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Jewish World Review June 1, 2000 / 27 Iyar, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Learning to love reptiles?

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
I HAD SPIED the beast a few days ago, arriving home in the morning. There on the side of the street was a huge turtle, weighing about 15 pounds and measuring about 2-and-a-half feet from nose to tail. The children, alas, were all in school. What a shame. They would have been thrilled with this visitor to the neighborhood.

We've had snakes, both benign and poisonous, around our house. In fact, it is a tribute to the power of boys, or the power of motherhood, or both, that I have almost totally overcome my aversion to snakes since becoming the mother of three reptile-loving sons. When we visit the zoo, I, who used to get chills down my spine at the very sight of a snake's picture in a book, am now quite content to spend almost an hour in the reptile house, watching the anacondas, pythons and Komodo dragons do the limited things that reptiles do. Yup, I agree with the boys, that is the handsomest cobra I've ever seen.

My desk is next to a window, and one morning as I wandered over to begin working, I saw a large black snake coiled up on the windowsill. Outside, of course. If the snake had been inside, I just might have lost my composure.

As it was, I calmly went off to fetch the children, who were delighted with the guest.

On one occasion, clearing away some underbrush from the backyard, workmen came across a copperhead. Thankfully, they were quick on the draw and crushed its skull with a shovel. But its triangular head was unmistakable.

The tree man told me the copperhead was too small to kill an adult, though it could probably have killed a small child. How reassuring.

Anyway, this is the long way to explain that I have come to appreciate black snakes. According to our neighbors, they raid the nests of copperheads and eat the babies. (If this is not true, please do not write. I prefer to believe it.)

Yesterday morning returning from his daily jog, my husband announced that he had spotted the turtle down the street. Jonathan David, and Benjamin -- who have been known to take 15 minutes to don just one sock -- threw on their clothes in record time and raced out the door to see this miracle. I stayed home to work on a speech. When they returned, they gave me the news: It was a lady turtle! And they had witnessed her laying her eggs! You don't see that every day. I was excited for them (and relieved that they didn't ask to take some of the eggs home).

I had drawn the line, you see, at bringing reptiles into the house as pets. My boys thought a snake or lizard would be ideal. I demurred. "If we get a pet," I told them, "and I emphasize 'if,' it will not have scales or coils. It will be warm and furry."

That was before the fish. Well, I told myself, fish can't escape and slide into your underwear drawer. They are clean and confined. But neither do they make very interesting pets. The privilege of feeding the fish soon lost its luster. And the darn things are fragile. After a number of untimely fish funerals in the bathroom, we dismantled the fish tank.

But the children continued their stealth campaign for a real pet. One brought his class hamster home for the weekend, and another proudly introduced us to his class hedgehog. My resistance was worn down with the skill of professional interrogators. It wasn't so much that they promised to do all the work (I may be sentimental, but I'm not stupid) as that they so clearly had so much love to give a pet. For our oldest child in particular, who has some challenges with social skills, a pet seemed practically therapeutic.

But it would be small, I told myself. And it wouldn't shed. And it won't be a puppy because they make messes and eat your new shoes.

Well, in five weeks we will bring home a golden retriever puppy. The reptile-lovers are beside themselves with excitement -- and I must admit, so am I.


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