Tuesday, April 20, 2010


So let's get the python thing out of the way.

Writer and generally fine human being Carl Hiaasen famously said about snakes, "You give them rodents, and they give you pure, unconditional indifference."  Unlike Carl, I have not had a lifelong affinity for the creatures.  I don't recall ever being afraid of them, but I wasn't always trying to catch wild snakes in the underbrush either.

Snakes actually weren't on my radar at all until I became pregnant with my son.  While strolling at a summer fair, I crossed paths with a middle-aged woman and her pre-teen daughter, both of whom had largish snakes draped around their necks.  I was entranced.  One minute I was enjoying the sunny day and the fair around me, and the next minute I was seized with the desire to hold a Boa Constrictor.  Bolshie pregnant woman that I was, I waddled up and asked if I could at least touch the snake. The snake owner was as astonished by the encounter as I was -- apparently she rarely gets accosted by pregnant women.

Based on that single serpentine encounter, I decided that it would be marvelous to get a Boa Constrictor.  A colleague advised that I should wait until the fetus looked less like an hors d'oeuvre to the snake, and I reluctantly agreed that this was probably wise.

Then, as most parental aspirations go in the post-childbirth period, it was all forgotten in the intense early parenting years.  The baby grew into a fine 7-year old lad with a remarkable vocabulary.

"Mummy," came a voice from the back of the car one day, "I want to be a herpetologist."  I nearly drove off the road, trying to puzzle this out.  "Studying infectious diseases?" I hazarded.  There was a sigh and a chuckle from the cheap seats.  "No! A doctor who studies snakes and reptiles, silly."  I was slightly mollified.  Better to be the mother of "the notable Dr. Nicholas Umptyfratz, respected Herpetologist", than of "that creepy snake guy next door."

Moreover, he wanted a snake, and he wanted it now.  I'll confess to being just a tad taken aback.  It's one thing to be a not-quite mother, fantasizing about how cool it would be to own a snake herself, and quite another to picture said reptile in close proximity to a being that has become more important than you could have previously imagined.  Germs, snake bites, and asphyxiation were now foremost in my mind.  "Hmm, let's talk this over with Daddy" was my reply.

After some negotiations that would have made the CAW proud, the terms were agreed upon.  They were as follows: 1) Nick would have to do all the research on breeds and then sell us on his choice; 2) Nick would provide a life-cycle cost analysis so we could decide if this was a sound purchase; and 3) Nick would have to save up the money.  Ha! His father thought he had him there.

Well, didn't that plan backfire.  After a short time we were informed that a Ball Python would be the best choice.  Not a Boa Constrictor, I queried.  "They are not suitable for novice handlers," I was gravely informed.  Humph.

After that, a list of costs was flourished.  Not only that, but a suitable python-procurer had been chosen.  Super Pet, it was decided, was the preferred source for snakes, chiefly because Nick felt they had the best customer service, in addition to competitive pricing.  Both Doug and I felt a little dazed by this point.  Apparently we'd brought forth some kind of herpetological market researcher.

And then he saved.  Boy, did that kid save.  Birthday presents? Super Pet gift cards, please.  Christmas? Super Pet gift cards.  Aunts and uncles were cajoled into buying snake tank paraphernalia instead of trucks and games.  And after almost three years, we were ready.

Now all that was left to be done was to name the serpent.  After much earnest debate, Nick's new pet was to be christened "Rommel" after Afrika Corps Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. (The boy's a World War II buff.) You must understand that at this point, the words "snake" and "python" had become synonymous for me, and this is my only excuse for the next bit of utter dopeyness.

Driving to Super Pet (naturally) one day, and Nick is talking snakes from the back seat.  I am thinking of the million things I need to do, and hear only "blah, blah, snakes, blah blah...call them Monty." It dawns on me to question: are all snake owners World War II-obsessed?  After all, Nick calls his snake Rommel, and most others call them Monty.  (I have been paying attention during at least some of the war chatter that goes on in our house, and surmise that Monty must be Field Marshall Montgomery.  You know, the beaky-nosed British dude who won the war.)  Wait, I muse fuzzily, my son is naming his snake after a German Field Marshall... To this day it is a source of astonishment that I didn't hit anything during my mental ruminations about the possibility that my son is some kind of Nazi-sympathizing wingnut.  I am, at this point, utterly convinced that there exists in my offspring some hitherto-undiscovered snakey-WWII pathology.

Like all reasonable beings, when I have a scary new theory, I want to bounce it off an impartial ear.  So I get on the phone with a friend, and start to tell the story.  He's busy, and I don't get past "Monty".  "I get it," he says a trifle impatiently, "Monty Python, ha ha very funny."  There is a short silence while I find something very hard and flat to bang my forehead on. "Er, yes," I say, "lovely talking with you."

And so, Rommel came home to live with a wonderful young man who shows no signs of psychopathology -- herpetological or otherwise -- after all.   Three years later, we have settled in for the long haul, and Rommel will soon be moving in to his new custom-built tank, complete with waterfall.  As anticipated, I am enjoying having a python in the house, and I rather think that Rommel enjoys my company too.

Just don't tell Carl Hiaasen I said that.

1 comment:

  1. When my kids were small, #1 wanted to be a volcanologist (studying volcanos although I would have prefered the study of Vulcan) and the #2 wanted to be a marine biologist (yay! I would get to play with whales!) They both wanted a snake. We never got one because we have always had rodents...and cats. One day I hope to own two little African pygmy boas (little sand snakes) because they are ever so cute, they don't grow big and they don't eat rodents. Right now I content myself with a trip to the park where I can watch water snakes, little brown snakes and garter snakes to my hearts content. We won't mention the huge snapping turtle because that makes me think of how nice it would be to have a little box turtle...How many pets to you have to own before you are labelled a hoarder?