And that is how I became a poison ivy expert

So Donald Trump was not wrong when he said DC is a swamp. Except he was being metaphorical, when the truth is, DC is AN ACTUAL SWAMP.  Part of it had to be drained just to not be a giant, cholera-causing toilet. These days, there is less standing water and dysentery, but there is plenty of humidity, mosquitoes and vegetation. In fact, if you don't weed your yard for a few days, you will literally be strangled in the night by some kind of creeping vine. 

A very common vine around these parts is poison ivy. It's actually everywhere, unbeknownst to those who don't know what it looks like. I myself have never had a poison ivy attack, but my husband has and my mother-in-law has had many, and it looks bad. I've even known people who've had to go to the ER with it.  Best not to mess with poison ivy. 

But it won't kill your baby, FYI. 

A week or so ago, I took a friend of ours on a hike down to the river from our house. The upside to living in a swamp is that there is a lot of nature and stuff everywhere, and you can hike to things. Yeah it's nice. Except of course for the 105% humidity and all the poison ivy.  

We were hiking along a trail with a lot of vegetation overhang, because even my own closet has vegetation overhang because this is a swamp. So I told him to watch out for poison ivy. He had no idea what it looked like.  I gave him an extensive lesson, showing him the "leaves of three," the faint red joints, the pointed leaves.  I showed him the difference between real poison ivy and stuff that pretends to be poison ivy so that animals leave it alone.  Which is honestly a horrible strategy in the DC area, where you are far more likely to be uprooted or chemically exterminated by a suburban gardener.  Those plants need to adjust.  

My friend was really, really impressed, both by my knowledge and by the literal suffocation of the landscape around here by poison ivy. The rest of our hike was me going,"That's poison ivy. That's poison ivy. THAT'S poison ivy. Watch out, that's poison ivy." It was a lot of fun.

"How on earth are you so good at this?" he said. "Is there poison ivy in Kenya? Did you spend a summer interning for a Boy Scout? Did you start out majoring in horticulture but switch to 19th Century American History for the hot job market?" 

Well, Gary, I'll tell you a fun story. I think I may have briefly referenced this on here like 10 years ago, before I understood how mentally ill I was.  

When Charlotte was born, we lived in a rental house, right across the street from our current house. The back yard was pretty much one massive field of English ivy, as many yards around here are. Because this is a swamp, maybe I mentioned that before.

Everything about motherhood was overwhelming to me. I've never liked babies, because they are passive aggressive selfish SOBs who can't talk.  But obviously I loved mine, I just had no idea what to do with her. And I was pretty convinced there was only a slight chance I would be able to keep her alive. I once had a panic attack in the Babies R Us parking lot and begged Kevin to flee with me to West Virginia while his mother had the baby in her care. I mean, I figure you gotta be pretty desperate to want to flee to West Virginia (it is pretty, I will say). There was another time I had a panic attack because I was stuck in DC traffic and it was approaching Charlotte's dinner time. She wasn't even crying or anything, but she COULD cry.  So that is what I did instead.  I called Kevin and told him about how our baby was going to starve to death because I was stupid enough to drive into downtown during a Wizards game.  Then there was that other time I had a panic attack because Charlotte was sick and the drive-through pharmacy was taking too long to fill her no doubt life-saving prescription. 

Let's just say I'd last about 12 seconds in an actual emergency with my children. This would be first time an infant who can't walk saved its mother from a burning building because the ambulatory human just couldn't handle the pressure.  Or else we'd both just die.  Probably more likely.

Needless to say, my maternity leave was not a relaxing time. I spent all day waiting for the terrible moments when Charlotte would wake up from a nap and expect things from me. It's all pretty laughable now, especially given that she literally slept 14 hours straight at night rom like 8 weeks on, plus around 3-4 hours a day.  Shih tzus have tougher gigs.  

Most of that time I sat around and worried about things.  I worried about lead paint. I worried she was eating too little (well, and she was when I was breastfeeding. that is another whole very sore subject and in fact is the origin of my mental health spiral), she was eating too much. Her thighs were so chunky I'd never find jeans to fit her (that part came true. She no longer has chunky thighs but refuses to wear denim because she was not indoctrinated early. Denim is actually not comfortable and requires cultural conditioning in order to think it is).  She slept so much she would sit in pee too long and risked a butt fungus of some kind.  I would be too slow assembling her bottle because I was a breastfeeding failure and she would come down with abandonment syndrome.  A book shelf would fall on her, even though she couldn't move yet. Should she be able to move yet? I saw another baby her age move.  The house was electrified. There was a tornado sighting several states away.  Black mold. 

Also, the yard was covered in ivy. And I had a sneaking suspicion not all of it was English. There was probably some faux-English ivy in there, some kind of Gwyneth Paltrow ivy, that in fact was poison ivy. It would rub itself all over my precious child, and she would have anaphylactic shock or else she would not sleep for a month.  

Now, I didn't quite work out the details of this horrible scenario. The ivy was outside the house. She was inside the house. She could not move independently. As far as I could tell, the ivy did not move independently. Or at least not quickly.  It grew, obviously, but you had some lead time of say several months or years before it got to you.  There were quite a few doors and windows and yards of distance between my baby and the ivy. There was gravity and space and time and an expanding universe. Quantum mechanics. 

Also, there were zero Good Morning America segments on the dangers of poison ivy to babies. You know if there had been even one instance of a baby being attacked by poison ivy anywhere in the galaxy or in human history, GMA would be on that story like a mask on Dr. Fauci.  Not only that, my mother-in-law would tell me about it.  I don't even have to watch GMA to be fully warned of every danger and product recall on earth.  

So of course I went on a mission to a) Determine if poison ivy (or even Gwyneth Paltrow, I don't trust that woman) lurked in the English ivy in my yard and b) to absolutely annihilate it from planet earth.  I set to work.  

I had no idea what poison ivy looked like. There was no poison ivy in Kenya, where I grew up. There were tiny bugs called Nairobi eyes that covered your body in blisters if you smashed them on your skin and parasites that dug little homes in your toes in which to lay their eggs and raise their families and massive beetles that rolled around balls of poop, but no poison ivy.  

Once again, the internet made life better, as it always does, and I was able to pore over thousands and thousands of photos of poison ivy, of all varieties and in all seasons. I spent hours and hours studying those photos, picking out what the key traits were, what it looked like dead (because it can still attack you when dead because horror movies are real), what it looked like in fall (pretty, but don't be deceived, that cheerleader will murder you), what it looked like crawling up a tree vs. lurking around English ivy beds vs. sprinting like Usain Bolt to wrap your child up in its toxic leaves. 

Then I went outside during Charlotte's naps and stared at the ground. I put on big rubber boots so I could safely wade into the sea of English ivy and cover every inch of the place.  

And guess what, I FOUND POISON IVY.  

After completely freaking out, calling Kevin at work crying (again), I dashed off (another) email to the poor property management company that the landlady had saddled with us. I told them that THERE IS POISON IVY IN THIS YARD AND I HAVE A CHILD. I demanded a full eradication of the poison ivy immediately! Quicker please, my child is not getting any less sedentary! Because that would literally be impossible! 

The manager called a psychiatric ward, where I would spend the next 5 years. Not really. But maybe she should have.  No, the manger explained to me calmly that this is the mid-Atlantic, and poison ivy literally grows on trees, as well as on the ground, as well as on everything else that doesn't move and maybe even some things that do. She asked me how old my child was.  


Well, I mean, does she even play outside yet? 


Well, you can pull it. I can't help you with the frat boys. 


Um, sort of, but it's actually not that big a deal?


So, the internet is not always right? I mean, true, this is only 2008, before a giant Russian misinformation cyber op helped elect a crazy person to the presidency and then convinced everyone he is actually Jesus, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and say maybe the internet already has some crazy stuff on it.


Girl, knock yourself out. We'll talk you next week when your home lead testing kit tells you your child has already hit her max brain development.  


So we moved. Not because of that, the landlady just opted to sell the place rather than renew our lease. I can't imagine why.  

Later, I had a full blown breakdown that made all the other ones look like a yoga retreat, got on Zoloft, and no longer care about much of anything at all, much less poison ivy.  

But I can still identify it like some kind of naturalist savant on Adderall. Which I do, calmly, and move on.  

And, no, elderly woman in the grocery store, I won't miss the "little years." Shove off. 


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