Teen purchased a second snake last weekend.
You read that right. There are two, count ’em, two snakes living in our home.
Along with three leopard geckos, a tortoise, three cats, and one (or two) dogs (our dog and our neighbors’ dog are best friends so we – or our neighbors – often have two dogs).
It’s a zoo. Add four active, dramatic human family members, and it’s a zany zoo. The animals might be the sanest beings in our midst.
How did this happen? I swore no snakes would reside under my roof. Ever. End of story.
Except clearly, the story doesn’t end there.
Teen has been an animal guy since before he could speak. By three years old he knew more dinosaur names and facts than his preschool teachers (aren’t preschool teachers de facto dinosaur experts?); he even nicknamed himself Dinosaur Boy. He watched animal documentaries for adults as the child-friendly documentaries were too simple, too cutesy. He wanted the facts, all the facts on all the animals. We went to the World Famous San Diego Zoo weekly at least, sometimes biweekly, and he played tour guide, probably better than many professionals. He knew his stuff, and still does.
Lucky for Teen, a pet store occupied the shop three doors down from his first preschool. Three days a week, Teen and a parent visited the pet store. We got to know all the store clerks who implemented a “Three Hold” rule: Teen could hold any three animals each visit. Bunnies, guinea pigs, hamsters, and yes, snakes.
Ball pythons, to be specific. And every time he held an animal, invariably, he’d say, “Here, Mom! You hold it, too!” He was so excited to share incredible creatures with me. Maybe he didn’t notice that I seemed relaxed with the furries and a little less so with the scales?
Here’s the thing: I believe God created all the creatures, even the (to me) creepy ones. Snakes serve a valuable purpose on God’s green earth. I can appreciate their usefulness in the world and their unique colorations; some of their colors might be flat-out, down-right beautiful.
If their colors weren’t on a creepy-crawly snake body.
I don’t think it even occurred to me that one of my worst fears would be a snake loose in the house until Teen started commenting that he’d like a snake for a pet.
Egads! Not under my roof, buster!
I’d take him to pet stores. I’d take him to the reptile emporium over the hill. I’d take him to the zoo. I’d even take him hiking in spots he’d be likely to find snakes (he knew the harmless from the harmful long before I did).
The day after his first hike as a Boy Scout, only eleven years old, the recently retired Scout Master found me at church.
He said, “It was my pleasure to hike with the rookies yesterday, and I’ll tell you, that boy of yours has a talent!”
Oh geez, what now?
He said, “I’ve been hiking that trail for 34 years, and I had no idea how many species of snakes there were out there! Your kid has a real knack for finding reptiles!”
Yes. Yes, he does.
Church friends wanted to introduce Teen to their nephew, a 20-something reptile enthusiast. Teen called from the nephew’s house: “I’m bringing home a snake. He said I can have – for free! – a six-month-old red tail boa!”
Um, no. I’ve said it and said it and will say it again: No!
They brought kid home without the snake. My friend pulled me aside. “My sister hid her fear of reptiles for years. She loves her son, she hates reptiles. Just thought you should know.”
Uh huh. Thanks.
Teen kept asking. He did research. He did extra chores. He talked about snakes, and wanted to talk about snakes with me. Constant chatter about red tail boas.
And I thought the snakes in the pet shop had been red tail boas. Silly mistake.
He told me he’d been praying that I would let him have a snake. So we talked about prayer (more comfortable for me than snake-talk). About how God says Yes or No or sometimes Wait. He said God had already told him Yes, but that maybe he had to Wait. He had to Wait for me. That sometimes, through prayer, God changes people.
Yes. Yes, He does.
Weeks of snake chat and prayer went by. And then, Ash Wednesday. Our church has the coolest Ash Wednesday service.
It’s thoughtful and somber, focused on repentance, and only half the service happens “up front.” The rest is participatory prayer stations. Every year is different, but every year we actively participate in what God wants to do in our lives that night.
We taste grapes because the Lord tastes good. We turn screws in wood to focus on our own turning from sin and to the Lord. We wash one another’s hands (because washing feet might be beyond our comfort zones). We burn paper to represent our sins, or we nail sins to a cross. And we draw pictures and write prayers to give praise to God.
I turned a corner and came upon Teen drawing this picture…
And before you accuse him of manipulation, there were hundreds of people at prayer stations spread throughout the sanctuary. There was No Way he could have known I’d turn the corner just then.
I had a come-to-Jesus moment that night. Would my fear of reptiles prevent me from honoring the child God had created? This kid wants to be a herpetologist (snake scientist)! Could I let God do His thing with my kid, in my house, and let’s not forget, in me, even if that meant a snake in my house?
Honestly, it took a few more weeks. Picking up a new “pet” just before we went away for a long weekend didn’t make sense. When we came home Teen cleaned up and fixed up a terrarium, formerly his dad’s fish tank, with locks for the top (a Mom requirement), new heating pads and lights, and a water dish. He called our friends who wanted to accompany him to Nephew’s house.
And then he called Nephew. Who had sold all the snake babies, forgetting the promise he’d made to a snake-loving kid.
Even behind closed doors, Teen’s sobs broke his parents’ hearts.
So his Mama searched the reptile emporium website to see what they had. And they had – not for free, but for a hefty fee – exactly what he wanted. And his Dad drove him over the hill and paid the price.
I will honor my son as the person God created above my own fears. That was my decision that day. It has been my decision each day since.
We have rules, but really only two:
1) Cage must be locked.
2) No flaunting snakes in front of people without asking.
So now Teen has two snakes. One will have lived in our house two years this Lenten season. The other is still a baby, but is the ball python he has wanted since preschool. The first involved a major faith movement for me. The second, more of a parenting movement – Could he make space in his room? Did he have the money? Had he found exactly what he wanted? And when he could answer Yes! to all three, then it was his decision to make.
It’s finals week at the high school which makes for wonky school-work-life schedules and attitudes. I picked him up yesterday and he was grumpy, critical. I asked, “Hey, you. Is there anything you like about your Mama?”
“Ew, Mom, c’mon. I’m tired.”
Silence, two, three, four…
“You let me have snakes.”
“I’m sorry, didn’t catch that. What’d you say?”
“I like that you let me have snakes.”
And he knows I’m his biggest fan.
You know what, friends? My Teen knows that I honor his passions over my fears, and I will wear that as a badge of honor.