Triad Magazine

A Hillsborough Community College Student Publication since 1978.

Red Ants, Hypocrisy, and a Young Vegetarian

By Mary O’Dea

“Mom, come over here and look at this.”

I detached myself from the group of mothers in the schoolyard and moved to where Delaney, my seven-year-old daughter, was crouching at the foot of a tree. “Isn’t this cool, Mom? The ants are carrying huge pieces of food into their nest in the tree.”

Long lines of red ants were hurrying in and out of a very large home they’d built just inside the rotting tree. I watched, fascinated by the movement and determination of the colony’s tiny members.

“Yeah, that’s pretty neat. Look at how the food is bigger than their bodies. They must be very strong. Imagine trying to carry food that is bigger than you.”

“I wouldn’t want to do that. I’m glad that I only have to carry my lunch box.”

I continued to stare at the living lines, trying to force flash-backs of the PBS specials on ants to materialize in my head. How much weight could each ant carry? How did they organize and communicate? How long had it been since I’d thought about ants’ lives?

As I struggled to make this a “teachable moment” for Delaney, she stepped away from the scene. I looked up to see her vigorously stomping on a string of ants moving toward the tree.

“Hey! Don’t step on them,” I said. “But Mom, they’re red ants. They bite.” “I’d bite too if someone were stepping on me. They’re only trying to bring home lunch and live their ant lives.”

“But Moooommm…don’t you remember how badly they bit Jenna? She had to go to the doctor, and her feet were all swelled up.”

It was true. Waiting for her older sister after school, the little girl had been badly bitten by red ants in the schoolyard last week. The ants were a frequent topic of conversation among the mothers waiting to pick up their children. In fact, I’d just walked away from telling the women in my group that sprinkling uncooked, instant grits around the ant holes is a safe alternative to chemicals for killing the angry pests.

My hypocrisy was showing. In the brief seconds, before I realized what I’d become, my mind had already taken imaginary flights. Wasn’t my daughter crushing the ants simply indicative of the entire human race? Don’t we step on every bit of nature that gets in our way when it suits our purposes? Don’t we stomp on each other at work, school, and socially if it means we will gain? The American corporate culture of survival of the fittest has invaded our homes, and we praise it. Our society encourages this kind of behavior in its youngest members through the competition we promote between our children.

I was deep in my morally upright ideals and wondering how to explain them to Delany. She is the child, after all, who’s been raised vegetarian, who I’ve tried to teach to be a “kinder, gentler” person, but I realized I could say nothing more to her about the ants. I nearly choked on the self-righteous attitude I’d been afflicting.

Delany, though, knew nothing of my hypocrisy, and bounced over to me, ready to leave for home. At her age, she believes Mom is still right about everything, and I’d just planted another environmentally friendly seed in her. She still has a little time before she’ll recognize the paradoxes of such human, ethical struggles.

“Bye, Brett,” Delaney said to her schoolmate who was still hanging around the tree.

I turned and said goodbye to Brett. But he was too busy stomping on red ants to notice.

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