Compassion, Prejudice, Judgment

Sometimes, the most unexpected emotions com from equally unexpected places. I’d like to tell you a story about the last 7 days in my house, a snake, and an unexpected lesson from my son, Jefferson (he’s 10 years old).

As a kid, reptiles always fascinated me. Cold-blooded creatures are strange, no doubt, and there’s such a stigma around lizards and snakes that it’s hard to get past feelings of anxiety around them if there’s an ingrained feeling that these critters are dangerous, or terrifying. Truth is, they’re scared of humans because they see us as giant predators that could eat them. That can make them defensive until they get used to you (I don’t blame them). They don’t eat people, dogs, or cats, unless you’re in the exotic biz, and if you are, good luck to you. They are harmless, low maintenance, and for the most part real easy to care for.

Recently, I bought a snake to keep as a pet.

TWO KINDS OF SNAKE PEOPLE

Now, there are two schools of thought when it comes to snakes as pet. It’s either:

A: “NOPE! Why the hell would you want a snake as a pet? You can’t cuddle them, they don’t come to you when you call them, they’re gross/creepy/evil/disgusting/etc.”

OR ..

B: “SNAKES ARE SO COOL!”

You “A” people are correct to a point. Snakes don’t cuddle, you can’t walk them on a leash, the no-leg thing can be freaky, and you’ve probably seen at least one of the following movies:

  1. King Kong
  2. Snakes on a Plane
  3. Indiana Jones
  4. Harry Potter
  5. Anaconda
  6. Snakes on a Train (don’t laugh, it exists)
  7. Dreamscape (One of the great 80s movies ever)
  8. Sssssss (I doubt you’ve seen this, but if you have, know you are my hero)

The point is, whether Biblical or pop culture, there is a stigma around these creatures. They are misunderstood, and from an evolutionary standpoint most cute, soft, fuzzy creatures get eaten by them and being as we’re slightly larger cute and fuzzy creatures, many of us also have an ingrained fear of these reptiles. I get it, I do. Any conditioned fear I may have is overwhelmed by my fascination with how interesting they are, and my objectivity that they are, in fact, harmless little mice-eating noodles.

Just remember (here’s where I’m going to wag my finger at you), the next time you see me swatting away a yellowjacket and running away from a tiny insect with an itty bitty stinger – go ahead and laugh at me. Your irrational fear of something harmless and slow, with no toxins or fangs (pythons do not have fangs) that literally zero people are allergic to, is more than ridiculous compared to my reaction to something that is a flying, aggressive, pain-inducing asshole that could put me in the hospital.

AN UNEXPECTED ARRIVAL

On July 2nd, the snake arrived. I’d spent the prior 24 hours nervously checking the tracking number, she was shipped from Palm Springs, Florida, made an overnight stop in Memphis, and arrived at my doorstep at 11:30AM.

Only … it was the wrong snake. I ordered a white female snake. This handsome fellow is the one that arrived:

A baby Bumblebee Ball Python. Not great at video games, due to the evolutionary lack of opposable thumbs (and shit eyesight). See that tongue flicking out? That’s not a sign of something that’s about to launch itself into your skull through your ear canal and devour your brain, that’s a sign of a tiny creature that is curious, and feels safe enough to relax and check out it’s surroundings.

Needless to say, I was shocked. The snake I had picked out, paid for, and been waiting for – was not in the box, even though the box was labeled with the correct reptile. My heart sank.

A quick phone call to the breeder sorted everything out, but with July 4th happening two days later, we couldn’t ship snakes back and forth, on the off chance that there’s a day delay in service and they could be baking in a box in shipping for more than 24 hours. So, I had to become a foster snake-dad for a week. We’d take care of this little guy for 7 days, handle him, and give him a great time and lots of comfort, and in a week’s time, ship him back so he can be with his eventual owner, and our snake can come to her new home.

ONE WEEK OF SNAKEY-FRIEND FOSTER SNAKE-DAD

We called him “Snakey-Friend” because we didn’t want to name him and get too attached. He was the sweetest. No hissing, totally docile, really just wanted to curl up and sleep on you, and that’s pretty much it.

Snakey-Friend, sleeping in my warm hand. Yes, they sleep. Yes, it’s adorable.

My 17-year-old son handled him plenty. My 13-year-old son loved handling him. My wife was kind of okay near him in the same room, but made an effort to pet him with the tip of her finger twice (and also saved his life, a story for another time), and my 10-year-old loved watching him but didn’t really want to hold or pet him.

The week flew by, and he made himself at home in his temporary terrarium quarters, we took him out every day to handle him and hang out, and he was nothing but sweet the entire time.

Then came the day where we had to ship him back.

SAYING GOODBYE AND ONE FINAL LESSON

My youngest is at a day camp this week. So on Tuesday July 9th, shipping day for Snakey-Friend on his trek back to Florida, he wanted to say goodbye. We went over to the terrarium, and I took out our Snakey-Friend, and held him out for Jefferson to pet (one fingertip) and say goodbye to.

That’s when the following conversation happened. Jefferson stood there beside me looking at the little guy in my hand, contemplated his words for along moment, and then started:

JEFFERSON: “Dad, do you think Snakey Friend will remember us when he grows older?”

ME: “Buddy, I’m not really sure. I like to think he will.”

JEFFERSON – after a long pause: “I hope he does. And I hope he remembers that we were really nice to him, cared about him, and gave him lots of love.”

I have to tell you, after that conversation, putting that little guy in a box and sticking a label on it to be picked up by FedEx felt absolutely awful, and I shed tears. Keeping TWO snakes though, that couldn’t happen, though I think everyone would’ve understood if I did and made it work.

In regards to the goodbye, yes, it’s just a baby snake. No, it doesn’t develop paternal attachment in the ways humans or higher-intelligence creatures do, but in a short week, that calm little reptile found a small place in all of our hearts (even my Wife’s – from a short distance of course).

And so what does this say about us? I’m not trying to get preachy here, but hear me out. Without a full-grown adult life of conditioned responses to “snakes are evil filthy creatures”, my young son found a spot in his heart to show a fountain of compassion for a small harmless creature that full-grown adults are downright terrified of. There are no prejudices, there had been no judgments, because there was no reason for those things. He didn’t grow up with a Dad that shouted, “UGH SO DISGUSTING” every time he saw a movie with a snake in it.

(Yellowjackets are another story, and I’m happy to pass that healthy caution to my offspring)

We grow up with so many preconceived notions about people, places, and situations – sometimes we’d be better served looking at things through the lens of a 10-year-old boy. Certainly, some things create a conditioned response of caution for good, valid reasons. Sometimes though, being relaxed and seeing life for the precious thing it is can make all the difference in your heart.

Now, Tuesday has come and gone, and our new snake arrived very shaky from the trip, but very sweet, curious, and ready to receive all of the kindness we showed our prior guest.

Jefferson asked for one last picture with Snakey-Friend before he said goodbye. I think it’s the perfect way to close this story, and I hope you learned something just like I did:

So long, Snakey-Friend. May you have a full life of awesome owners, fat rodents, and just as much love and compassion as we were able to show you for 7 days.

David

I am a walking, talking contradiction. INFJ, martial artist, father of 3 awesome boys, database nerd, aficionado of great music, coffee snob, tattooed, overflowing with at-times crippling amounts of empathy. Now you know me, which means we can never hang out. Sorry, but not really, I'd find an excuse not to no matter what.

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