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Mom Versus Wasp

Can wasps even see with their creepy eyes?

That might seem like a weird question, but I have such a vivid memory of staring down a wasp that I’m going to say, yes, they can. Wasps can see us with their evil, creepy, lifeless eyes. 

This particular wasp stare-down happened fifteen years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. “Don’t say hate, Mommy!” Robin scolded me, as the tears were beginning to dry in streaks on her 5-year-old face. I had just shouted at the wasps of the world in a G-rated outburst. Now, as I scrambled to get ice so I could soothe the sting on her finger before the swelling started, she asked me, “Why did you yell like that?” 

Then she looked deep into my Mom soul with her soft brown eyes and said slowly and sternly: “And why did you say not to move?” 

The answer all these years later is, I don’t know. That spring day on the deck, I think we were both mesmerized by this creature that landed on her little pointer finger and defied us to do anything about it. All she had to do was flick her finger. All I had to do was tell her to move – even just a smidge – and I’m sure the wasp would have been on its way. Instead, we both froze, transfixed as it bore its horrible wasp stinger into her plump finger (which on slow-motion memory replay feels like it took minutes, not seconds).

Bees I knew. Having rarely worn shoes as a kid, I have a long and storied relationship with bee stings, but I honestly can’t remember wasps from my childhood. The yards on our street were thick with clover, and we ran around in it constantly. It seemed like I got stung at least once a week, and it was my fault. My feet were bee magnets, but I didn’t care. It was still better than wearing shoes. I remember sitting on the front porch with my mom watching bees bop from flower to flower. “If you leave them alone, they won’t sting you,” my mom said. “They only sting you when you step on them.” Good thing I’m not allergic! 

Wasps are very different, l learned, when I moved to our new home with its sprawling wood deck in hot and sunny Richmond. Although I’m aware that like bees, wasps are pollinators, unlike bees, wasps are aggressive and nasty. That means you don’t have to mess with them to get stung, and they can sting you again and again if they’re mad enough. They also use fiber from weathered wood to build their nests, so of course, they like to have a resource nearby. Like our deck.

I used to drop hints, and later, outright lobby for a Florida room or a screened-in porch to replace our deck. “It will keep the wasps away,” I told my husband, “and give us more living space.” But after some research, even I had to admit a few thousand dollars was a steep price for what was basically wasp repellent. When we visited a home with a screen porch, Scott would raise a knowing eyebrow as he pointed to the damage the family dog had done to a screen door. As I watched neighbors around us add onto their decks and update their backyards with pools or outdoor kitchens, I decided maybe the wasps would want to visit their gatherings instead of our boring old deck.  

But alas, this is not the case. Every spring, as soon as the temperature hits seventy and the sun blazes in the sky, the wasps are back in action. I patrol the area on demolition duty and break up their nest-building progress, but it’s never enough. And my commitment to avoid using chemicals or sprays means I have one reliable weapon in my arsenal: my trusty blue super-swatter. Some days, I take out three or four wasps with it if I’m quick enough. 

During the pandemic, the need for additional living space has ticked up a notch or two as our empty nest has refilled with baby birds who came home for spring break and couldn’t return to school. This includes baby bird Robin who likes to remind me of that original Mom-fail. This year, it’s more crucial than ever to our family peace to have a comfortable wasp-free deck (even if it is covered in a layer of yellow dust).

For a long time, Scott didn’t say much about the wasps, although I think he was secretly proud of the battles I fought with my super-swatter – even if I could never win the war. Then I saw a wadded up brown paper bag hanging from under the eave on the deck. He knew I’d like this idea because it did not involve poisonous sprays. “The wasps see the bag and think another colony has already claimed the turf,” Scott said matter-of-factly. 

So far so good. Maybe the wasps know not to mess with a family in pandemic isolation in dire need of more living space. Maybe they fear the wasp-hating mother with the super-swatter. Or maybe it’s actually Scott’s paper bag trick. It doesn’t matter. I’m taking the win for now. But I know the war isn’t over.

Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family, including husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director. You can read Karen’s take on parenting her three daughters – Sam, Robin, and Lindsey, also known as the women-children – in the Editor’s Voice.
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