Adventures in Parenting: Snake on the Loose

Spoiler alert for the squeamish: all snakes are back in secure cages.

Yes, you read that right. All snakes, because we (intentionally) have several. Five, to be exact.

C20 thought he wanted to be a herpetologist (reptile expert), but turns out, that college major involves way more math than he wants to do. Meanwhile, it’s his passion and his gift.

So, five snakes, as well as two leopard geckos, a tortoise and a rabbit, three cats and two dogs…quite the menagerie. The first snake, a red tail boa, was the most difficult for me to agree to. He promised it would stay “snake sized,” as he held his little hands to the width of his slender shoulders. I decided I loved my son more than I feared snakes, but that darn thing now measures over six feet, longer than he is.

Having said yes to one–and seeing how he cared for it and followed my careful guidelines–saying yes again was less of an issue. In fact, I suggested Snake #4 as incentive to get his college application essay written. Obviously, he wrote about reptiles.

Snakes #2-5 are ball pythons ranging in length from about four feet to about eighteen inches. They look smaller because they curl up in balls, hence the name. Bred for  coloration, each looks different, which makes them fun for him to “collect.”

The week after C20 brought home #5, he and his dad refurbished an old media cabinet, adding a mesh top and glass doors, transforming it into a condo for the Big Snake. Without reminder, he added a sturdy lock, my Top Priority. Impressed with their creativity and elbow grease, I posted a picture online of the finished result and, predictably, friends commented on how small the lock was in comparison with the snake.IMG_3172

I didn’t realize that the new snake did not have a lock on her cage. He figured she was so small she couldn’t get out. When the neighbor brought her children over to see the snake in condo, Guy thought he’d show them Baby Snake in comparison. He opened the lid, reached in, and found…nothing.

The first time a snake got loose in our house, C had been holding her on his lap while he played a new video game. She slithered away without him noticing. When I discovered kid and dad taking apart our couch in search of snake, I promptly took myself shopping and returned when they’d found her, hours later, across the living room inside the warm printer.

I didn’t panic this time. In fact, I almost wished Snake #1 had gotten out instead of #5; stuff of nightmares, but he’d be easier to find. C did a thorough cleaning of his room, then got his brother to do the same. Online research suggested putting plastic grocery bags on the floor so you can hear the snake, or flour so you can see a trail (I nixed that one). Everyone said to leave the lid off her cage; he moved her cage from its spot on a closet shelf to the floor.

Days later, still no snake. When I commented that we’d probably seen the last of her, he quipped, “Nah, Mom. I predict you’ll be putting on a shoe and find her…”

Finally, he put a heating pad on the floor with her hide on it, thinking she’d come back for warmth and security. He also moved her cage back to its shelf since that idea hadn’t worked, though he left the top off. He went to bed Sunday night feeling hopeful.

First thing Monday, he checked the heating pad. No snake. He heard something, and was shocked to discover she had returned to her cage (hallelujah!). But we all can attest that the shelf had been empty… Snakes aren’t like geckos, able to stick to and climb straight up. How she managed to return to her cage is a mystery. We’re flabbergasted.

C names his snakes for ancient mythological characters. I suggested he change her name from Aurora to Loki or Anansi, the tricksters. But then I realized: she reappeared at dawn, and Aurora means dawn. So, aptly named after all. And now there’s a great big, heavy book weighing down the top of her cage. No more unintentional adventures for this snake.

Help. Thanks. Wow.

Anne Lamott, or as others call her, St. Anne, claims that the Essential Prayers sound this simple:
Help.
Thanks.
Wow.

I have prayed many, many words over many, many years, but I’m not sure I could come up with a prayer, petition, or praise that wouldn’t fit those three categories: help, thanks, wow.

Other than Tween staying home to vomit all day – and yes, this almost feels normal in a skin-crawling, crazy-making kind of way – today had been a good day: gym time, coffee with a friend, productive meetings; a friend brought her kids over to help Tween with homework (read: play), which meant moms also had time together.

Too much of an almost-good day? Teen locked his jaws on a potential outing to which I’ve said a solid, emphatic “NO!” I know he wants freedom, and I get that I represent his jailer, but I can’t say yes to this one. But ADHD hyper-focus shuts down his compassion and he bites hard, and long, and it’s all I can do to breathe and answer in a whisper so as not to provoke him further.

Interruption: the splash of Tween being violently ill.

Breathe. Pray. Breathe. Pray.

I made dinner and left it on the stove. I mentally went back to work to avoid my life’s chaos. When I thought I’d heard the end of Guy and Teen hashing out the same conversation I’d endured earlier, I cautiously emerged. Also, Tween was feeling better and able to eat.

I ate a few bites. Teen apologized and hugged me harder than ever. Even so, I spied my little eye into the liquor cabinet (Mexican food = margarita, right?) before Guy mentioned he’d chilled chardonnay. And then I noticed the pinkish light through our windows.

I poured two glasses of wine and invited Guy outside. Glasses clinked, we stood silently and watched as blue became grey became pink, peach, plum, dusky purple. The horizon lit orange, fire colors. Hot and intense, casting now yellow, autumnal light. We followed the light from front yard to back, where we sat to watch the colors change through our tree-silhouetted skyline. I thought, “This is what I needed. I am putting myself in the way of beauty (my “word” for 2015). This beauty, this WOW, will help me breathe.”sunset

Help: Help us make it through this abdominal migraine cycle. Help Doctors discover a way out of future cycles. Help Tween persevere through this mountain of work. Help Teachers respond with grace and kindness. Help Teen put his focus on Needs rather than Wants. Help Guy and I to stay on the same page in this whole parenting deal. Help maintain my sanity!

Thanks: Thanks for these three fantastic men you’ve put in my life. Thanks for Friends who surround us – with prayer, moral support, offers to cook and shop and even tutor, pop-in work and play dates, even tangible gifts (Homemade feed corn ice-heat packs? Awesome! Essential oils? Escential!). Thanks for killing our blender just as Guy was in Costco, and Big Thanks for the VitaMix he brought home to replace it. Thanks for holding us safe in Your Great Big Hands.

Wow: Seriously, this gorgeous sunset? WOW! The picture doesn’t do it justice. That these vibrant colors came from smog, sure, but I am wowed that you continually choose to bring beauty from bad, redemption from our rubbage. Tonight, I am wowed that you are an ever-present Help; that you are the source of any good thing for which I can say Thanks; that you are our WOW.

And just in case I sound too precious, Teen demonstrated his love for me – his goofy-kid way of saying sorry yet again – by trusting me with his beauties just as I finished writing (evidence that I’m growing in love for him, too, that I let these two crawl around on my lap).snakes

Snake Surrender

A gift from someone who thought I needed a snake of my own

A gift from someone who thought I needed a snake of my own

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…

Ash Wed snake thanks

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.

red tail boa

Snake #1: red tail boa

When you realize the kid is over 6' tall, you get a sense for how bigt this snake is (and he's not done growing)

When you realize the kid is over 6′ tall, you get a sense for how big this snake is (and he’s not done growing)

platinum ball python

Snake #2: platinum ball python

Fortunately this one won't grow too long

Fortunately this one won’t grow too long