This weekend Selah sat outside all afternoon, playing with her new water beads and was eaten up by mosquitos. I would say “eaten alive,” but I said that in front of her later that evening when showing the bites to Joshua and she was quite take aback by the mental image. She’s got the genetics that show big welted circles at the site. When she came inside covered in splotches I felt terrible that I hadn’t noticed. But I did notice. I noticed that when I looked out the window I saw her engrossed in independent play for multiple hours and that was ideal. I couldn’t see the bites. Anyway, she didn’t seem too bothered, and aside from visualizing herself being eaten alive and scratching a couple in her sleep, nothing much came of it.
But the next morning as I dropped her at summer camp, which is next door, I wondered if I should do something to prevent a round two. I debated putting her in long sleeves, but we don’t exactly have light weight, “middle of August heat”, long sleeve clothing. She would surely be too hot. I think had it not rained so hard the night before, leaving everything humid and damp, I would have just let it ride. But even the 20 foot walk to drop her off resulted in me swatting away multiple mozzies*.
I went home and searched through the mud room for a bug repellent. Last summer I had purchased some overpriced spray that was a collection of essential oils in hopes that we could ward off the incessant vampires with citronella and wintergreen. But as with all things natural, there is a cost. The cost for this product was that it didn’t really work, but did leave you really greasy. Or oily, castor oily. And, also, natural or not I just never feel quite comfortable with saturating the skin with something meant to repel other creatures. Sure it’s not Deet, but nothing is neutral.
I shuffle past it every time I get sunscreen and store into the back of my mind that if we needed it, we have it. But we never use it and I rest assured that on the ever growing list titled, “Is this also actually dangerous, but no one acknowledges it, but we all wonder why the canaries are dropping?”
But this morning, with the rain and the welts and the mozzies on the prowl, I figured, “eh, now’s the time,” and sprayed her from head to toe. I told her that we’d have to do a bath after I picked her up, justifying in my head that if we washed it off 4 hours later we’d prevent full saturation (false, but this is how I do my mental gymnastics.)
Another mom saw me spraying her and asked to borrow the spray.
And then another mom inquired.
“Oh is that a natural one?” she asked.
“Yeah, it’s super clean,” I replied as I turned over the bottle to confirm, “The most questionable ingredient is tocopherol/Vitamin E which is likely synthetic.” I handed her the bottle.
“Oh yeah… no deet. That’s good. I just haven’t pulled the plug yet, we haven’t done the whole bug spray thing.” She remarked.
I felt it rise in me straight away: the jealousy, the grief.
Oh yeah, you’re still living inside that alternate reality where choosing not to put bug spray on your child will prevent bad things from happening to them, I thought to myself.
I lived there for a while, happily. And then cancer.
“Oh yeah, I was that way, but once you do ALL the things and your kid gets cancer anyway, you just kind of give up and buy the all-natural bug spray,” I tried to push it out as a joke, but I could feel the salty taste of the words as soon as they left my tongue.
The mom let out a resigned laugh as one does when what they want to say is, “Yeah, who the fuck knows,” but they are at preschool drop-off and so they can’t.
I regretted saying it. For fucks sake Betsy, just let her live! I know the mom well enough that I wasn’t too worried I’d be cast out as the cancer downer. She knows me, she knows it’s all very complicated. In fact, she is a somatic therapist, so if anyone gets how sideways grief can spill out, it’s her. Even still, I wanted to rewind those moments and say nothing.
Inside the regret of saying it there is a part of me, a part that shows up often in these moment, sometimes it feels dark and stormy and sometimes it feels real fucking self-righteous. The part of me that feels the need to lay in front of these parents the warning. And it’s not for them really, because I support their vigilance- the world is toxic and we have to have our eyes wide-open. The warning, well, it’s for me.
For me it’s not a warning, so much as a reminder. To remind myself, to integrate into my own nervous system which 1300 days later is still frazzled and searching for something I could have done to avoid this:
It doesn’t matter how hard you tried, Betsy, Beau got sick.
*My Australian bestie taught us this slang for mosquitos this summer, feel free to spread.
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