Nothing can turn your stomach after breakfast like having possums get up in your grill.

Usually when wildlife darts across our backyard, my younger son points and shouts, "Deer!" or "Robin!" or "Bunny!"

This time, he sounded more distressed and unsure, as if not able to compute the sight with his 4-year-old vocabulary. "Look!"

On our deck, two portly, pointy-nosed creatures about the size of housecats lumbered in the rain on the other side of our glass sliding door. When one started to rummage under the cover of my gas grill, its thick hairless tail trailing behind it, I almost lost said breakfast.

Obscenities followed. My 8-year-old wasn't tracking. "What?" he asked me, trying to befriend them with a welcoming wave. "They're cute."

Horrified, I shot video of the encounter and sent it to my editor.

"Possums are so cute," she texted back.

I shared the video on social media.

"So cute," people chimed in. "You are lucky to be in their presence!!"

Then came the hair-raising realization that possums must be having sex in my backyard. Possibly in my grill. My friend Meghan suspected the pair weren't actually scavenging for bits of charred meat. She said they were probably just looking for a vibrating bed.

Still, people assured me this was nothing to worry about: Possums are virtually harmless! Possums eat snails, slugs and ticks! Possums are the true patriots in America's fight against Lyme disease! "Possum in My Grill" could be the next country-music hit!

"Babies soon," my husband texted me with the heart-eyes emoji.

One of my friends, an inveterate lover of animals, likened possums to raccoons and pigeons. "Their only crime is being good at adapting to humans. Is that really a reason to hate them?" he questioned.

For the record, I don't hate possums in my grill because they are adaptable. I dislike them because their bendy, naked tails make me think that this is what ours would look like if humans had tails. Plus, they were wriggling too comfortably near my place of food preparation. Call it a primordial bias.

"Focus on the face," my editor says.

She's right. On Instagram, you can scroll through hundreds of pictures of possum close-ups, looking cuddly in blankies and Santa hats. I dare say they appear adorable. Can I get a filter like that?

If anyone could further open my mind, and my heart, toward these creatures, it would be Sharon Jansa, a University of Minnesota professor of ecology, evolution and behavior. She's written a book on them.

"Opossums are awesome," she said, without irony.

First, some basics: While most Americans colloquially refer to these backyard critters as possums, we're all talking about the opossum — the Virginia opossum. It's the only marsupial in the United States and should not be confused with the Australian possum that is more closely related to koalas. But Merriam-Webster says it's fine to go with the more common "possum" usage when referring to the Virginia opossum, even if science folks disagree.

Possums are relative newcomers to northern locales. They're believed to have originated in Central America and for many years only migrated as far as the southern United States, said Jansa, who is also the curator of mammals at the Bell Museum of Natural History.

The earliest museum specimen records of opossums in Minnesota date to the 1930s, from Spring Valley and St. Peter, but they started to become common in the Upper Midwest in the 1960s. Jansa said she began noticing them "fairly frequently" in the Twin Cities only over the past decade.

Possums haven't adapted entirely to our winters. Some have frostbitten ears, tails or paws, she said.

"As climates get milder, I suspect they will continue to move north, and we'll see more of them in the Twin Cities," she said. "Opossums are good at living around people. They like to eat garbage, and they like to eat leftovers in a grill."

They're just foraging for whatever they can to survive, she said. Food, shelter — anything to keep them out of the elements and well fed.

Other possum facts: It's extremely uncommon for them to carry rabies, thanks to their low body temperature. But they can bite, so don't bug them, she cautions. And if you bug them too much, they will go full-blown thespian and play dead.

And as much as some folks consider possums our personal Lyme disease prevention squads, Jansa is skeptical of claims that each critter devours as many as 5,500 ticks in a season. "It's debatable how much opossums are really tamping down tick populations, but I concur they will eat ticks," she said.

Jansa also concurred the two I saw scampering around my grill were probably a pair that have come to mate.

I think I've got this. Focus on the faces. Remember they eat ticks.

And when it's time to fire up the grill, just make sure to knock first.