I remember sitting at the kitchen table, listening to my parents tell me why what I was doing was wrong. How it was scaring the other children. How I needed to stop doing it. I thought to myself, ‘Well, what about the boy who wants to poke people with scissors or the girl who pulls other girls hair?’ but the thing is, it didn’t matter. I’d been singled out, solely for making the decision at age 8 that I wanted to burn ants with a magnifying glass at lunchtime instead of playing with the other kids.
I remember being forced to see the school psychiatrist; a smarmy, smug woman with shoulder pads and an eighties hairdo with large wire rimmed glasses, who asked me why I did what I did. What made me want to kill ants? I just shrugged. I didn’t have an answer. I was 8. I told her, “Why not?” because really, why not? She asked me why I didn’t prefer playing with the other children, as if social interaction is all that matters in this world. I told her I didn’t like them. She asked if I wanted to burn them too, and I was horrified. Who would want to burn other people?!
I remember being told by my older sister, “You’ll never get a boyfriend if you continue to burn ants,” to which I thought to myself ‘good’. I’d rather burn ants than care what some stupid boy thinks. I remember kids signing my elementary school yearbook when I graduated 6th grade, ‘Have a nice summer, pyro!’ and wondering what pyro even meant, then upon the discovery of its definition, why they chose to associate it with me simply for burning insignificant insects. I remember being in middle school and having people walk by and ask how many ants I’d burned today, even though I didn’t do it anymore.
I remember getting an ant farm in my freshman year of highschool. I ordered it from the back of a science magazine I’d begged my parents to subscribe to. It was 11.95, and it arrived in less than a week. I set the ant farm on my desk, and every night when I did my homework, I’d do it in front of the ants. I drank my first beer in front of the ants. I had my first kiss in front of the ants. I lost my virginity in front of the ants. When I went away to college, I took the ant farm with me. I still have an ant farm. It’s been 30 years since I’ve burned ants for a few weeks in elementary school. Some of the other students I knew ended up in prison, ended up dead, or ended up never graduating. I burned ants, and they made it a huge deal.
I’m well adjusted, I have a nice job, I’m married and make a decent living. I’m happy, but I did learn something from this. It taught me that curiosity is deemed ‘dangerous’ if it’s something that isn’t within the norm. I encourage my children to be weird. I encourage them to explore and discover, to be who they want to be and I’ll never ask them why. Asking them why puts doubt in their mind. “Am I really that different? Am I…wrong?” I don’t want to do to them what everyone did to me.
Be weird. Be creative. Burn some ants every now and then.