About a snake

Over in the meadow in the old mossy gate, lived a brown mother lizard and her little lizards eight.

“Bask,” said the mother.

“We bask,” said the eight.

So they basked in the sun, by the old mossy gate.

-from Over In the Meadow by Olive Wadsworth

Oliver, a few years ago, with the catch of the day.

Oliver, a few years ago, with the catch of the day.

Our Saturday morning crisis occurred this morning around 10 a.m. when I noticed that Oliver’s plecko fish was stuck in a ceramic car that had been placed in the aquarium as a decoration. I was on the couch relaxing when I saw the car moving around in the aquarium. The fish was thrashing inside.

“Dan,” I screamed, “accident with injury. Possible entrapment.”

“What are you talking about?” he asked.

I do consider myself to be fairly independent, but I was not about to stick my hand into the aquarium and pry a fish out of a piece of ceramic.

Dan stomped into the living room and told me to keep my voice down.

“The last thing I need right now is both kids in here watching me,” he said as he attempted to free the fish.

It was a crucial moment for our family because just yesterday we lost one of our beloved pets – the little black ring-necked snake that Oliver caught in Webster County, W.Va., this summer. I never really wanted to be a snake owner, but Oliver has developed an unusual knack for catching wild snakes, lizards and turtles, and he always wants to keep them. Most of the time, we can talk him into releasing the creature after about a week of captivity, but not always.

Oliver had kept the little serpent alive in his room for several months before he found the poor animal dead on Friday morning.

I noticed his shoulders shaking as he sat in front of his untouched pop tart on Friday morning. I asked him what was wrong and he began sobbing uncontrollably.

“My snake died,” he said, heaving.

This might sound strange, but the first emotion I felt was anger. I guess I was angry at Oliver because he won’t listen to reason when we try to tell him that we really don’t have what it takes to keep all these wild animals alive in our house. I was also mad because of the timing. The last thing I needed at 6:30 a.m. while I was trying to pack lunches and get ready for work was to stop and mourn that poor little dead snake, whatever his name was.

At any rate, Oliver was able to collect himself enough to get on the bus and go to school. I was at work late on Friday night because the students in my creative writing class were hosting a poetry reading at school. Both of my own kids had just gone to bed when I got home.

“I’m really upset about the snake,” I told Dan. “The saddest part is that Oliver doesn’t realize that he is killing these animals. It’s like Lennie …”

(Lennie is a character in John Steinbeck’s book Of Mice and Men. Lennie loves animals, but he often kills them by accident. Dan and I make references to Lennie and his sidekick, George, on a regular basis, which I know isn’t normal.)

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Dan said. He went back to watching Dexter and I got on Facebook. This is how we usually spend our “free” time, which in my case amounts to about 15 minutes a day.

I didn’t find out until Saturday morning that the reason Dan refused to talk about the snake is because he and the children held a funeral for the thing on Friday evening and everyone got all choked up.

This is one of the many ways men are different from women. When something bothers a woman, we often want to talk about it. For men, it is the opposite. Dan likes to say that when he has just been through a severe test, he doesn’t want to relive it by talking it to death. The snake funeral was a little traumatic for Dan.

Just this morning, I was driving through town thinking about the snake. I started thinking of the Olive Wadsworth song “Over In The Meadow.” It’s a story about different kinds of animal mothers teaching their babies how to do stuff.

There’s so much that little snake will never experience. I had tears in my eyes until I gave myself a mental slap in the face and snapped out of it.

These are the things you never think will happen before you become a parent. You never think you will live with a snake, much less cry over it.

The good news is, Dan freed the plecko from the ceramic car and threw the car away. The plecko is safe.

I am hoping Oliver doesn’t catch any new creatures this weekend.

In other news, this was also the second Saturday in a row that someone barged into my room making demands while I was trying to get dressed. This time, it was Annabelle. She said Dan was taking Oliver for a haircut and that I needed to do something to entertain her while they were gone.

Now I know my friends who are tough guys are thinking I’m a sucker for agreeing to take her to Five Below, and you are right. But look, it was the cheapest option available, short of staying home. The truth is, my idea of self-discipline is eating candy corn instead of chocolate (it has less fat) and my ideas about disciplining the kids are not too far removed.

Annabelle and I got into the car and I started driving. I was listening to my favorite Five for Fighting CD.

Annabelle said, “Mommy, do you want to hear me count to 100?”

What could I say but yes?

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Nothing gold can stay … in the deer room

We'll always have Paris.

We’ll always have Paris.

I was in the bathroom this morning when Dan came in and started hollering.

“You need to do something about your chocolate. Annabelle found it and her skin’s going to be broken out,” he shouted as I rinsed conditioner out of my hair.

Our kids are only allowed to have a bite of milk chocolate every once in a while because the youngest, Annabelle, suffers from terrible eczema and dairy products make it worse. We buy them chocolate bars made from soy or rice milk that cost about $4 each and therefore have to be rationed carefully.

Normally, I don’t keep milk chocolate in the house, but the other day I had a craving, so I went to the drugstore and bought a bag of miniature chocolate bars which I then hid in a ceramic container on the top shelf of our highest cabinet.

I really don’t know how Annabelle, who is 5, knew that I had milk chocolate in the house, but I suppose it should not have come as a surprise since anytime I want to do something like, say, take a shower, one of the kids finds a way to stop me, either by needing food, informing me that they are bored or needing me to flush something indescribable down the toilet.

Anyway, I had been absent approximately four minutes when Annabelle apparently climbed up on the counter, went through the cabinets, and found the chocolate.

Now you think this is going to be a story about parenting. Actually, it’s about my 12th wedding anniversary, which is Oct. 5. This is what it is like when you have been married for 12 years and you have two kids, ages 5 and 8.

I said to Dan, “I am going to start locking my chocolate in your deer room.”

There is a room in our home to which only Dan has a key. In it, he keeps all of his favorite hardback books, a mounted deer-head (I think it’s a six-point or something like that. He would love to tell you all about it …) and a bunch of boring documents like social security cards that no one would want except for him.

“You are not keeping your chocolate in the deer room!” Dan replied.

“Then I am getting a safe,” I said, “a little safe for my chocolate!”

This is what it is like to be a married 36-year-old with two little kids. You find yourself standing in the shower screaming at your husband about how you are going to buy a safe so that you can have chocolate and not get in trouble for it.

I was going to try to write this heartfelt anniversary column incorporating Robert Frost’s lovely poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” I was going to tell you how I love fall, which is why I married in the fall, and how anniversaries have this bittersweet feeling, kind of like autumn does. Celebrating anniversaries is a way of marking time. You watch the leaves turn and fall off the trees. I’m getting older, you think. I don’t look like I did 12 years ago, and I don’t feel like it either.

When you are young you have all this angst about things you think are never going to happen. I’ll never get a boyfriend, I’ll never get married, I’ll never have a baby, I’ll never get the job I want …

Did I mention I just got the job I wanted, finally?

If you knew all along how things would end, maybe it would be easier to enjoy the journey. That’s the optimist in me talking and she doesn’t speak up often.

But forget all that mushy stuff. This morning I told Dan, “Look, don’t even worry about buying me a card this year. We are going out tonight and you can wear jeans. I didn’t make us fancy reservations. Now please go to McDonald’s and get us some food because there is not a loaf of bread in this house, nor a box of pop tarts.”

This is the autumn of our 12th year of marriage. And that is about as much as I can sugarcoat it.