Sometimes, it just takes a tick

Apr 6, 2017 By Clair McFarland

Spring break adventures with a grade-school boy

Last week was Spring Break, and we were given perfect weather for the occasion. Days of gentle sunshine unfolded for the boy who is not yet clock-savvy enough to know just how many hours of vacation remained at any given moment.

But I was clock-savvy enough to know, and toward the end of the week I thought, "do I tell him? Do I let him know that the end is near? Or do I just take him biking again, a guinea pig for the maxim 'ignorance is bliss'?"

It turned out that ignorance was bliss. On Thursday, we had a grand adventure on bicycles. Or at least the two older boys did. The twins sat in the double stroller, and I sprinted behind it, shouting "slow down, my shoe is falling off!"

The adventure peaked when we settled around the semi-rustic setting of a green ditch-bank not far from our home. There we jumped across the water and stuffed the best rocks into our pockets. At intervals, when we stopped jumping to slow the impact of gravity upon our blue-jeans, we sang old folk songs to the spiders, some of whom were odd-looking and oddly-patterned.

Yes, it was a good afternoon. My oldest son was so exhausted by all the ditch revels that I was able to keep up with him on the homeward route - and home would mean warm baths, fresh clothes, and homemade popsicles for everyone.

Even when the weekend came and the sun turned away from us to incubate baby raindrops within pregnant clouds, we carried our ditch-bank bliss around with us - confident that Spring Break would never end.

But end it did.

"Good morning, honey! It's time for school!"

"Ack! This has to be a joke."

I bit my lip. Maybe I should have built up more anticipatory caution over the preceding days. But I hadn't wanted to pop the idyllic bubble - so I hadn't.

"It's no joke. If you get up now we can read Superman comics before you eat."

He began to whimper. "But - but Mom. I'm scared of school."

Now, in mothering there's always a fine line between "tell me all your problems so I can fix them for you," and "aw, quit griping!" I went for the former, because it's always good to err on the side of listening to legitimate issues.

"Why would you be afraid of school?"

Yes, tell me all your woe! Is there a bully, or a loose rat, or are they making you read poorly and carelessly abridged versions of classic novels?

"Because. Because! I do NOT enjoy math."

What? "You are afraid of school because you dislike math?"


"OK, time to get up now." (He's actually pretty good at math.)

"But I told you, I do NOT enjoy math!"

"Too bad. You need math. Now stop griping and come eat."

But he wouldn't let it go, even while hunched over several layers of Raisin Bran. "I don't need math at all. I'M going to be a scientist."

"Then you need math more than anyone else in the world."

"Nuh-uh. Give me an example of why a scientist needs math."

"Sure. A good scientist can calculate how much less a boy will weigh after a long day when his mother didn't pack his lunch because she was bickering about math."


Mom caved and gave a few examples, while packing a lunch. I also tried to insert some sunshine into the conversation, but my son's breakfast at home still ended with his thinking that math is worse than bullies, rats, and a version of "Moby Dick" that doesn't begin with "Call me Ishmael."

Well I guess that's not the worst Monday-after-Spring-Break we could've had. The evening was a little better. The Husband helped our son set up an electrical circuit building set that he'd gotten for his birthday, and this suspended all claims of the horror that is school.

While our little boy sat next to The Husband, his neck bent gracefully over the circuit board, his green eyes lit with focus, his anxious breathing slowed, and his black eyelashes flicked his satin cheeks.

Ah this was it. This was the face of curiosity and passion that I so love. Joy and admiration flurried within me, and my hand went to that place on the back of his neck, just beneath his hairline, where the warmth and the circulation and the symmetry perfectly embodied his current state of mind - while he was "science-ing."

And when I nestled my fingers in his hairline I was met with.... What?

What was it? Something was there, just where I had tickled so gently. It seemed a loose black scab. I looked again. No, it was one of those odd spiders, in his hair!

A voice inside said, "smack it!" But then Mom-voice came along and saved the day: "you can't just smack people upside the head, OK?" So I didn't do that, even though I worried the spider would get away. But the spider wasn't getting away. In fact, it was stuck to him. It was -

It was not a spider. It was a tick. Those had been ticks. We had wasted Simon and Garfunkel and our own vocal cords on their unworthy exoskeletons. For shame, for shame! But besides that, I was a little freaked out. I had found a horrible bruise-colored vampire-creature on the translucent flesh atop my son's brain stem. It was akin to getting tased by a cherub.

I inhaled and showed The Husband, who had known to come to me because of the look on my face. He, of course, knew just what to do and how to do it, so he tweezed the little fella, and I disinfected the area, and the tweezers as well.

Our son was OK with it all, because he has no idea how adorable he is and therefore no idea what an affront this was on the part of the tick. The Husband put the tick in one of our son's "specimen jars" - a token of science without math - and our son dumped isopropyl alcohol into the jar with marked satisfaction.

"I can not WAIT to tell everyone at school tomorrow. Oh man, school is gonna rock!"

I finally caught my breath. "That's nice dear. Good attitude."

I guess it just takes a tick.

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