My 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.
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:
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.
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!”
Saying 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.
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!)