We were wrapping up an idyllic wilderness trek two years ago when my youngest son stirred up the proverbial hornet’s nest. We had lagged behind his father and brother and somehow lost sight of their path through thick undergrowth. When we cleared the bushes, we were not near our canoe, as expected, but on a steep ledge high above it. That was when my son began to cry out in anguish and flail his arms and legs frantically: he had stepped squarely on a ground wasps’ nest and hundreds of wasps were launching a counter-attack.
We were trapped on that ledge with nowhere safe to retreat as my son was stung relentlessly by an army of enraged wasps. When his father circled back, I hoisted my son up by the scruff like a mother lion would her cub and launched him into his father’s arms below. By the time we were in the canoe, he had sustained hundreds of stings and his skin was swelling into folds as deep as a Chinese Shar-Pei’s. We were a strenuous canoe ride from camp, then over an hour from medical assistance.
Paddling vigorously from the bow of the canoe, I was terrified that my son might go into anaphylactic shock. He was silent from the pain and I needed a way to confirm that his air passages were open and he was breathing easily, even while I was unable to turn around and observe him. Then I had an idea. At the time, my son had a terrible potty mouth.
“Sweetheart, I need you to swear,” I coaxed desperately. “I need you to swear loudly and clearly and keep on swearing. Say anything you’ve ever wanted to say. You’ve earned it. And this is the one time it’s not going to get you into trouble.”
There was a pause while he considered the magnitude of what I had said. Then, in a booming voice that echoed across the water, he shouted, “F—it head, it’s the Jedi!”
I frowned, confused but still paddling furiously. “That’s what you chose to say?” I asked over my shoulder. “What does that even mean?”
“It’s from the Star Wars cartoon,” interjected his brother. “Obi-Wan Kenobi sneaks past a Stormtrooper, and another Stormtrooper yells —”.
“That’s, ‘Bucket head, it’s the Jedi!’” I corrected, rolling my eyes. “The Stormtrooper’s helmet looks like a bucket.” That explained why the two of them had been watching that episode on Netflix over and over again, giggling fiendishly like they were getting away with something taboo.
With the fun taken out of that expletive, my wasp-stung son fell silent again and I needed another way to engage him. “Let’s sing something,” I suggested urgently. “What would you like to sing?”
“The lies, the lies, the bullsh– and the lies!” he belted out immediately. It was a song called Bone Digger that was popular on Indie music charts at the time but banned from my children’s playlist because of the curse word in its lyrics. We sang it together as we paddled the rest of the way back to camp.
When we were safely out of the canoe, I stripped us both down to our bathing suits, carried my son into the water and held him there for a few moments to let the cool water soothe his stings. Then I brought him to shore, pulled him tight to my heart and swaddled us both in a heavy blanket to help our combined temperatures burn off the toxins. We had stayed like that for about fifteen minutes when he raised his head and shot me his usual impish grin. Every sting on his body had vanished. It was as if the entire horrific ordeal had never happened.
A few days later, my son started kindergarten. When asked to say a few things about himself, he cited Bone Digger as his favourite song. I hoped fervently that he had not sung it to his classmates.
The wasp incident has since become a family legend and one I heard my son reduce recently to a single piece of sage advice: “If you’re ever hurt, the best thing to do is call your mom and have her hold you for fifteen minutes.”
By Anita Odessa