One dreary quarantine day, my 9-year-old son, Easton, randomly asked if he could get a pet snake.
I doubled over in a fit of laughter. He had to be joking, right? Wrong. He was serious. I quickly changed my tune to a very firm “No”. This was not happening.
A snake, in my house? No, thank you. I am not an animal person, nevermind a snake person. I do tend to be impulsive though which is how we ended up with two cats. I figure our cats round out our “perfect” family. (Ha, does such a thing even exist?) Since we already have the perfect family, we don’t need more pets. (Or kids for that matter). Furthermore, a snake seemed like a wild departure from your typical family pets. You know, cats, dogs, maybe a bunny or hamster to mix it up. But a snake!? That’s in a league of its own. A league born from most people’s worst nightmares.
The next day, my son asked for a pet snake again. Weird, I thought, he’s usually quick to move onto the next idea when one gets shut down. He resisted my denial a little more, but not with the typical, “But moooom” whining that all kids seem to be born with. He personified a car salesman on the used car lot, and suddenly I was being reeled into a negotiation I was ill-prepared for. His clear, concise arguments seemed much more thought out than I originally gave him credit for. His demeanor, while eager, was more driven by passion than whim. I paused and told him I would consider his request. This is my response when I need time and space to consider something he’s asking for. And this, friends, was a BIG ask.
The next day, while my son was watching snake videos on YouTube, I approached him to discuss if this was actually a serious request I should be considering.
I learned that he had stumbled onto a YouTube channel documenting life at a snake rescue in Wisconsin. He was enthralled with all things snake. Breeds, morphs (genetics basically), diet, habitat, and behavior. At this point, knowing my impulsive nature (that of course, my son has as well), I realized we needed to slow this down and make this decision as slowly and carefully as we could. Mind you, at this point I was still 99% convinced we were not getting a snake.
The next day I came up with a list of all the questions I personally had about keeping a pet snake. I knew absolutely nothing about pet snakes. The only “pet” snake I had ever been exposed to was in my 6th-grade science classroom. My teacher, Mr. Swierk had his snake’s terrarium in the classroom and he would let it out on occasion to slither around our feet. My list topped 20 questions. The catch was, I would not be responsible for researching the answers (yet). I handed my son the list and told him if he really wanted a pet snake, I needed answers. This was my attempt at shutting down his idea without me being the bad guy. The power was in his hands and I was banking on the research and report to be the insurmountable hurdle.
I was wrong. The very next day I received an email. My son had shared a word document with me. I opened it only to realize it was the report I had tasked my son with writing. This report blew me away. It was 10 pages! My son thoroughly answered all of my questions, and questions I hadn’t even thought of. He included links to items we would need to care for the snake. He provided names of local pet stores. He offered options for the types of beginner snakes we could get, including pros and cons for each. I was amazed, impressed, proud, and lastly, horrified. What was supposed to be the end of this snake idea turned out to be the beginning of our journey as snake owners.
After reading the report I approached Easton. I thanked him for his diligence. I then slowly and humbly admitted I was open to the possibility of getting a snake. He immediately spun into action. Despite my careful wording, his impulses took over. I needed to reel this back in. Information is great, but there were still big feelings to process and many details to thoroughly consider before we could move forward. I established a two week waiting period. During the two weeks, we would continue to learn about pet snakes, discuss how having a pet snake would impact our lives, and he would have to get one parent fully on board with the idea. While I was open, I was still very reluctant. My husband thought my son and I had both lost our minds. Which was saying a lot since he’s the “animal person” in our family and had some mildly unusual pets growing up.
If at the end of two weeks Easton still wanted a pet snake, and one parent was on board, we would begin forming a plan to move forward.
On the first night of the two week waiting period, my husband and I settled in after the kids were all tucked in bed. I looked at him and said, “Is this real life? Are we really considering getting a pet snake!?” We laughed at the journey parenthood has been for us. With 3 kids, we thought we were doing pretty well and cruising along. Then the pandemic hit. And now, we were actually talking about getting a pet snake. Wild times for sure.
During the two week waiting period, I had some hard conversations with my son. This was a big deal, and I needed him to understand that. My son is 9. Some snakes can live up to 30 years in captivity, meaning this snake would surpass his childhood responsibility. While I may come around to having a snake pet, I plan to be kid-free (as in, they’ve moved out) by the time I’m 50, and if I’m kid-free, I better be snake-free too. We discussed the fact that I would need Easton to take the snake with him when he moves out. My son expressed a deep-rooted fear of failure during this conversation. He became more and more upset at the thought of moving out and having to care for the snake alone. He worried how he’d make the money to afford costs for food, terrarium bedding, etc.
This provided an opportunity for me to support him on a deeper level than I even recognized was needed.
Other conversations detailed what the actual schedule of care is for snakes. Where should we get a snake? How do you even find a pet snake in Vermont? Is there such a thing as a snake vet, again, in Vermont? What if we lose power in one of our frigid Vermont winters? We tackled these logistics together. We came up with a back-up plan for the back-up plan. We discussed the ideal environment for snakes and what could work if needed. Lastly, we narrowed down the exact breed we wanted. Initially, we looked over corn snakes and researched king snakes and ball pythons. I was hesitant about ball pythons because they were the biggest option and are known to be finicky eaters. But they were the most docile and enjoyable to handle. Kingsnakes, however, will eat anything including other snakes (gasp) but because they have a strong feeding response, they are known to bite owners even with regular handling. We soon realized king snakes were the most difficult “common” pet snake to come by in Vermont. We returned our search to corn snakes and ball pythons.
During the second waiting week, we firmed up the decision to get a ball python. You should be careful with where you get your pet snake so you know it’s history (for feeding, preferred bedding, shedding, handleability, etc).
While I was worried about the finickiness for feeding a ball python, I was firm with my son that I would only consider one with a good feeding history (consistently accepting frozen-thawed prey, never live).
When we neared the end of the two week waiting period, I checked in with my husband again. While I had taken the lead and seemed the obvious “on board” parent choice, I needed my husband by my side. Somewhere along the way, my anxiety had spiked. Animal care is foreign to me. I had researched quite a bit on my own (to fact-check Easton’s report), and because it was all so new it felt very overwhelming. While trying to calm my racing thoughts by talking through them with my husband, he remarked how I seemed more anxious about the possibility of caring for a relatively easy to care for animal than I had before the births of our very needy human children. I had to laugh. I have kept 3 small humans alive under some far from ideal circumstances, at times. I’ve dealt with every 2-hour feedings, endless dirty diapers, bodily fluids, sleepless nights, and the noise! My goodness, they make so much noise!
Yet here I was, worried to tears about a quiet, 3lb, eat once a week, maybe poop once a week pet snake. (Yes, snakes poop.) After seeing my newfound passion (presented as anxiety) my husband reluctantly agreed to get on board with the snake idea.
When the two weeks ended, I knew in my heart that not only did my son still want a snake, but now I wanted one too. He had me on board. The final task I had set forth for my son, he had accomplished. With perseverance, passion, and enthusiastic curiosity he convinced his anti-animal mom to allow him to get a pet ball python snake.
So there we were, almost 3 weeks since the initial, seemingly outlandish request and now we were planning to get a snake. In my naivety, I assumed being in Vermont, without access to many smaller, local pet stores, finding a ball python that fit our needs would take time and patience. I prepped my son for this probability. I encouraged him to be picky since this would be an animal we would have for decades, so we shouldn’t just choose the first one we met. With this in mind, we started making calls to pet stores near us until we found a likely match.
We found our dream pet snake, a Spotnose ball python, aptly named Spotti. The next two hours were a blur of choosing everything we would need to create Spotti’s ideal terrarium habitat. When we piled our supplies in the car and buckled in, we took a collective deep breath. One week later we would return to pick up our sweet Spotti.
In the meantime, we had work to do. The only “tricky” piece of snake care is perfecting their habitat.
They need a “hot side” and “cool side” in their terrarium with specific temperatures and humidity to regulate their body temperature, amongst other details. We were new to snake ownership and all the research in the world means nothing if you can’t create the ideal environment to keep your snake alive and happy. It wasn’t easy at first. My son and I learned the hard way that we feed off each other’s stress and need to control things. Lucky for us, my husband is a peacekeeper by nature, and with his help, we succeeded in creating the perfect home for Spotti. It also helped my husband feel more involved and I noticed he was getting a little excited about Spotti too.
We finally got to bring our pet snake home. He is the piece of our family we didn’t realize we needed.
We are now through the first few weeks of snake ownership and over all the hurdles (new handler comfort, cleaning the terrarium, first feed, first shed). My younger children love Spotti. They regularly ask to see Easton’s pet snake. My husband and I, in bonding with Spotti, have bonded more with our son.