I grew up in a pretty wacky household. I had a wonderfully caring and fun family who loved me and protected me from almost all danger. Except when it came to snakes.
My mother had a peculiar appreciation for reptiles. Her passion for all things that slither was something the rest of the family had to tolerate. As a second-grade teacher who loved science, my mom was insistent about curing the world of its fear of snakes. It still is one of her missions in life, as she tries to convince my daughters snakes are fabulous.
For as long as I can remember, my mom had at least one caged snake in her classroom. The school janitors were especially fond of her when periodically a student would leave the cage’s lid slightly ajar.
So when summertime rolled in, guess where Mama Bear would house her snakes? Yes, that’s right: She’d load up the minivan with cages of reptiles and hamsters; plus, don’t forget the covered buckets filled with live crickets and mealworms (aka dinner for her pets).
A plausible summertime dinner discussion:
Mom: “A strange thing happened today.”
Dad, while passing the salad: “Did you adopt a small child?”:
Mom, in a whisper tone: “No, somehow my little bull snake got out of her cage.”
Dad: “Pack up your things, kids. We’re heading to a hotel.”
Sadly, we couldn’t run off to a hotel. Who else would help my mother look for her dear, dear snake? You think parents’ sleep with only one eye open with a new infant in the house? Try having a snake roaming the dark recesses of your home for two weeks. True story.
When I came home from college one summer, my mom asked if I would feed the pets while they were away on vacation. Not thinking it would be too inconvenient to feed the cats, I quickly agreed. Time away from the home had erased the memory of her reptile farm.
She left me a detailed list with how much I should feed the cats; as well as the hamsters, fish, iguana, bearded dragon and lastly the snake. Just before my parents were heading to the airport, she informed me of what our family shall forever refer to as the “animal rights debacle of 1988.”
I know my mom had mentioned several times earlier that week she was excited for the “babies” to be coming soon. She had hoped the birthing of baby hamsters would occur before she left town. Little did I know why…
My mother forgot to mention that her favorite snake would need to nosh on the tiny things! Plus, she wanted me to do the deathly deed. Had she met me before?
The survival of the fittest ideology continues to be a conflict for us. This wasn’t the great outdoors, but multiple cages separated by double glass, placed in the sitting room. Those babies were pretty safe from the poor hungry snake, as long as you removed the humans from the equation.
With my parents leaving for vacation and no one else able to feed her snake, I was left with a true dilemma. Either I let her snake die or be responsible for the demise of the little babies.
I began researching the topic, in hopes of finding a decent way to give the serpent some sustenance. Apparently, this feeding method is a common practice for snake owners. I could have gone my entire life without knowing of this.
So when I stopped by the local pet store, their thoughts on the food chain concurred with my mother. After several minutes of debating over possible diet replacements for a snake, the salesman suggested I might fair better if I purchase some of the pet store’s frozen babies.
What?! People actually pay for this?
The kid behind the counter nonchalantly suggested, “If you can’t handle it, you could just turn your head and not look when you dump the baggie into the cage.”
I cried on the way home, knowing in the back seat was my incomprehensible frozen purchase in a Styrofoam cooler.
It’s taken me 30 years to get over this experience.
In fact, the memory resurfaced the other day when I took my daughters to look at “hamsters and kitties” at our local pet store. We were about to leave the store, when my eldest noticed a caged python with its jaw unhinged. It looked like the snake was trying to attack my girl through the glass.
Horribly terrifying! Next, the snake coughed up something resembling a hairball a cat might eject.
My preteen pressed her face up to the glass and announced, “The snake barfed up a fish!” Right then my PTSD kicked in and I knew that wasn’t a fish. Shuffling my girls out the door, my heart rate quickened and I broke out into a sweat. We didn’t need to get into the details of this practice.
Note to self: Next time the kids ask to visit a pet store, remember to stay clear of the snake cages.
Stacey Hatton cannot be found in any pet stores for quite some time. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.