Once we became parents, my husband and I noticed that our relationship to pools had changed. This summer, we’ve had a total of three hours of poolside relaxation on a weekend getaway (not without its own hiccups, of course. See “Livin’ the Dream.”) Our days of sipping Coronas and sunbathing are over. Three kids later, a more typical pool experience for us seems to involve some kind of fecal incident.
Don’t get me wrong. We do have a baby pool. But even the foot paddling my kids and I enjoyed in this crumpled disc of heavy plastic has lately been wrecked by news of West Nile Virus.
You see, I recently made the mistake of tuning into NPR just as an infectious disease specialist from Vanderbilt University was describing how virulent West Nile Virus was this year. ABC News is reporting that West Nile Virus is “on track for the worst year ever,” the worst “in the country’s history.”
I found that to be alarming, though I was encouraged to read that Texas is the “hardest hit.” I’m hoping the Texans are the ones who will suffer from the “stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis” that the CDC outlines as possible West Nile symptoms.
In my prior life, such reports would not have shaken me. I used to cast off friends’ offers of bug spray at backyard barbeques with the kind of bravado with which, having grown up in Seattle, I reject umbrellas. I recall one time, in my mid-20s, helicopter loudspeakers cautioning me, my friends and other twilight picnickers to evacuate Central Park. Manhattan authorities were about to spray for West Nile Virus. Because we were young and invincible – and because we had had too many beers – I don’t even think we left.
But now I have kids. And this year, every news outlet exhorts us to avoid, at all costs, contact with these pesky beasts. The problem is, how?
I did grab some Buzz Away Extreme at the check out counter at Whole Foods the other day. I felt smug about buying a repellent that advertised itself as “Deet-Free.” But the fact that it lacks this active ingredient might explain why we are still being devoured.
Target doesn’t sell pint-sized hazmat suits. (I’ve checked.) I have considered increasing our daily “Caillou” allotment from one hour to 12. But that might be even more dangerous than West Nile, since I would end up shooting either myself or the genius Canadian who produced the show.
So I decided to follow the Vanderbilt fellow's advice and rid our yard of the flotsam and jetsam collecting breeding pools of water. I put away the baby pool that had been crumpled against our fence for a month like a forgotten corpse. I moved the slide that had been lying in our grass for several weeks, ever since we detached it from our tree house in a feeble attempt to make it safer. My kids were enjoying climbing on the discarded slide, but I did notice that it was gathering small puddles. I shoved it in the garage.
Then I started jettisoning the endless supply of subtler yet still problematic water-collecting items: the miniature terrariums my kids got as birthday party handouts and left outside; the broken, red bucket that will no longer hold useful amounts of liquid but just enough to breed mosquitos; the “ball wagon” we use to store my son’s baseballs that also stores rainwater; a long-forgotten, three-wheeled dump truck whose bed was becoming a sort of Club Med for mosquito larvae.
We’re still being bitten.
I’ve been scratching so much that I look like I have a case of smallpox or sarcoptic mange. My children are similarly afflicted. My husband’s legs are so hairy that it’s hard to assess the extent of his damage, but I think he’s suffering badly, too.
Our precautionary steps thus exhausted, we have decided to embrace the clouds of mosquitos that are breeding like rabbits in our yard. (We also have rabbits breeding like rabbits in our yard, under our wide, low, back deck. But that is a subject for another post.)
Truth is, we’re probably already infected. So my kids and I have exhumed a sort of West Nile anthem, “Oh, I Wish I Were a Little Mosquito,” sung to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” The lyrics include a “cake of soap” that goes “slippy and a slidey over everybody’s hidy.” But I will share only the relevant, mosquito section in its entirety. For maximum enjoyment, you should pronounce “mosquito” as “mus-kee-toe” and have your kids echo the last word of each phrase as follows:
“Oh, I wish I were a little mosquito.
Oh, I wish I were a little mosquito.
I’d go bitty and a bitey under everybody’s nighty.
Oh, I wish I were a little mosquito.”
(I'm also happy to share the lyrics to “God Bless my Underpants,” sung to the tune of “God Bless America,” and to “Stinky, Stinky Diaper Change,” sung to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” But for those you will have to contact me directly.)