First, before I tell this tale, I must remind you of the morbid fear I have had of snakes for just under 40 years. Click here to read about my paralyzing fear then come back. OK, having flash-backed to that will make my incredible feat of bravery even more awe-inspiring.

Repticon. The word itself makes my skin crawl, my chest tighten and my husband skip through the house like a kid on christmas eve. Polar opposite reactions. He’s not only infected my oldest son, Nate with the reptile “fever” but he’s the head of a reptile team at our sons’ Montessori school. I actually encouraged this job because I had hoped it would be an outlet for his love affair that was over 2 blocks away from my safe haven (home).

Now, no one wants to pass down to their children a crippling fear of anything…but you have to admit…if you do pass one to them, the fear of venom-filled, vampire-fanged, put-on-earth-to-kill-me beasts has to be low on the list of harmful fears, right? Second only to fear of poison and strangers with candy. You might even say that I would be doing a GOOD thing by teaching my sons to fear snakes… OK, so I don’t really believe that, it’s just something I say to myself to relieve the guilt I feel when I act like a deranged psycho-path in front of my kids.

Sooooo…I’ve been working on it. For the past 17 years that I’ve been with Mark, I’ve been easing into the reptile thing. It’s taking a long time but who’s counting? I can now watch real snakes on TV and movies. Not the fake ones that are trying to scare you like that freaking Harry Potter movie, where the snake strikes toward the audience and nearly put me in the psych unit of the hospital. I can look at snakes through glass enclosures with my family and not run the snake-breaks-through-glass-and-kills-entire-family scenario in my head. And I actually touched the tail of the snake at Gatorland when my then 4-year-old Nate told me not to be afraid, he would protect me. Big progress!

Long story, short…(too late!) Mark was going to Repticon on Saturday and he was taking Nate and one of his Reptile team, Brian. Imagine his shock when I announced, “Hey…I thought Zeke and I would come along.”  He nearly fell over. All he could muster to say was, “WHY?!!” “So you don’t buy anything, of course!” I joked, which actually was half the reason I was going. The other half? I don’t  know. The family that Repticons together, stays together? No, that can’t be it.

Anyway, when we get there, we meet up with Karen Simon, the director of the Montessori and she and Mark were on a mission to repopulate the school with critters.

Nate found a snake that was “Actually shedding his skin right in front of my eyes so I can see it happening.” and demanded that I watch with him:

 

I tried pointing to all the snakes, lizards and turtles but Zeke was not impressed. You could even say bored:

I was on a mission to find something to engage Zeke with.  Luckily, we found a vendor with pygmy possums. So stinking cute! Zeke perked up so fast, you would have thought he said, “Free Legos” instead of “Wanna pet the possum?”:

Yes! We’ve made contact! Head is out of the wagon, Lego guy is in his pocket…we’re making progress! Then we wheel over to the next booth. There stands a man with a 75 ft. snake in his hands. (OK, so my mind plays tricks on me. It was more like 4 ft.) He looks me right in the eyes and starts to hand me the snake! “NOOOO THANK YOU!” I yelled louder than I meant to. I’m afraid of snakes, but I’m trying to work through it. Just me being in this building filled to the brim (gulp, not helping) with snakes is a miracle. He smiles and walks toward Zeke. “Hey, little guy, want to pet the snake?” Zeke looks up and says, “No thank you, I’m afraid of snakes!”  OH, NO! What have I done? I slap myself on the forehead and compose myself. “No, Zekey…you’re not afraid of snakes. Go ahead and pet him.” “No thank you, Mommy.”  Dang it! I must fix this before it’s too late. Damage control mode. “Zeke, I’ll make a deal with you. How about we both pet the snake? Deal?” He looks up at me, “DEAL!” and shakes my hand. Dan, the snake man holds out the snake and Zeke cautiously reaches out for a touch:

“How does it feel, Zeke?” “Good.” and he cracks a smile and reaches over for another pet:

Then Dan stands up and starts to hand me the snake. “Wawawait a minute…wait a minute!” I hand my camera to a nice man who I’m hoping will drop it and save me when the snake attacks. Or at the very least get shots of the massacre so that Mark will know what happened. “I’m just going to touch it. that’s the deal I made with my son.” I touched the snake and agree that it’s not slimy. Then Dan starts to put the snake into my hands. I think to myself, “OK, I could scream at the top of my lungs but that would scare Zeke and make the snake bite my face off. I could run for my life but leaving my son to fight off the snake alone would cross me off the Mother of the Year Award list. Or, I could summon my  primordial instincts and kill the snake with my bare hands, cook it over an open fire and make a belt with its skin. OR I could grit my teach, hold the snake and help heal the fear I’ve placed on my innocent son. A deal is a deal:
Biting my lip so hard:

Oh, my god, oh my god, oh my god…Where’s the head? !!!! Dan just kept talking to me in a soft voice, “You’re doing great, good job, great job!” Yeah, I know that trick Dan…I use it on my kids when they’re getting a shot at the doctor’s. “Where’s the head Dan?” It’s peeking under its body and coming back towards me…”OK…here ya go, Dan. That’s enough. Don’t have to break any records here today…

So, I held the damn snake to “save” my son from the crippling fear I’ve carried with me for all these years. I used the Mommy power to push through the panic for him. I did it ALL for Zeke!

Now, please refer back to all three pictures. Zeke is back to playing with his Lego guys and has no idea any of this is even happening. (SIGH.)

Thank you Dan for getting me through the panic. I will admit to a flood of tears after the fact. But I did it. I ran the camera over to Mark (He’s been buying up reptiles with Karen this entire time, unaware that half of his family had faced mortal danger) “What’s wrong, Honey?” I couldn’t talk. I just handed him the camera. He looked down at the pictures and said, “WHAT? You did it without me? After all these years, you did it with another man?!!”

I’ve heard that “snakes are phallic” but this is ridiculous.

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Well, folks, I’m sorry to report… it ended badly. Spiny Back is no more. Mark peeled off his rubber gloves; removed his mask and scrubs and sulked into the waiting living room with the bad news:

“He’s gone.”

“Who’s gone?”

{with disbelief that I wasn’t pacing the floor, waiting for the news} “SPINY BACK! You know, the Bearded Dragon I’ve been trying to save for 3 weeks?  Yeah, he’s passed.”

“Are you sure? Remember how he likes to come back from the dead?”

“How can you make jokes at a time like this? I’m really upset.”

“Why are you upset, Daddy?”

“Well, Nate, I have some bad news. Spiny Back has gone to Heaven.”

“Again? Are you sure, Daddy? Maybe he’s playing a joke on you again.”

{sigh} “I’m going to give him a respectful burial outside…Nate, do you want to come with me?”

“Sure. Can we wait until after Phineas and Ferb, Daddy?”

Spiny Back's final resting spot had to be kept a secret from our dog, Dublin and our youngest son, Zeke and his new shovel.

After about 10 minutes, Nate came back into the house by himself. When he saw me he started crying uncontrollably.

“MOMMY! I don’t like funerals!”

“Aaahh, no one does, Nate. I’m so sorry. Funerals are very sad. Are you sad because you’re gonna miss Spiny Back? Is that why you’re crying? Because Spiny Back went to Heaven?”

“NO!” {crying harder}

“Are you sad because we have to tell all your friends and teachers at school that Spiny Back didn’t make it?”

“NO!” {beyond hysterical} “I’m so sad because when we went out to the woods to bury Spiny Back, I tripped and scraped my face on a tree branch!”

A Kindergartener’s mourning period is significantly shorter than that of the adult man that’s been trying in vain to nurse the lizard back to health. I know I have a tendency to exaggerate just a wee bit from time to time, but you be the judge and tell me if you think this was a bit on the excessive/obsessive  side:

$160. for a Bearded Dragon “kit” which included a huge tank, lid, UV light, day heat light, night heat lamp, food, bedding, food and water dishes, thermometer/humidity gauge.  (Please remember that the lizard came to us with a tank already. You should have heard Mark’s sales pitch on why we needed the new one.)

$128. for the FIRST Vet. bill. Yes, you read that right…there was more than one. This included a shot of calcium for his metabolic bone disease; liquid calcium medicine that had to be administered 2x a day with a syringe and we had to hydrate him with fluids. This is the same man who when I was sick on the couch for a week, threw aspirin at me from across the room.

$42. to have silk worms, wax worms and butter worms FED EXED here from California! (I reminded him at this point that a new, healthy Bearded Dragon could be purchased for $3. less. I know…but I was having a bad day.)

$31. for the final Vet. bill and he didn’t even see the Lizard…just his poop! Yup. Mark not only scooped up, bagged and labeled lizard poop but he drove it over 40 minutes each way to present it with pride to be analyzed. This wasn’t just any lizard poop. This poop was joyously received after 3 days of worry, coaxing and massage. Don’t believe me? I have photos:

First, Mark gave Spiny Back a warm bath. He's lovingly holding his head above water so he doesn't drown.

Then Mark gently rubbed his belly with a soft tooth-brush. Hey, wait a minute...I'm the only one that uses a soft tooth-brush in this house. ARRGGGRRR...

"Hey look...he likes it!" "Yeah, well I'm gonna leave you two alone, Mark. This just went way past creepy."

...and we have poop, Ladies and Gentlemen. Mark came out of the bedroom with tears in his eyes, "Honey, great news! It worked! Spiny Back pooped!" That was 5 more words than he said to our families when our sons were born.

And the results of the fecal exam? Lots of parasites. Poor little guy was infested with them. (OK, so I felt a little bad for him. No one should ever have to go through that. Ew.)

So, despite the anti-parasite meds, the high protein food fed to him through a syringe and the gentle words of encouragement from my husband, Spiny Back was laid to rest on Jan. 10, 2010. He is survived by us and the Celebration Montessori Coral room. He will be missed.

Think this is the end of the story? Oh, no my friend. Turns out this was an elaborate plot by my husband:

Spiny Back wasn’t in the ground 3 hours and Mark says, “Hey, did you know Repticon is this weekend?” “No, but I’m guessing you did.” My stomach did a flip as my mind raced back over all the seemingly random events that led up to this moment.

This weekend, I stood in the doorway of my home, saying goodbye to my husband and son who were leaving with an empty aquarium and 2 tickets to Repticon clutched in their fists.

Everyone...this is Spike. Spike...this is everyone.