What I (Unexpectedly) Enjoyed about my Mother’s Day at the Reptile House

gaboon2My son has been slowly transferring his dinosaur obsession to snakes. First, there was a book. Then a few rubber snake toys slithered their way into our house, and shortly after that a large stuffed animal snake sat coiled around his Easter basket.

Now, he begs to get a snake as a pet.  I tell him, “No way! When you grow up and get a house of your own, you can have all the snakes you want.”

He unsuccessfully tries for compromise. “What if I get a lesser Antillean thread snake?  They are smaller than a quarter!”

I shake my head adamantly. I am amused at his knowledge of this and the fact that he wants to make me happy, but I don’t budge.

Sensing defeat, he begins to plan his future snake-filled home. He lists some of his favorites that he intends to have: gaboon viper, black mamba, king cobra, timber rattlesnake …

He becomes troubled when I grimace, and he wonders if I will visit him in his house of horrors snakes. I pretend to shudder. Looking worried, he adds, “What if MOST of them are in cages, Mom? Will you visit me then?”

I smile, give him a hug, and tell him that of course I will visit. No matter what. How could I not?

Later, well after bedtime, he comes out of his room with a drawing of what I will look like when I visit his house. “See all of your goosebumps, Mom? The scared kind!” he states proudly. I try to focus on the cleverness of his drawing and not the fact that I might have to sneak by a pit viper to give my son a hug in the future.

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I miss dinosaurs. I miss their terrifying roars, banana sized teeth, and claws that rip open flesh. I miss dinosaurs because they ARE EXTINCT. They will not slither in front of me on a trail in the woods. They will not rattle their tails or spit venom on me.  Dinosaurs can only roar and stomp around on the pages of the book.

Snakes? That’s another story.

However, on Mother’s Day, I found myself driving two hours away to spend the day at a place called Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland.  Never in a million years did I ever imagine I would spend a Mother’s Day watching a snake slowly ingest a mouse. And, never in a million years did I ever imagine I would enjoy a Mother’s Day spent at a reptile house. This is a prime example of how very (very!) much motherhood changes you! Here are a few highlights of our visit:

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Meal Time:  Not only did we get to see snakes eat dead rodents, but we got to witness some huge alligators doing the same. (Watching – and hearing! –  a 600 lb. alligator snap its jaws shut is quite terrifying.) Both of my kids stood still in fascination and marveled at the size and proximity of the alligators.

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Touching a snake:  Since becoming snake-obsessed my son has really, really, really wanted to touch or hold a snake. Goal met!

Up until this year, my son’s reaction to anything creepy crawly has been to scream and run away.  However, recently, he started picking up spiders, bringing them into the house, and showing them to me. (Of course, I am sooo thrilled by this!) Because of his apprehensive nature, I was curious what he would do when given the opportunity to touch a snake. Basically, we had to drag him away from it.  I am continually amazed at how kids can be scared of one thing one day and love it the next.

(Yes, I touched it, too! It was a boa and it was humongous and that is enough of that for me!)

Feeding the parakeets:  There was relief from all of the rodent eating and slithering.  For two dollars, we bought a popsicle stick smeared with bird seed to feed the parakeets. The aviary was filled with hundred of colorful budgies just waiting to land on our outstretched hands for a snack. Although, the kids were a bit hesitant at first, my daughter was bragging at the bus stop this morning: “One even landed on my thumb and pecked it!”

parakeetSaying Goodbye:  The zoo is arranged so that visitors have to walk through the main reptile exhibit to get to other exhibits and buildings. This was ideal for my snake-loving boy. We walked by the snakes probably a dozen times to see if they had changed positions or were moving around their cages. When we finally strolled past them one last time before hitting up the gift shop, my son waved goodbye to each snake and said its name, “Goodbye gaboon viper! Goodbye black mamba! Goodbye timber rattlesnake …” It was like a much creepier and deadly version of Goodnight Moon.

The Souvenir:

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We let my son pick out a stuffed snake for his collection. He held that cobra the entire ride home and happily introduced him to his other stuffed snakes once we returned.

Each night he snuggles up with his stuffed snakes and falls asleep. Later, when I tiptoe into his room to check on him, I carefully untangle his limbs from the nest of snakes. As I lean down to kiss his cheek, and whisper “I love you,” I recall the last presentation we saw at Reptiland

The live show was called Venom! and included a variety of venomous snakes hissing and slithering their way around the stage. At the end of the show, an audience member asked the presenter how he ended up handling cobras and rattlesnakes for a living. He listed his credentials and spoke of a childhood filled with explorations. He ended by stating, “I had an understanding mom.”

I loved this response. I loved it because I want to be that mom. I want to be the mom who encourages her child to find a passion and helps him nurture it.  Even if it is snakes …

So, I will continue to read bedtime books that depict snakes devouring small mammals. I will go on afternoon snake hunts through our woods, and I will take my son to places like Reptiland.  Most importantly, I will continue to encourage him to learn as much as he can about whatever he loves. I will give him the freedom to explore simply because that is one of the best gift I have to give him.

(But, I’m still not letting him have a snake in the house!)

 

Lessons In Bike Riding

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Unexpectedly, both of my children, ages 6 and 5, learned to ride their bikes without training wheels over the weekend. I was not looking forward to this endeavor, envisioning skinned knees and whines of “I can’t do it!”  However, I was determined to dedicate four days to teaching them how to ride a bike. If it didn’t work, we would go back to training wheels.

In reality, it actually took far less time and involved far less headaches than I imagined.

Thursday: My son hopped on his bike and took off. Really. I held the back of his bike for a couple of minutes while he worked out his balance, and then he was racing around the driveway before I knew it.

My daughter, well, she lived up to the whining and injuries that I had feared. Luckily, injuries were minor, but I decided we would most likely be going back to training wheels after the weekend.

Friday: My daughter had other ideas, though. It is amazing what a little sibling rivalry can do. When she saw all of the attention that her brother was getting from me and my husband, she decided to keep trying. When I wasn’t shouting out directions and micromanaging the process, she scooted around the driveway with her feet, pedaled once or twice, and then finally pedaled the length of the driveway.

Sunday:  They mastered braking and turning without stopping, which allowed them to loop the driveway over … and over … and over. We live on top of a steep hill, so there are limited safe biking areas. I started to suspect that confining them to the driveway was going to be difficult.

As I sat on the steps and responded to their chorus of “Mom, look at me!” I marveled at how quickly they learned this new skill. It reminded me of when they learned to walk. One day they were wobbling around using a push toy, and then it seemed like the next day they were racing across the living room.

riding LaOn Tuesday, I decided to take them to park with a long walking/riding loop to let them really test out their new skills.

Lately, trips to parks involve me walking laps around the playground while the kids play on their own. I love to multitask, so this is perfect; I get my exercise for the day while they have fun. I keep an eye on them, of course, and I’m never far away. Occasionally, I need to intervene, but they prefer to play on their own or with the gaggle of other children.

There has been some amount of freedom in this for me. I no longer have to assist my daughter up the ladder or hover at the bottom of the slide to cheer on my son. From a distance, I can still watch their skinny legs pumping up and down making the swing go higher and higher.

Immediately upon arriving at the park, I realized how bikes were going to change everything. I couldn’t relax, and in fact my stomach was clenched the ENTIRE time. So much pavement. So many different ways to get injured. Suddenly, bikes seemed dangerous. Did I strap on their helmets tight enough? Why didn’t I buy knee pads? Elbow pads? Shin guards? Bubble wrap?

I found myself jogging besides them and loudly shouting various over-protective statements: Slow down! Come back! You’re going to fast! Wait for me! 

sussyridesOf course, there was a spill. My daughter tried to turn too quickly and toppled over. She landed on her handlebars, and there were tears and cries for “Mama.” (This melts my heart. How long will she still call for “Mama” when she falls? How long will my arms be the best medicine?)  I cuddled and kissed her, told her to make wider turns, and then put her right back on that bike.

This was harder for me than her. She immediately started pedaling away.

They tolerated my hovering and over-protection for a bit, but soon enough my son was flying down a hill yelling loudly, “This is what I like, Mom! Super-faaaaaast!” How could I not smile at that?

My daughter quickly followed, and I was left on the sidelines to wave and snap pictures. My stomach gradually unclenched, and I started to let them go a little farther, a little faster. As I listened to their uninhibited laughter, I simply enjoyed the moment, a moment of pure childhood joy.