We have, I think, a very progressive household. How else would you describe a family that allows a teenage son to own a ball python snake for a pet? David has always been interested in snakes and finally convinced us, after several years of persuasion, to let him purchase one.
To be fair to David, he has been a completely devoted pet owner. He has given this snake everything it could possibly want. He has bathed it, provided it with the appropriate tank and temperature, given it strokes and reassurance, and even nursed it back to health when it suffered from a severe case of mouth rot.David even educated the veterinarian about the needs and ills of snakes during this illness. He could see that the vet had never actually treated a snake before and he gave him understanding and patience.
But this column is not about David. It is about his mom. Any budding snake owner needs a mom who is both understanding and patient, but more than that, he needs one who is fearless. And that is exactly what Marti is.
I should first explain that this snake is actually, as far as we have been able to tell, absolutely harmless. It has a fairly even temperament, likes to be stroked and fed occasionally, and asks for little else. It has never bitten anyone.
On the other hand, most people seem to have deeply held prejudices and fears about snakes. David discovers these fears with some regularity when we have visitors and he introduces the snake into their lives. In spite of their fears, many will actually hold the snake while a picture is taken, and then gingerly unravel it from their arm or neck. All of these people have been quite nervous, but have left the house unscathed.
Marti has never shared any of these fears. Whereas the stereotypical impression of mothers suggests that they shun or fear animals, especially those that are exotic or slimy (and snakes are NOT slimy), Marti is calm and unruffled.
It is not that she has always wanted to own an exotic animal, it is just that she is a person of uncommon courage. When David was trying to interest other family members in holding or caring for the snake, Marti was the first to comply. She not only held the snake willingly, she demonstrated none of the nervous attacks so common to first timers. (I'm still working MY courage up, by the way!)
She assisted David in treating the snake's mouth when it was ailing, took the snake to the veterinarian when David was in school, and brought it into school so that David could give an instructional session.
Marti has also uncomplainingly put up with the cottage industry that has grown up in an effort to keep Jake the snake fed. David has been collecting mice, Jake's staple diet, and Marti has often purchased mice and brought them home.
When one of the mice got loose and started wandering around on the main floor of our house, I reminded David of just how unusual his mother is. She demonstrated no signs of panic, and bought some creative mouse traps that failed. When suspicious chunks turned up in the bread and the English muffins, she became irritated. "We have to get this mouse," she said, with conviction.
Recently, I returned from a movie with two of the kids, and they were telling Marti one of the interminable episodes from the film. Suddenly, she became agitated and said, "Oh. Just before you came I saw the mouse in the bread drawer, but I wasn't quick enough to get it. I think I hear something again!"
We all quietly bent down while Marti gently and slowly opened the drawer. We all looked with amazement on a little grey mouse. Instantly, Marti thrust her hand down into the drawer and grabbed the mouse by the tail! Then she calmly placed it into a small brown paper bag.
We all followed as she carried the paper bag containing the mouse downstairs to the mouse tank. Triumphantly, she deposited it inside, and said, "Tell David we got it!" When I picked up David from his part-time job, he was ecstatic. He knew that the wandering mouse was bound to make his life more and more difficult at home.
When David went into the house, he pretended to kiss his mother's feet, and thanked her profusely. He had gained new appreciation for someone who would never think of climbing on a chair at the sight of a mouse. He had what every owner of an exotic pet must have to survive: a fearless mother!