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The OINKdaddy and I took Small and Large hiking on Snake Mountain – a 1.8 mile trail in Addison, Vt. – mainly because we had been promised a beautiful vista at the top. I don’t see the point in hiking if there’s no reward. Large tells me that I should appreciate “the journey” but it’s not in my nature. I’m all about the destination.
In spite of its name, we didn’t expect to actually see any snakes on the trail so when we did, it was like a special nature lover’s bonus: “Look kids – a garter snake! You can tell because it’s black with yellow stripes.” I encouraged the boys, including the OINKdaddy, to catch it (hells if I was going to do it myself!) but they weren’t fast enough. It was pretty obvious that none of us really wanted to catch the snake but since I don’t want Small and Large growing up afraid of snakes, I used the opportunity to share what little I know about snakes: 1) Poisonous snakes don’t live in northern Vermont, 2) The only venomous snake in Vermont is the Timber Rattler, which is brown, and 3) When you pick up a snake, you should grab it just behind its head.
It took us an hour, but we made it to the top where the view was simply stunning. We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and nibbled gorp all the while enjoying a steady breeze and each others’ company. The return trip was a little less fun in that all of us were somewhat tired and Small was very so, and yet even when I was lugging 48 lbs of five year old I felt contented.
This feeling of contentment lasted until we arrived at home and discovered something had taken up residence (or was at least visiting) our garage:
“There’s a big snake in the garage!” yelled the OINKdaddy as he jumped back from the open garage door. Not that a three foot long brown snake could ever have startled my virile, strong husband. In retrospect, I’m certain he was simply passing along helpful information along the lines of, “Careful not to step on the big-ass snake when you come inside.”
“Stop messing around!” I yelled back, grinning a little. What a jokester.
My smile dimmed immediately when I realized he wasn’t joking. Ahh, the irony of returning from a lovely hike on Snake Mountain to find a large brown snake I have never seen the likes of before almost inside my house!
I’m not afraid of snakes per se, but I wouldn’t choose to cuddle with one either. I’m pretty sure the OINKdaddy feels the same or thereabouts. Together, we stared at the cold-blooded vermin as it coiled and uncoiled next to the sidewalk chalk. In that moment not one, single educational thought went through my head. “Get rid of it!” I said.
Now, the OINKdaddy’s a catch and release kind of guy while I’m more of a killer. In the fifteen years that we’ve been together, this not-so-subtle difference has been the genesis for more than a few healthy discussions. Live and let live is his motto, while mine is more like sometimes a round-headed shovel is a good problem solver. What can I say? Opposites attract.
“Maybe I can scoop it up,” he mused.
“Just kill it.”
“What could I use?” He cast around for an appropriate scooping device.
“Kill it! Just kill it!”
I imagined the thing slithering off into the dark recesses of the garage, safe from the threat of either relocation or death. I pictured it striking an unsuspecting ankle or an inquisitive hand. This was not a moth or a spider or a chipmunk. This was a big, brown snake and I did NOT want it anywhere near me or my kids. So, I did the only thing I could do – what any mother would do. I went after the snake.
My subconscious must have balked at perpetrating violence in front of the kids. Almost of their own accord, my hands selected the snow shovel over the spade. My hastily formed plan of attack was to shoo the thing out into the open at which point, I hoped the OINKdaddy would take over. I hopped around trying to push the snake outside. It didn’t want to go. It moved sideways, quickly. I hopped around some more, knocking over bikes and toys and helmets in the process, and yelled. I don’t actually remember what I was yelling but when questioned later, Large said I was screaming, “Agh! Agh! NOT helping Brendan! Brendan, help me!”
Upon realizing that the children were becoming more scared of the unholy scene their mother was making than they were by the sight of the actual snake, OINKdaddy grabbed the shovel and stunned the thing with a good whack. I reached for the spade before it could get away and with one slice, it was done.
Except it wasn’t. The damn thing did what I’ve seen chickens do after their heads have been cut off (I swear I do not have a secret hobby of killing small animals. My friend’s father raised chickens for their meat when I was growing up and I was at her house on chicken killing day. I was assigned the task of feather plucking – a smelly, messy job if ever there was one.). The headless body writhed and coiled and twitched while next to it, the disembodied head continued to thrust its forked tongue (I never saw the chicken heads move; this must be something particular to snakes). I shrieked, the kids shrieked and the OINKdaddy, well, he was convinced that the snake was still alive. This horror show went on for a good five minutes while the OINKdaddy and I argued whether to cut the snake into smaller pieces (my idea) or to drown the headless body (his idea). Eventually, the snake did us all a favor and finally looked dead.
I was in the shower trying to let go of my guilt over having traumatized my children when I heard the OINKdaddy open the door. “Just so you know,” he said, “it looks like you killed a Gray Rat Snake, which is a protected species. There are only a few of them left in Vermont.”
He laughed. “I’ll bring the kids to visit you in jail.”
Would Indiana Jones have said this? I think not.
P.S. If you can identify this snake, please do so. I believe it is a milksnake which is a common snake, not protected. Cross your fingers!
Piggy is our family’s mascot and Small’s near constant companion. She has become so threadbare that I fear it will not be long before Small literally loves her to pieces. I have patched her, re-stuffed her, and darned her to the best of my abilities. When I am outside of Small’s hearing, I refer to her as “Frankenpig.” I’m quite sure Piggy doesn’t mind; she cares only for her kid.
A couple of weeks ago, Medium went to Disney World. Without us. She didn’t go alone (obviously) but she wasn’t with any of her immediate family members. She accompanied our friends and their seven-year-old son, A, who are friends-like-family or “framily” to us. (See how I can make up words just like the media? Brangelina, what?) According to her own and eye-witness reports, Medium had a ball and hardly missed us. It’s possible that she didn’t miss us at all but I’m unwilling to consider that because I missed her terribly and couldn’t wait for her to come home.
We live about four hours from Boston, and she flew in and out of Logan International Airport. The day before she was scheduled to return, my husband and I drove to Beantown with the boys and painted the town Piggy-pink. We hit Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, the Boston Museum of Science, Harvard Square and the Hilton Boston Financial District. We rode the “T” multiple times, much to Small’s delight, and listened to a lecture on rockets given by MIT students. We also terrorized the staff at the Harvard Coop Bookstore but there’s no photographic evidence and some things are better left unsaid.
We spent the weekend in Boston with the kids—packing in the memories like sardines in a can. The Children’s Museum. The Barking Crab. Nantasket Beach. The Red Parrot. U2 at Gillette Stadium (this last was only for Liam and Brendan). We stopped fifty miles from home to return the borrowed stroller to my in-laws and to pick up our other car. I offered to drive the sedan in a selfish ploy for an hour of peace and quiet.
“Anyone coming with?” I called, hurling myself from the still moving vehicle. “No? See you at home!”
I was opening the car’s door when I heard the van pull in behind me. It had been too good to be true.
“Medium and Large are coming with you,” my husband announced, gripping the steering wheel with one hand and his Blackberry with the other. He continued perusing his email inbox and didn’t notice the glare I gave him.
“Are you kidding?”
“Nope. They want to be with you.”
I am almost never alone. This is one of the hard truths I have faced while morphing from Woman-With-A-Career to OINK. I am constantly accompanied by, or in the company of, others. Usually very small others. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a people person. I like people and I like to believe that they like me. But there are times when I pause to think longingly about closing the door to my office and sending the calls to voicemail; about the rental cars where I listened to whatever caught my fancy on the radio; about the airports where I sat blanketed in anonymity—just a speck in the endlessly amusing spectacle of humanity.
In those spaces, no little voices were ordering me to turn up the volume on “Crazy Frog,” whining about needing a snack ten minutes after we finished breakfast, sobbing that someone had poked them. And while I had other voices in my head—the ones reminding me to finish this proposal or that brief, nagging me to return phone calls and emails, chastising me for being the parent who was always late picking up her kids from daycare—they were all my own.
I miss my own company.
My husband interrupted my reverie. “Liam didn’t want you to be lonely.” The side of the van slid open and Liam jumped out, followed closely by his sister. In spite of myself, I was touched by my son’s thoughtfulness. He gave me an awkward, one-armed hug and ducked his head. He and Nora scurried off.
“Well, that was sweet of them.” I tried to sound positive.
My husband chuckled. “Nora is only coming with you because she wants to be with Liam. When Liam worried you’d be lonely, she told us, ‘Mommy’s not lonely–she’s fine! Liam, you stay with me!’”
Either she knows me better than I realize or she is more like me than I know.
I love my kids, but what I need is a Fortress of Solitude.