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We Have a Snake

by Mandy Osterhaus Ream about a year ago in snake
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One moment of self-reflection resulted in owning the pet I said we'd never have.

We Have a Snake
Photo by Larisa Steele on Unsplash

I have a very strange relationship with a snake. This dawned on me one morning recently while I was whispering to the one in my son’s room through a mesh screen as it moved towards the top of its cage.

When I watch this creature, I often wonder, what was I so afraid of?

This relationship has developed slowly, but consistently, during my daily visits to make sure it is still in its cage after it escaped just one month into its arrival at our home.

The escaping is what I had initially been afraid of.

We have this snake because I am certifiably, objectively, the best mom in the world.

For years, I would rebuff my son’s request for a snake with a very simple and direct message, “Hell. No.”

My emphatic certainty was fueled by the stories of every single person I’ve ever known with a snake about how their snake escaped into hidden spaces in their homes. Some never to be found again.

Every. Single. Person.

I was insistent. “I will never soften! I will never change my mind!” And if I ever do (and here, reader, is the little chink in my armor. The “if.”), I reserve the right to stay at the local five-star hotel if we ever have a snake-escape story of our own.

Then I had a hysterectomy.

And of course, you see the natural connection here.

This surgery had been recommended to me for a long time. I needed it and I was afraid, irrationally or otherwise, about hitting menopause in such an abrupt way. I was afraid of how my body would respond and the additional hormonal challenges I would face.

I was tired and anxious about it.

Although my body had been suffering pain for a long time, I did not want this surgery. My fear and anxiety kept me from the relief it would bring.

I had the surgery.

As I rested in bed after the procedure, I began to reflect on my fears, specific to this circumstance and more broadly existential, asking, “What had I been afraid of? What role had fear played in this whole process? How might I use this experience to move towards my fears in the future?”

Perhaps you can already see where this is going.

While I waxed philosophic, my son came in to visit me and to ask, yet again, if he could have a snake. But this time he added, “Mom, what are you so afraid of?” Timing is everything.

Tenacity and timing.

For a brief moment of elation, or post-surgical delirium, I thought, “what am I afraid of?”

And I said yes.

Perhaps this is a story about facing fears. But this is certainly not a story about why you should get a snake.

Maybe it’s a story about facing fears within the confines of clear boundaries, or in my case, firm secure lift-proof terrarium lids.

Because I faced my fears, I agreed to this pet. And this pet escaped.

A few weeks into snake ownership, my sons and I went to pick up my mom from the airport. Both boys were excited to show their grandmother the newest addition to our family. It was late when we arrived home. My husband was at the fire station and I was eager to get through the bedtime routine and into bed.

We funneled into my son’s room with great anticipation to empty cage. No Snake.

And all my threats of heading to the local hotel faded into the ether as I moved into problem-solving mode.

I was less afraid than I thought I would be. Sure, I threw up in my mouth a little and didn’t sleep very well that night after some futile searching. But I stayed in the house for those two days.

Two days!

I comforted my son and strategized how to locate the missing snake.

I put a live mouse in an open cage in the middle of my son’s room to entice the thing out of hiding to eat. (I tried not to make eye-contact with the rodent anytime I came near that room. I felt ashamed but focused.)

We put small bowls of water around the house to coax it into the open. And then one night, I decided to roam the dark house with my flashlight to see if this being was nocturnal.

It was.

As I stood in the hallway outside my bedroom door, between my room and the guest room where my mom slept, this small corn snake slithered from my room and paused before heading into hers. This is when I learned my son sleeps like the dead.

He could not be roused. No amount of shaking or pleading would wake him and I quickly realized I would have to capture this thing on my own. Well, me and my mother. (My husband was once again at the fire station. This is also not a “breaking down gender role stereotypes” story. If he had been home, he would have beed the snake wrangler.)

When my mom heard me rustling in the hallway outside her open door, her eyes suddenly opened.

“Did you find it?”


As I yelled to her, “get the cage, get the cage!” I reached for a handy wooden back scratcher and together we corralled Scales (we are creative name givers in our home) back into its cage.

I sure as hell wasn’t going to touch it.

My mother is a delightful woman not prone to great bursts of enthusiasm like I am. She celebrates in quieter ways. But not when she has just successfully captured her first rogue snake late at night in her daughter’s house!

We danced and jumped and yelled at our victory.

My boys slept on.

That was five years ago.

Now, every day I check on Scales, making sure she (as decided by my oldest) is still there. Until we upgraded the terrarium, there was a large collection of heavy objects stacked on the lid for safe measure, ensuring no escape route, no loose edge.

Over time, however, my daily checks have the slightest traces of tenderness, if not affection.

I still don’t want to touch or hold it, but I make sure she has enough water. I am often in charge of purchasing the live feed for her. On a rare occasion, I will actually feed her if I’m the only one home.

And every so often, I chuckle at my fears. Yes, I have made sure every risk is accounted for here. I don’t want her to be my bedfellow anytime soon. But sometimes I find myself whispering to this animal while marveling at the absolutes I put forth, my proclamations of never.

A final note.

Recently, I was cleaning out under my bed, taking advantage of the switch we were making to a new mattress.

It’s amazing what can collect under a bed over twenty years. As I dusted and vacuumed, I noticed some animal droppings both on the floor and tucked into the box springs. It wasn’t rat scat. (I’ve been studying that in my garage.)

What could it be?

There wasn’t a lot of it.

A mystery.

And then it dawned on me as it has most likely just dawned on you.

This might be a story about examining our fears, but I want to reiterate, this is not a story encouraging people to buy snakes.


About the author

Mandy Osterhaus Ream

Woman in middle age. Professor. Mom to one surfer and one kid with Down Syndrome. Fireman’s wife. Writing about all of it.

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