Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sugar Ants & Pesky Habits

Sugar ants (technically pavement ants), which are tiny--only about a millimeter in length--decided to check out what kind of yummy morsels they could find on my kitchen counters. The only problem--they're not welcome in my house. Try telling them that.

When I discovered them, I sprayed them with 409 and wiped them away. The rascals (well, new ones) came back. Repeat spray-and-wipe procedure. They repeated their return. My husband put an ant trap on the counter. That helped a little, but more showed up later. This was all starting to really gross me out.

Fast-forward to the next day, lunch-time.

The scene: making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my kids.
The drama: I thought the counter was clean enough, so I laid the bread right on the counter without a cutting board, and began to spread the peanut butter, then the jelly, on the sandwiches. I put the sandwiches on paper plates and discovered a few tiny little ants crawling on the sandwiches. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Checked the knife I used for the peanut butter. They were on it. Checked the peanut butter. They were in it. More yuck. Threw the peanut butter away.

Decided to investigate where these ants were coming from, and where else they were in my kitchen. Looked in our main food cabinet. Yep. They were not only on the shelves, they were climbing vertically up the sides of the cabinet to reach other shelves. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

At this point, I had a royal freak-out. I started throwing things out of the cabinets, spraying the shelves down, and trying to figure out where the ants were getting in at. (Sometimes spring cleaning is more out of necessity than desire).

I went over to the computer to search for ways to eliminate sugar ants once and for all. Found some helpful tips, but this information only added to my anxiety. Here's how you wipe out and control a sugar ant invasion:
  • Keep your counter tops immaculate. Spray with bleach water, or vinegar water after every meal or snack.
  • Sweep and mop your floor with either bleach or vinegar water after every meal.
  • Apparently, the ants will follow pheromone trails, so the bleach or vinegar will destroy their scent trails.
 Easy advice for a naturally neat person to follow, but for me?

What so overwhelmed me about this was:
1) my kitchen counters are nowhere near immaculate. Getting them spotless in the next fifteen minutes (which was the urgency I felt) caused me to panic, along with questions of how would I ever keep them spotless if I succeeded in getting them spotless in the first place?
2) Mop your floor after every meal? I am lucky if I can mop once a week.

Right then, it felt like all the issues that have been causing some tension for some time (the kids leaving toys on the floor—which I needed to mop NOW, not confining their eating only to the table, etc.) exploded. I had a major rant-and-rave session, which included comments, like, “You all need to help more with chores”, “There is too much for me to do by myself!”, “We have way too many toys!”, “I’m sick of always picking up your toys. I’m just going to start throwing them away” and on and on. At one point, my son said, “Oh no. This is just getting way too serious. We’re still only kids, Mom.” Hilarious!

I realized then, as I have realized in times before, than I fall back on a pattern I was raised with of trying to spur my children to action through using guilt and shame. It’s terrible, I know, but like any bad habit that rears its ugly head, it can be hard to break.

Ironically, while mopping the floor, a Christian radio broadcast was discussing the topic of anger. How do you handle it when it’s gotten out of control and is hurting your family? One woman called in to say that she learned to recognize her triggers and then take appropriate actions to address her stress without losing her composure.

I realized then that the sugar ants were a metaphor for my own spiritual condition. My struggle is how I react when stressed to the max. But for someone else, it may be a different problem. Am I going to keep spraying and wiping the ants I see on the counter each day, or am I going to take the necessary (although difficult) steps to defeat the problem for good?

We can keep spraying and keep wiping (dealing only with the surface problem), but if we don’t target the source, the ants will keep coming back. Sometimes, we’re forced to deal with our “ants.”  The pesticide for eliminating the “ants” we struggle with is repentance, prayer, and walking in the Spirit.

We cannot change any bad habit or sinful pattern of behavior without first recognizing that it is a problem and then confessing our shortcomings and need for help to our Maker and Savior. We pray, as King David prayed in Psalm 51:
"Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight…
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow…
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.”
Once we’ve prayed, we walk in the Spirit. Christ’s presence with us will give us everything we need to overcome our sinful temptations and falling back into old patterns of behavior. We need to turn our minds to Him and ask for His mercy and grace.

(By the way, the counters managed to stay pretty clean for a few days—I wouldn’t say spotless, but close! And the ants are not coming back to the same places. I’m still struggling with maintaining the high level of cleanliness required to keep them at bay--it takes a lot of discipline, which can be difficult, especially with a sick baby who wants to be held all the time--but I’m growing. I’m growing spiritually, too. I'm grateful that God cares enough about me that He wants me to grow to become more like Him, and He'll help me do it--and you, too!)


  1. AnonymousMay 09, 2012

    Oh, I do so understand, since we moved into this house 9 months ago sugar ants have been a constant (ugh) companion. I do keep the counters cleaned, the tile floors are mopped regularly, the kids are grown. Who knows? Right now we have them outside where they belong and hopefully they will stay there!

  2. Oh Man...can I relate! Not so much with the sugar ants, because we haven't had them in this house so far, but it seems like there are other things that trigger my anger...and it's silly and immature and wrong of me to suddenly explode at my kids or husband because of my own faliures.

    You'll be alright. Just take a deep breath and keep plugging along. =)

    PS...one time, we came home from vacation when we lived in Georgia. We had been gone for a week. I walked into my kitchen, which I had left spotless because I hate to come home to a messy house, and the floor and countertops and table top seemed to be moving. It took a minute for it to register that there were (possibly millions) of ants in my kitchen...and they had gotten into the cupboards and into everything that was opened. I was SO frustrated and freaked out about it! Yuck! I hope your ants go away asap!

  3. We had these in a cupboard in our house in VT. Strangely a cupboard we didn't even keep food in!

    Anyway, yes, keeping stuff clean helps, but killing the ants works better. Mix a couple tablespoons of peanut butter & a couple tablespoons of borax, put in a low, flat container (like a yogurt lid), and place where your ants are seen most frequently.

    Now here is the hard part...do NOT kill the ants when you see them going after your mixture. Kill them everywhere else, but leave the mixture ants alone. Borax is a slow-acting killer. They will carry it back to their colony and you won't have ants anymore. =-)

    Good luck!