How to Advocate for Yourself When Your Kids are Watching or What I did Right After I Learned That all of our Worldly Belongings got Wrapped in Cockroach Infested Blankets by our Moving Company

9 months ago my husband and I decided to put the contents of our home in storage so that we could house-sit for a family in another town while they travelled.   We wanted to check out the new town while seeing what things our family of 5 really needed to live happily.  It was an adventure!  We would learn things!  We would be better for it!

So, last September we spent three days with a local moving company as they packed up our entire house.  On the last day, as the movers put the very last of our things, which were wrapped in dozens of their moving blankets, into the second truck (that’s a lot of stuff wrapped in a lot of blankets), they found a cockroach sprinting across one of our couches.

The man who found it was so certain that it was a German cockroach (the dirty, scary, smelly kind that breed and bread and breed, travel easily and cannot be killed except by poisonous chemicals that may or may not also kill one of my toddlers) that, after trapping it on a piece of moving tape, he pretty much refused to get back into the van.  My husband was over an hour away and the owner of the company was out of town on another job.

Is it just this wimpy little American girl or is this bug terrifying you too?

Am I just a spoiled American girl or does this bug terrify you too?

It was up to me and the 6, 4, and 1 year old peeping out from the car to figure out what to do.

From the moment I looked that bug in its compound eyes, I wanted to curse and yell and fight.  Should I just lunge at those moving men?  Which one first?  Scream like a banshee?   Throw the ½ empty baby bottle in my hand?

But I knew that my kids were watching (and, that, of course, that wasn’t actually a good way to handle it).  So, here are some of the things I did instead:

TOOK A DEEP BREATH.  I used to be a very anxious person.  After my husband and I got married he thoughtfully bought me a mindfulness meditation audio tape (yes, it was that long ago, way before Youtube and Netflix).  I couldn’t sit still long enough to actually complete the exercises, but I did learn one critical thing:  Breathing deeply stimulates your nervous system whether you are enlightened and mindful or not.  Even just one deep breath will trigger the body to secrete hormones to decrease blood pressure and heart rate, inducing a relaxation response.  I promise you this works.  So do it if you ever need to.  Even if you don’t do anything else.

GOT THE FACTS.  On the inside, I was screaming like a girl but on the outside, I calmly asked to see the trapped cockroach.  Once I had it in hand, sure that it could not crawl off, no matter how much it fought and struggled, I asked each of the men to tell me what had happened.   I peppered them with questions while they were willing to talk.  Where was it?  When did they find it?  Did they see any others?  Had they seen any others in the previous moves they worked on?

I grew up in Suburbia, where most of Nature was killed to make room for shopping malls so I had no idea whether it was a German cockroach or a Giant flea.  After speaking with the owner on the telephone, I did know that if it was, how it got onto our belongings could become an issue with the moving company.  It would also determine how we handled the bug and our stuff for the upcoming year.

KNEW WHAT I ACTUALLY WANTED.  In between each deep breath I tried to collect my thoughts enough to figure out what I wanted and needed from the men:  1) to get as much information about the critter and his origins as possible; 2) to keep the cockroach in my possession until I could get it identified; and 3) to mitigate any damage to our stuff.

FIGURED OUT WHO COULD ACTUALLY HELP ME.  I knew that the moving men worked hourly packing and unpacking for the owner.  After a few quick questions, I also knew that none of them had ownership interest in the company and none of them had authority to deal with an issue as large as a potential cockroach infestation.  The company was owned and run by one man.  And they made sure I knew where and how to find him.

PUT MYSELF IN THEIR SHOES.  It was late afternoon on a Saturday when I got the cockroach call.  I knew the men wanted to go home.  Once I learned that they had no real ability to help me resolve the situation, I made the decisions that needed to be made and sent them on their way.  Suffice it to say, they were pretty grateful that I respected their time and positions within the company.

WROTE IT DOWN, PHOTOGRAPHED IT, KEPT IT SAFE.   Once we got a short-term plan and I sent the moving men on their way, I took pictures of that cockroach from every single angle I could think of and then some!  Then I popped in a video for my kids, pulled out the sole coloring book in my van and scribbled every single word those men said into the margins.  And then I e-mailed copies of everything to my husband.   We are lucky because so far, the moving company has been very cooperative even admitting where they think they picked them up.  I do have to wonder, though, would they still have been if we hadn’t kept such good records?

KEPT IT IN PERSPECTIVE, AT LEAST IN FRONT OF THE KIDS.  Privately, after attacking the messenger of this bad cockroach news, I wanted to grab our diplomas and any other high priority items, torch the moving vans, and let various insurance/law enforcement agencies sort it out.  But in front of the kids I maintained a relaxed attitude and joked about it.  It’s just stuff, right?  They are just some bugs, right?  It amazes me how my children base their reaction to something “bad” mainly on Mom or Dad’s reaction.  Mom’s cracking jokes about our new pets?   Must be no big deal.

As of this writing, the situation is not fully resolved.

Yes, that says "house infesting."

Yes, that says “house infesting.”

After identification by an entomologist as, yes, a German cockroach, we were advised to store our belongings in unheated self-storage.   They are not native to our New England state and the cold of our long winters reportedly should have killed any others in the blankets and on our stuff.  (Hard to believe, given the myths of them surviving nuclear blasts.)

We move our stuff out of the storage facility today.  When we do, we’ll visually inspect everything for cockroaches, other critters that may have nested for the winter, and any damage from the cold.  We are hoping to find nothing.  If we find something, I may have to come up with a few more tips like “Knew when to change my tone”,  “Reevaluated my goals”, “Tried to keep my sense of humor”.


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