Monday, January 3, 2011

How to Teach Your Kids Not to Play with Rattlesnakes

How to Teach Your Kids Not to Play with Rattlesnakes


Pam, Renee and I, fellow writers, challenged each other to bite the bullet, to submit a piece we had written to a publisher. I said, “That’s really scary.” “How hard can it be?” asked Pam. “Put a stamp on an envelope and mail it. Let’s do it by the end of this month.” This is easy? Mail off a piece of my soul? Or that’s how it feels to me. Then wait, chewing my nails, for my baby to either be “accepted” or “rejected”?

Renee reminded us how important it is to know our market. She considered sending her story about a mother beleaguered by her darling offspring to Parents Magazine. But she found that what they were looking for was “How to” articles, such as “How to teach your children not to play with copperheads.” “I can write that,” I thought. So I snatched the idea. Who better qualified to write this than I? But I’ll change copperheads to rattlesnakes.

This will be easy. I won’t have to do much research. I have the qualifications. I live in snake country. I once was a child. Never did I play with a rattlesnake, or for that matter, a copperhead. I call that on-the-job-training. To add to my expertise, I am the mother of grown children, none of whom played with rattlesnakes. So my teaching was successful. All I will have to do is dredge my memory for how I taught my children not to play with rattlesnakes.

My own training harkens back to my early childhood in southern Indiana . I was balanced on the hitching bar of the Farmall tractor as my Dad drove across our creek on the way to feed the pigs. I watched the water splash beneath the tires. My Dad spotted the water moccasin slithering through the creek, reached back and jerked me up onto the seat with him. He didn’t say a word. I felt him shaking. I instinctively knew that I was not to play with water moccasins. In fact, ever since that eventful morning, whenever I spot a snake of any variety, harmless or not, the sight elicits a sharp intake of breath and a simultaneous scream. You say it is not possible, to scream, an outlet of breath, and gasp, a sharp intake, at the same time? Want me to show you?

My daughter, my firstborn, learned to crawl in snake country. We lived a quarter mile from a rattlesnake den. My Siamese cat regularly brought me dead rattlesnake gifts, thoughtfully leaving them on the step into the kitchen. I showed them to my babe in arms and calmly instructed, in a soothing tone of voice, “See, Sweetheart. We don’t touch those nasty things.”

When she was three and a half, and we were living on the old Riggin place north of town, Dee Dee had her first snake memory/experience. She ran down the front steps heading for her little Shetland she called Pony, saddled and tied to the picket fence. As she tells the story, between her and Pony a giant rattlesnake, taller than she was, reared up, opened its mouth over a foot wide, hissed and rattled furiously. She screamed. Her Dad, gun in hand, came running, and shot the snake. To this day she has never played with snakes.

However, her good sense skipped the next generation. Both her children think snakes are cute. One day, when Jessica was four, she ran into the house, an entire nest of garter snakes cradled in her arms, excited about her new-found friends. Annie, now nearly five, has harbored Sally the salamander for over a year, so I am not sure any lessons will be effective with her. But, for the record, last spring she found her first snake in the shower stall. She tried to put it in the tank with Sally, but her father caught it in time and released it into the backyard wilderness.

My son Ben recalls that his first snake encounter came shortly after his kindergarten class had constructed paper snakes as an art project. He and his inseparable little friend Chantelle, both magnets for trouble, one frigid day were out exploring the foothills of the Little Rockies where we then lived, when they captured a slow-moving snake. They brought it back for Show and Tell. Ben tells me that I “freaked out”. I am sure that I calmly sat him down for a lesson about “good” snakes and “bad” snakes. He admits he never has had any other inclination to play with or otherwise handle poisonous snakes, so obviously my lecture was successful.

I know Parents Magazine will be delighted to receive my article. Now that I have done all the research, all I have to do is write it. “How to” articles are all the rage. With my talent and skills, I should be able to supplement my income handsomely. So when I finish my article on how to teach children not to play with snakes, I think I’ll write one on “How to Transform Your Life for Fun and Profit”.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

December 16, 2010

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