How Common Is Having Ants in Your Pants? (And Other Late Night Questions)

The story of how I learned not to question children’s rhymes.

I belong to the camp that has survived COVID times by staying up very late at night to avoid my two children (and my ex, whom I live with in Toronto, which seemed like a better idea before we became trapped in the same space for over a year). At least, I assume there are others out there like me, reading this during their 4 a.m. lunch break. The silent nighttime hours can be great for concentrating on a task without interruption, but also lend themselves to bizarre trains of thought: the sort of things that might have been dreams, if not for my nocturnal schedule.

One of the questions I pondered during these past 15 months of extremely strange sleep patterns is: if “Ring around the Rosie” is purportedly about people dying of the bubonic plague (we all fall down—get it?), then what rhymes are my daughters and their friends making up about the current pandemic that will seem harmless if slightly mysterious in a few hundred years? Since encountering this factoid about “Ring around the Rosie,” I’ve treated all children’s rhymes with a bit of suspicion.

Another late-night obsession was why children’s rhymes so often talk about ants being in your pants, like Dennis Lee’s poem, On Tuesdays I Polish My Uncle, and at least a dozen children’s songs. There are so many other words that rhyme with “ants.” The ants could dance in France, or have a great romance on plants. Is it really so common to have ants in your pants that it deserves the status of being a common motif? Or is it a euphemism for something much more sinister? These are some of the questions I attempted to research with the energy of a QAnon conspiracy theorist.

I recently stumbled upon an answer to at least one of these questions. Due to lockdown restrictions, many local restaurants have closed, and the downtown rodent population has moved off the main streets and into residential areas. At first, I thought the quality of plastic food packaging had gotten worse, then realized that the holes in the oatmeal bag had a more organic source: mice. We’ve now had mouse traps set up in our kitchen for months, and my six-year-old has made a sizeable rodent cemetery in the backyard with headstones made of bejewelled popsicle sticks, dandelion bouquets and names for each victim. Rest in peace, Nibbles. I can’t say that I’ll miss you, but I do admire your nerve.

After one adventure, when the elusive black mouse and I caught each other sneaking into the kitchen for a 2 a.m. snack, and I heroically tricked it into running into a trap, the rodents were finally wiped out. Unfortunately, a colony of ants quickly took over the job of licking off the peanut butter from the rest of our traps, so we now have an ant infestation.

Even in those precious moments when all the human inhabitants of the house are asleep, and I’m still awake for no other reason than the thrill of being alone, I’m never really alone. One morning, as I was sitting down for a pee, a little bleary after staying up binge-watching Korean soaps (with the flimsy justification that it might help me learn a new language), an ant brazenly walked across the toilet seat between my splayed legs. I jabbed at it with my thumb, trying to squish it, but only succeeded in knocking it off the toilet seat. It fell into my pants, waiting just below.

Next, read this hilarious tale of a family RV trip gone wrong.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada