Home Invasion? Warning: May Cause Itching.

This is a day late because we lost our cable internet–heat related, I think:

I mentioned that yesterday was not my most fabulous day ever.  Here are the highlights.

At 4-something in the morning, our cat Isis, who had refused to come inside the night before, managed to push open a not-closed-hard-enough-by-me door and bring a mouse into the house.   So W and I were up “oh-dark-early” trying to rid our house of this mouse.  Isis, meanwhile, had lost interest in her quarry now that she’d brought it home for our review.  As we urged her to  act more  like a predator, she practically shrugged her kitty shoulders and ran for the door to see what else she could find.    Leaving W and I sleepily stumbling over each other in our efforts to catch the mouse.  In fact, we literally stumbled over each other, fell with a crash, and snapped the plastic dustpan I was wielding in two.  The mouse, sensing that this was a place of violence and lunacy, actually trotted right out the open back door.

It was not an auspicious beginning to the day.  And it was not the only home invasion–or perhaps I should say alleged home invasion–of the day.

For almost two weeks now, I’ve been a little bit freaked out by J’s bug bites.  A whole bunch of bumps appeared in a spot that’s normally not exposed, and we had no idea why.  Several days passed, and then one morning we noticed a mess of bites on her legs.

Scabs on her arms, bites on her legs, and she's itching as I take the picture.

Yuck.  First I thought that we might have fleas.  I hadn’t seen any, but lately Isis likes to lie on the princess sofa in our room (you heard about that sofa), so it seemed like a possibility.  Gross.  I got medicine from the vet, dismantled the princess sofa, washed all of our sheets.

More bites.

A neighbor I’d been chatting with started talking about bedbugs.  She thought they were bedbug bites.  She’d had two harrowing experiences while living in the city.  I Googled bedbugs and saw gruesome pictures and examined J’s room and found nothing.  Neighbor said she couldn’t find any evidence, either–until she turned on a light in the middle of the night and there they were, sluggish from having feasted on her blood.


I made an appointment with our pediatrician.  Which was yesterday.

Okay, so what I really like about my girls’ doctor is that she does not offer parenting advice, but she does offer almost too much medical information.  In a sort of nerdy way.  Like, both kids will have ear infections, and she’ll choose a different antibiotic for each one of them, and then she’ll explain why she thinks this or that one will be better for this specific infection with this specific kid.  Which is, you know, informative, but sometimes I’m like:  freakin’ give me the script and let me leave now  please.

But it’s endearing, really.  So, at the office, she starts going into a lengthy explanation of spider bites vs. flea bites vs. bedbug bites.  There’s a brief mention of black flies (probably not:  just if we’re around water) and hives (nope:  transient.  J’s stick around).  Based on all of this information, it appears that the bites seem more like bedbugs’ than fleas’, but definitely not spiders’.  And, have you heard, bedbugs are a real problem in Schenectady right now?  I am hoping that this is all a long build-up to a definitive bottom line, but that’s not her style.  She’s not sure, and she’s not going to guess wildly.  Part of me fears that  she is sure that it’s bedbugs, but she’s aware of the enormous shame that I would feel if she actually said it out loud.

Instead, she tells me that there are some excellent Youtubes on Bedbug detection, adding that I should watch without the kids around because they’re so disturbing.  And she pulls out a ginormous reference book on bugs if I’d like to do further reading.  I am just nerdy enough that I spend an extra 15 minutes reading and taking notes, while my panic escalates.  I’ve decided, now, that it must be bedbugs, and the reading seems to reinforce this impression.

We go straight from the doctor’s office to gymnastics, where I plot my strategy.  On the way home, I pick up trash bags and a horrible poison that will kill bedbugs  at the store.  This in spite of the fact that I usually just use vinegar and water to clean almost everything because I’m anti-chemical and I love the earth and all.  I also borrowed a steaming apparatus from my lovely friend whose child is allergic to dust.  She volunteered to watch J for a bit while I completely dismantled her room.

By the time I got home, I was starving, so I ate lunch while watching hideous, horrifying Youtubes on bedbugs.

Then I went upstairs and started the hunt.  What I’ve learned is that, while bedbugs look pretty obvious in photos, they can sneakily hide under molding, in switch plates, or just about freaking anywhere.  On the video the narrator tells about how they once found an infestation inside the tv remote control on the night stand.  Oh. My.  That is so gross that I can’t even believe it. So as I hunted without “success”, I knew that I was going to do everything possible to eliminate any chance of bedbug life whether I found signs of them or not.

You see, I had a strategy.  Heat kills bedbugs.  They’ll start dying at 95 degrees, and they’ll definitely be dead at 110 degrees.  I figured that it was a perfect day for bedbug elimination.  I decided to heat up the whole upstairs.  I shut all the windows and opened all curtains wide for maximum sunshine.  Then I started bagging all of J’s extra belongings and I carried them downstairs and slammed them into my sizzling-hot closed-up car.

Piles of belongings in the hottest car ever.

Meanwhile I was also pulling all of the sheets and bedding from everybody’s rooms and doing super-hot loads of everything, including my dry clean-only comforter.  As far as I could tell, the mattresses are absolutely pristine–those little grooves along the edges are the bedbugs’ favorite home.

Could 200 vermin be happily living in these handhold thingies?

And yet.  The Youtubes had filled me with intense paranoia.  I was blowing compressed air into the handhold thingies and sliding a playing card under the cracks in the molding just in case a bunch of bugs were hidden.  All this while sweating.  Profusely.

After the exam, it was vacuuming and wiping down the floor.  Then I steamed all sides of the mattresses and the rug.

Steaming J's mattress.

As you can imagine, it was getting quite hot.  I followed that up by spraying horrifying toxic poisons in every nook and cranny of the room.  Through this entire process, it’s just getting hotter and hotter. Hellish, even.   Oh, and I learned some tips, in case you ever do this:

  • Don’t actually grab the bottom of the steamer with your bare hand.  In case you forgot, it’s hot.
  • Remove every last knick-knack, or you’ll find that the one thing that you forgot to move will get knocked over and make a tremendous mess.

J's knocked over "fairy garden".

  • Don’t look up and watch as you spray poisonous bug spray, because it hurts when it falls directly into your eyeballs, and you’ll be out a pair of contacts.

Improvised face mask and "safety goggles"

  • Just keep the tv on constantly.  Because otherwise your children will join you and make helpful comments like, “Wow, it STINKS in here!”  And that will be before you’ve used bug spray.  So you’ll know that the horrible stink is entirely your own body odor.

After taking care of J’s room, I shut the door with two space heaters, so it stayed at 100 degrees for about 45 minutes.   When I opened the door to check (I was a little bit afraid that the room might blow up), it was literally steaming.  I tried to take a picture, but, alas, you can’t see the haze of toxic fumes:

Hot, hot, hot!

Phew!  That room was done, and I moved on to our room, and then to M’s.  I didn’t bother with the sauna treatment and I was a little bit less vigilant about moving all of the furniture, so it went more quickly.  Except when I had just finished vacuuming and I looked down to see my very favorite earring on the floor.  Alone.  This is the only time when I almost cried.  I shook the vacuum canister in a panic, forgetting that there was a hole for the suction tube to enter, so I spilled vacuum junk on my nasty, sweaty self.  Then I went outside and poked around our steaming trash can, to no avail.  Then I pondered why it was that I’d chosen to wear the Target cubic zirconia in my ears instead of my favorite earrings.  Then I shook my bedside lamp and the other earring dropped from where it had stuck in the lamp’s base! Yay!

Even though I couldn’t ever confirm that there had been bugs in the house, I felt pretty confident that nothing could possibly survive my hours-long heat-and-chemical-warfare onslaught.  So although I still had mountains of laundry to complete and an entire car full of household items to replace, I felt pretty good about my efforts when I finally got to take a shower that night.

The next morning, J had four fresh bites.

Utterly defeated.

Later, I was visiting with Mary and I made a partial confession to her.  It seemed less shameful now that I was pretty sure that I’d been wrong about bedbugs all along.  Turns out, J had been reporting to her every step of the way.  J had said that she thought it might be the cat days ago, and I told Mary that J’d thought so because I’d thought so at first.  Mary had been hearing about J’s room being dismantled.  (Which I should have guessed: she’d told her friend, “My room looks crazy because I have bugs!”  Awesome.)  Anyway, after a long discussion about my various efforts, Mary made her firm diagnosis.  “Black flies and mosquitoes.  They’re both definitely in our yards.  And she spends so much time in the gardens–with her small body she immerses herself.”  I had no idea that we had black flies at all.  Mary was equally firm with her prescription:  Skin So Soft.  Clearly, I should have gone and talked with Mary first.

I put out a call to my moms’ group and a lovely neighbor-mama gave me a bottle of Skin So Soft.

J is out in the yard right now, thoroughly slathered.  Wish us luck.


  1. i am itching all over. this story is too much to handle. bedbugs completely gross me out too. we stayed at a 5 star hotel in puerto rico last year and I was the lucky victim of a bedbug revolt. peter and the baby were both untouched even though we all slept in the same bed; strange. we’ve had fleas before too, two dogs, and so i can also relate to your fanatical cleaning – the ‘bombs’ we set off in the house are really potent. i am crossing my fingers and praying to the god of insects that Avon can enable you to overcome J’s terrible infliction!

    Good luck!

  2. Michelle

    LOVE your blog!
    When you gave me your card this morning at gymnastics, I couldn’t wait to get home and check it out. I must say – you are a wonderfully fantastic writer! I was thoroughly entertained, and a few times, found myself giggling out loud.
    We should get coffee sometime – you definitely seem like someone who would be fun to get to know better 🙂
    Talk soon!

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