“His name is Howell!”
“OK, fine. Then I have to remove Howell,” I said.
My daughter has a love of naming things — even things that are latched on to her body and sucking her blood. I took out my tweezers and considered that perhaps she didn’t understand that Howell, her newly named best animal friend, was a fat tick feeding off her and sucking her dry. Then again, the only Howell I know is Thurston Howell III, so perhaps she did have some understanding.
“I’ll be gentle,” I said as I pinched my tweezers and pulled.
We are not even officially into summer yet, and I have already pulled five ticks off my children. The kids used to freak out whenever they discovered that an arachnid was burrowing its head into their young bodies. Now they give the ticks names and personality traits. Howell, for example, was shy and enjoyed dinosaurs, dance parties and climbing olive trees. But he hated blue jays. I couldn’t even mention blue jays around the eight-legged, disease-carrying pest latched on to my daughter, because she would scream at me.
The ticks my kids unintentionally bring into our home have become just as much a part of the family as the terrifying FlipaZoo stuffed animals that must now join us at the dinner table.
My children are obsessed with these two-in-one stuffed animals — recent presents given by family friends — and lovingly refer to them as “buttheads.” I am not one to enjoy name-calling, but the term is hard to argue with once you realize that instead of a butt, the creators of these flip creatures gave each of them two heads and a flap of skin that can flip, allowing kids to turn the stuffed animal from monkey to giraffe, from dog to opossum. Where there should be a butt, there is another head. So the buttheads join us for dinner. We call them by name, depending on which head is currently on display, and offer them seats and pretend plates of food.
I’m far less impressed with the [expletive deleted] joining us for dinner — or, more accurately, making us their dinner.
Unlike “buttheads,” the term “[expletives]” was my error. I had a slip of the tongue while urging a particularly latched-on tick to remove himself from my son’s shoulder. My children started referring to ticks as [expletives] as if it were their given scientific name. What’s the Latin term for “drives Mom crazy”?
Not a particularly proud parenting moment. You can see why I welcome it when my children move past Mommy’s potty mouth and give the ticks their own names, such as Howell, Sammy, Trey, Leela and Alistair — all far more welcoming words to come out of my preschooler’s and kindergartener’s mouths.
The problem with “Howell” and “Alistair,” however, is that the kids have a problem when I kill them, whereas I don’t know that they’d have much of an issue with my killing “the [expletives].” Again, not my most shining mom moment, but there is a point here.
In my town, the going belief is that ticks carry so many worrying illnesses that we must take our children to the doctor every time a tick latches on to their skin. As I mentioned, we’ve already had five tick incidents. No one has time to go to a doctor that often. Instead, I follow the second-most ruling thought in these parts, which is to place each tick in a zip-close bag with the date and place of bite on the child and keep it in the freezer. This way, if the child starts to get sick, we can have each frozen tick tested.
“Howell’s too cold!” my daughter screamed as I put him in the bottom freezer bin with the other bloodsucking friends.
“He’s just napping,” I assured her. My kid wasn’t buying it.
“But Howell’s my lovey.”
Huh, all this time, I thought we were talking about Thurston, not Lovey. And when did my 3-year-old watch “Gilligan’s Island”? And was she really making the political statement I thought she was making with her love for the Howells?
I considered the effort I’d gone through to calm my children’s terror when we used to find ticks on their bodies.
“They’re not trying to hurt you,” I’d said.
“Nature’s our friend,” I’d said. Maybe I should have stuck to the naughty words.
Katiedid Langrock is author of the book “Stop Farting in the Pyramids.”