

Furthermore, I have observed that far from the threat of punishment altering a child’s behavior for the better, it just causes them make shit up or try to cover their tracks. Just like grown-ups.

I don't know why we expect anything different.

Just this morning, Finn came racing into the kitchen, cheek bulging with a hard candy mint. “Do you have a mint in your mouth?”

Wheels turning visibly.

Head shakes “no.”

“Why are you lying? I can see it. Tell the truth: do you have a mint in your mouth?”

Head nods “yes.”

“Honey, no running with a mint in your mouth. You could choke. Now, what did you need to tell me?”

“Can I have some hot cocoa with whipped cream?”

“You have to wait until you finish your mint. Go back and sit on the couch.”

And his counterpart: Idiot.

The last one being me. I rewarded his lie with hot chocolate that he didn't even drink until it was cold, thus negating the "hot" and rendering useless the work units put into the beverage.

Earlier this morning, he went to have his first bathroom visit (he holds it all night long and sometimes even longer), and by the time I came around the corner, he was crouching above a small pond of pee with a teeny wad of toilet paper in his hand. “Don’t worry, mama. I’ll clean it up.”

I flashed through the cat barf and cat poop and cat pee I clean up weekly, remembered all the diapers we scrubbed and washed, and thought, “Still? Really?”

Simultaneously, I realized that he knows how crazy this makes me, and he does not want to get into trouble nor does he want to upset me (few people do). In order to protect himself, he was going to try to clean it up before I saw it. Knowing that this would only make for more mess, I did not make him clean it up. He’s 4, almost 5, and sure, he has to learn to go right when he has to go instead of 30 minutes later, and it does, indeed, make me nuts when half the pee goes on the floor, but it’s not like he’s a Supreme Court Justice or retail cashier. He's a kid.

Though he is just as full of equivocating, subterfuge, and blame-shifting.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Weep, if the tears will come

After hitting my head for the third time today on the exposed cabinet in our gutted kitchen corner (I drew blood the second time), I screamed and collapsed to the floor (like a boss). When Finn came in to see what was up, I told him. And then I started weeping.

As most parents can attest, crying in front of your child is not an awesome super power. You feel exposed and weak, and it puts your child in the awkward position of having to be a care giver.

Finn sat down in the floor and hugged me. Then he said, "I'll be right back," and left. He came back with his stuffed duck and handed it to me. Again he sat and hugged me. I continued to weep. He left again and came back with a blanket, preparing to emergency cuddle right there on the kitchen floor. At that point I said we could go to the couch, where he proceeded to carefully place a throw pillow behind my back.

Another night, after the above embarrassing scene, Finn and I were sitting on the couch, and I started crying. Pete had been especially exasperated with parenting, and I had sent him away and took over. Something about the stress or hormones and stress and hormones led me to start with the water works again. Finn patted me and asked, “Mama, are you crying?” “Yes,” I said. “Because of daddy?” “Well, sort of.”

The next morning, he informed Pete, “You made mama cry.”

I wasn’t planning on bringing it up, but I should have known better than to answer his question truthfully.

A few days later, I had to run to my brother’s and pick up a camera. It was -8 degrees outside, and after driving half a block, the car alerted me with “Tire pressures low.” I pulled over to do a visual check in case the car was just frozen stupid, and yup, they were low. I went to air compressor after air compressor only to discover that they were frozen stupid and not working. I had to get the camera in time to get ready and make a photo shoot, and I was now stressing out, frozen, and the front left tire was almost flat from trying to get air into it. I came home, walked in the door, panicked, and started crying.

Pete came to give me a hug, and Finn got in between us. “Daddy, I got this,” he said as he hugged and patted me and went to get the stuffed duck.