Every house has its flaws, mine included. My home dates back to the 1980’s, when builders couldn’t keep up with demand for housing. Mistakes happened. I can deal with most of them, but the ant’s nest under my kitchen drives me crazy. Every year the ants invade through a window sill, and every year I work frantically to push them out again. I know all about Borax and sugar, and Terro bait. “The ants take the poison back to the nest, and the entire nest dies.” I understand the theory, but I no longer believe it.
I’m grateful to the ants for one reason only. Several years ago they played a part in my writing journey. The year I turned forty, I shared my ant-battling pain in an email to several friends. Their response changed the direction of my life.
First, the original email (Note: my kids were 11, 9 and 7 at the time.):
“As I stare down my fortieth birthday, I think I’m experiencing growing pains.
“Jon worked a late shift on Friday, leaving me to battle the kids and the ants alone. The ants were my primary worry as they were infesting my kitchen at an alarming rate, so I allowed the kids to park themselves in front of the TV downstairs while I caulked and cleaned and set out poison.
“When I finally rejoined my family, the girls were consuming a game show called “Identity”, in which a contestant must try to match ten people with their descriptors, such as Ex-Boy Band Member or Jiu Jitsu Master. The current contestant had won $100,000 and was working on naming the remaining four panelists. Their descriptors were: Born in Japan; Clown; PTA Mom; and Thirty-Five-Year-Old. They were all thin, pretty women draped in cast-offs from Vanna’s closet.
“My kids could not figure out the puzzle. As their eyes traveled from me to the screen and back, they kept repeating that none of these women could possibly be a PTA mom or thirty-five years old. We were not kept in suspense for long. The contestant decided to quit and walk away with her $100,000 prize, and all was revealed. The PTA mom wore a halter-neck evening gown, her makeup worthy of a Vogue photo shoot. “Clever disguise!” said my girls. The kicker, though, was the thirty-five-year-old woman. She turned out to be the shapely one in the pink Madonna-style bustier.
“Wow!” said Betsy with wonder in her voice. “She has really kept her figure!”
“As I rounded up Matt and shooed him toward bed, Betsy and Emily changed the channel. Half an hour later I sat back down with them to watch the end of “What Not to Wear.” This week’s victim was a forty-year-old woman who had lost thirty pounds, but hadn’t changed her wardrobe to match her new image. Poor old thing! We watched Stacy and Clinton jump through all the usual hoops (“Fitted jacket! Trousers that fit you! Pointy shoes!”), and then came the local commentary.
“Mom,” Emily said, “Betsy is right. You do wear mom jeans. We were thinking about turning you in to ‘What Not to Wear,’ but we don’t know their phone number.”
“Maybe I’ve been trying to eradicate the wrong household pest. At least the ants don’t sting. And they seem to like my cooking.”
The ants were gone the next morning. I would have forgotten the whole episode if I hadn’t written that email. The act of writing relieved my feelings, but my readers’ reaction changed my life. They laughed. They sympathized. But they also said, “This is good enough to be in a magazine,” and “Where’d you learn to write like that?”
They knocked me off-balance. Would people really be interested in what I have to say? Could I ever be a legitimate writer? I’d closed the door on my writing dreams when I graduated from high school, but their encouragement pushed that door open again. I didn’t step through it for five more years, but it was the beginning.
To the friends who encouraged me: Thank you. You have no idea how grateful I am. Without your words, I’d still be an unhappy preschool teacher. Think of the children you’ve rescued! You certainly helped to rescue me.
To everyone else: Please don’t wait to encourage those around you. You might change a life.