Sleepless in Brooklyn: Don't Let the Bedbugs Bite

09.16.10: Leo's 28th Month

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What does it look like when the walls coming crashing in on you? For me, it looks like hours—hours—of online research about bedbugs.

I’m not the most high-strung, anxiety-prone person I know, and this doesn’t happen often enough that I can recall the last time it did, but everyone once in a while I lose it. I consider the experience a panic attack, since it’s characterized by obsessive and paralyzing thoughts and I Just.Can’t.Relax.

I bring this up of course because that’s what I did yesterday, for most of the day, while Leo was in school and Aaron—coincidentally—was off in Atlanta for a 3-day business trip. It started in the morning when I noticed 3 bites on Leo’s hands and arm. I hustled the poor kid to school as fast as I could, avoiding eye contact with his teachers, then raced home to dispatch with the high-priority freelance tasks of the day so I could settle in for a good long panic about bed bugs.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Bed bugs are not dangerous, just a big, expensive hassle. They live (for up to a year without eating!) solely on blood, they are clever about hiding until you’re lying very still (you know, sleeping) and the bites only irritate if you have some degree of allergy to bed bugs—there’s no substance injected into you or anything, and they don’t carry disease.

2. Reading online about bed bugs is psychologically very hazardous. You really don’t want to go there. I would recommend severely curtailing your independent research. Here is a good, scientific (read: not panic-inducing) place to start: Follow up with a New York Times search to see what has been written lately, but please, please don’t spend hours online in your underwear thinking you feel itchy.

3. Worrying about bed bugs is one of the most isolating things you can do, since if you tell anyone what you’re worried about they’ll avoid contact with your whole family and never come over again. I didn’t call my mom for this reason. I didn’t call my therapist for this reason! Panic is an amazing thing.

4. If you think you have bedbugs but you’re not sure, chances are fair that you do not. Certainly you’re unlikely to have a massive infestation.

5. The only way to figure out if you have bed bugs is to find one. In our case, since we just have Leo’s 3 bites and my panic to go on, it does not make sense to call in the dogs (seriously, bed bug–sniffing dogs seem to be the go-to method for detection, and inviting one of these pooches over will cost you in the hundreds). If we continue to see bites, we will have to try sneaking up on them, executing a raid by stripping Leo’s sheet pre-dawn, with a flashlight, which will likely emotionally scar our child for life. Or maybe we’ll just spring for the dogs. Or for a $60 mattress cover that we keep on for the next year and a half, in the hopes that there were no bugs elsewhere and the ones in there will be trapped until they finally die of starvation while our child sleeps on peacefully.

Now that I’ve written about this I feel considerably better. I am pretty sure I was just panicking. Too bad no one who reads this will ever want to come near us again. Really guys, it was a panic attack!

So what do you do when you panic? I finally pulled it together and made the Eggplant and Cumin rice recipe—starring chicken stock and butter—that my mother has been making for as long as I can remember. It was a huge comfort to me. Leo of course took one look and said “I not going to eat dis!” so he enjoyed fruit and yogurt instead. Sure, he didn’t try the rice this time, but I think I’ll go my mom’s route and just keep serving it until I break him down. It worked for my mom. (It’s delicious, not just familiar; I’ve even seen it convert eggplant haters!

Recipe: Eggplant with Cumin Rice

Zoe Singer is a freelance food writer and cookbook editor and co-author of The Flexitarian Table. Food Editor and blogger for The Faster Times, she tries not to eat for two now that her son is a toddler.