First, termites. Because they’re more pleasant.
Some years ago our family was staying temporarily in an older townhouse in South Carolina. On a sweltering July afternoon, my husband Dave and I were evaluating the paneling on the screened back porch.
“It’s rotting,” Dave noticed, and he tugged on a brittle board. “I think we should pull out this panel to see how far the damage goes.”
While it wasn’t the best time to start a home improvement project—I was within two weeks of delivering baby #8—we just couldn’t resist those loose boards. I didn’t feel like working, but watching my husband flex his muscles in manual labor is always a pleasant way to pass the afternoon.
He went in the townhouse and came out again with a screwdriver and a hammer.
“Maybe you should put on some shoes,” I suggested, worried about nails dropping to the ground that he’d step on.
He waved that off, always preferring to be barefoot. He pried the screwdriver in a crack, whacked it with a hammer, and the crumbling panel came loose. With one quick tug, it came off—
And so did thousands—literally thousands—of termites!
You should have heard me screaming as they poured out in a frenzy, swarming the ground like a white, flowing carpet. Frantically, I scrambled into a nearby hammock, heaving my huge belly and my puffy feet to safety as the termites spread out rapidly from the panel.
But points for bravery for my husband: Dave didn’t move. Somehow, despite the horrifying scene, he kept enough of his wits about him to realize that if he did the frantic stomping dance I did to get to the hammock, he’d be crushing termites under his bare feet. Hundreds flowed over his feet, and he shouted and exclaimed, but within ten seconds they were past him, streaming out to the abandoned golf course behind us.
Our kids, hearing our shouts and screams, tried to come outside to see why, and we yelled at them to “CLOSE THE DOORS! CLOSE THE DOORS!” Fortunately, the termites weren’t flowing into the house, and about a minute later all evidence of the awful insects were gone.
I was barely catching my breath when Dave was already tapping at the next panel. “Don’t do it!” I cried. “At least get some shoes on first!”
“Not a bad idea,” he agreed. He ran into the house, telling the kids to stay put, and came out a moment later. “We have to get them all out,” he explained, and whacked off the next panel, ready to run.
There were only a few hundred behind that panel, and again I squealed and squirmed as they rushed under my hammock, and Dave, with more warning this time, sprinted out of the way. Two more panels and a few hundred insects later, the horror film was over.
“You can get out of the hammock now,” Dave said. But I wasn’t about to move. Filled with the heebie-jeebies—a sensation that stayed with me for many weeks—I was terrified to leave the safety of the hammock.
“Well,” I said as he examined the damage our curiosity had revealed, “what do we do now?” I grew up in the dry west, where we never had termites.
“We go to the home improvement store, buy a case of termite killer, spray every inch of the house, and get some new panels,” Dave said simply.
And so we did, once he was able to coax me out of the hammock. We told our kids what happened—none one of them wanted to crack open the door for days afterward—and we headed out to buy bug killer and new panels.
So how is this like the upcoming presidential election? Because it’s an invasion of termites: ugly, nasty bugs set out to terrify us all. However, there are five steps we can take in the next few days to deal with it, the same way to deal with termites.
Step One: accept that it’s happening, and that there’s nothing we can do to stop it. The termites are here, and they’re going to flow all over us with the press and social media, especially on and around November 8th. We have a couple ways to respond:
- My method, of screaming and running for higher ground. That worked, actually. I’m going into hiding soon: I will suspend my regular Facebook page for the days surrounding the election, and stay away from all news outlets in order to avoid the pestilence. I’m already “hiding” contacts and pages I normally follow, because I can’t deal with the bluster anymore. I’ll probably still do some screaming, because I can see in a distance what’s happening, but I don’t have to be a part of it.
- My husband’s braver method of wading through it. He let the nasty little buggers crawl right over him, without panicking, without stomping, without covering his bare soles in bug guts. Sure he yelled variations of, “Oh—gross! Get away! Shoo! Go!” And you know what? It worked. He wasn’t bitten or devoured.
Step Two: keep your cool. It’s going to get ugly out there (more than it has been), but that’s no reason to lose control over your language and behavior. I’m proud of my husband for not swearing; that’s simply not his style, and he wasn’t about to lower his integrity because of a few insects. So in a moment of infestation, don’t do or write or say anything that, once you’re clear-headed again, you’ll be ashamed of.
Step Three: realize it is going to stop. Eventually, the ground will clear, we’ll all catch our breaths, and once we’re calm and collected again, it’s time for the next step;
Step Four: clean up. There’s going to be a huge mess after this, and likely more messes later. No, we didn’t cause this, but still a mess remains. And even though it’s not our responsibility (“I hate this place! I don’t even want to live here!”) it does no good to complain or point fingers. All we can do is start picking up the pieces and begin rebuilding.
Step Five: don’t expect the termites to come back and help. They won’t even apologize. It’s not in their nature. They’re already moving on, searching for a new target to destroy. We’ll probably need to go help with that clean up later as well. Just be prepared, and don’t expect anything from them.
Good luck out there in the next few weeks. I’ll see you again on the other side.
If Gadiman were an animal, his appearance would cause people to instinctively yelp, then proceed to stomp on him with their boots. ~Book 1, The Forest at the Edge of the World