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Wednesday, January 16, 2013


For me, the #1 thing I learned from Mia Farrow's awesome autobiography "What Falls Away" (read it, so worth it) is that a person is allowed to get as many pets as she wants.

Mia Farrow and her glorious bunch of kids had oodles of pets of various kinds, so I feel like that affords me the license to do exactly the same. (Although I don't think we're zoned for donkeys.)

But what about our four cats?

Prince, as I mentioned in the previous post, is a predator extraordinaire. Otto will occasionally stand over a rat in the yard, looking really proud, but I've always suspected that he was taking credit for Prince's work. Rehnquist is so chubby and ridiculous that he only takes down low-hovering hummingbirds. Diamond primarily focuses on ping-pong balls and marker lids.

Suffice to say, we have a predator overpopulation problem in our home. So: no rodents. No hamsters or guinea pigs, no rats or mice. And no birds, as I tried to mix cats and parakeets and the results were awful and I had to buy a new vacuum cleaner. So never again.

And I'm allergic to dogs, plus we don't have the money to buy a fancy hypoallergenic dog then deal with the preposterous vet bills and dog walking and washing and poop bags.

Which brings me to the newest pet idea in our household: a reptile.

YES, cats kill reptiles. At our old house, Prince used to haul lizards into the house, leaping in through the bathroom window with a large squiggly reptile more than once. I recall one day moving all of the furniture in Chebbles' room in an attempt to exorcise the foot-long lizard he'd deposited in there.

But my thought was: a tortoise. Wouldn't a tortoise be awesome? They are fairly tough, and they are vegetarian, we could feed them all of our veggie scraps! A tortoise could stroll prehistorically through our yard being all reptilian and educational, I thought.

So I took the girls to the East Bay Vivarium in Berkeley. There, we viewed adorable Russian Tortoises and discussed their care and feeding with the exceedingly lovable staff. We bought the DVD that teaches you how to set up a living space for your tortoise, and debated the merits of various enclosures.

Unfortunately I took too long in the East Bay Vivarium, delighting over all of the tortoise gear and pellets, because Gigi wandered down another aisle and before I knew it, THIS was happening (see photo right):

Yes, as my father pointed out later, I should be worried about the fact a four foot ball python was wrapping itself around my middle child's neck. But that's not at all what I was thinking when I saw this. It was: look at how happy this child is.

Gigi is a fabulous kid. She smells good, she's hilariously imaginative, she has a passion for tools and home repair, for movies and everything about animals, particularly big cats. She loves her sisters, and gamely plays "let's pretend we're cars" with Birdy, even though that's not her first choice.

But Gigi cannot fake a smile to save her life. She is utterly genuine, and some of that time, that means she feels like life is too much. When Glennon Melton writes about her own sensitivities, I feel like I finally understand it when I look in Gigi's eyes. Sometimes everything feels like too much, and it's especially hard to be four years old and feel like everything in the world is too much.

And then a woman who works at the East Bay Vivarium drapes an adult ball python around your neck and you are OK. You are grounded by this alien creature who investigates your face and hair with its flickery tongue.

Gigi peppered me with a thousand snake questions on the drive home, and we have now gone back two more times so she can hold snakes. She has started a snake fund. Today we bought a DVD about how to take care of a snake (to add to our growing "caring for reptiles" audio-visual collection), and we considered a temperate corn snake instead of a tropical ball python. Today I actually considered, for the first time, the notion of feeding rodents to a reptile. And Gigi wants to call it "Sally."

It skeeves me out on several levels, the notion of feeding a snake, but I was reassured by a young man at the Vivarium that I could always opt for "Hot Dead Mice" for our snake -- be it a python or a corn snake -- I could thaw out frozen rodents and dangle them in front of the snake with pincers once a week. "You get used to it," he told me, "It's very circle-of-life."

This was NOT my idea. But I'm warming to it. And because she's a sweet kid, Gigi told me she wouldn't mind if I also wanted to go ahead and get a tortoise for myself, and we can "put a tag on its cage so everyone knows it's yours, Mama."

Thanks, kid. I love you.

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