By Mordechai Schmutter

I think I have to figure out how to take care of a pet snake.

I didn’t ask for this snake. No one asks for a snake. It’s the kind of thing that just happens. For some reason, kids can’t find an animal somewhere and then just go inside and say, “Hey, we saw an animal.”

Take a picture. It’ll last longer. Hopefully.

It all started when my son Daniel walked into the kitchen with a tiny brown snake that he’d found mowing the lawn on erev Rosh Hashanah. (To be clear, the snake wasn’t mowing the lawn; the kids were mowing the lawn. Though both scenarios are just as unlikely.) And instead of deciding to mow the snake down, like a normal person, he picked it up and brought it into our kitchen. With his bare hands. And someone asked, “Aren’t you afraid that it’s going to bite you?” And he said, “It’s a baby. Babies don’t bite.” And my wife said, “Yes, they do.” And my son instantly dropped the snake. Then we had to chase it around the kitchen floor for a bit before it could figure out how warm and safe and well-fed it would be if it lived under our stove. And I’d have to stop cooking barefoot, which was never a great idea in the first place.

So apparently, lesson one that we got in taking care of snakes is that snakes move very fast when you’re trying to grab them. (The fact that they don’t have legs does not stop them at all.) Especially since you’re not only trying to grab them, but you’re also trying to make sure they don’t grab you. Lesson two was that the safest place to hold a snake so that it won’t bite you is as close to the head as possible. That’s a fun spot to grab for in a rush.

I don’t have a lot of experience with snakes. My wife had a few snakes growing up that her mother had caught out on their lawn. So that’s where my kids got it from. Whereas I’m not even sure that my mother would come into our house if she knew we had a snake. Though I guess we could always not tell her. Let it be a surprise.

So far, we have no real idea what kind of snake it is. We assume it’s a garter snake. We also assume it’s not poisonous, because I don’t think there are any poisonous snakes native to New Jersey. We never hear on the news that someone in New Jersey got bitten by a poisonous snake, although that just might mean it’s so common that the media doesn’t care anymore.

We also don’t think that this is the kind of snake that can wrap around you and asphyxiate you, mostly because it’s maybe six inches long. At best, it can cut circulation off to your finger.

My son Heshy is really excited about all this. Daniel has been kind of done with it ever since he found out baby snakes have teeth. But a bunch of Heshy’s friends have lizards, and he’s been asking for some kind of reptile for a while now, and I didn’t want to say no to this reptile that he found for free, because I’m the one who accidentally killed both of his goldfish that, if not for me, would have died of starvation about a year earlier than they did. Also, I find that sometimes, as a parent, instead of being the bad guy with these things, the idea is to just take the pet in until it dies, and then put it on the kids.

“No, I will not get you another reptile. Not after what happened with the snake.”

And anyway, my wife and I figured that if we said they couldn’t bring it into the house, the kids would just keep it in a box in the backyard and attempt to take care of it without adult supervision. And this is what our Rosh Hashanah would have looked like.

So we brought it in. But the main reason my wife and I didn’t want to allow it in was that every time my kids find a pet, it’s generally our job to look up how to feed it. We don’t have time for this on erev yom tov; we have to figure out how to feed us. Can the snake wait a few days?

And it’s not just food with this thing. We also have to figure out how to store it in some kind of container that has holes for it to breathe, but not big enough holes for it to slither out. That is a very small margin, especially considering how tiny this snake is.

So right now we’re keeping it in a drawer. Not an actual drawer. A semi-opaque drawer that we’d kept when the nightstand it was a part of fell apart. The kids lined the bottom of the drawer with dirt and branches, a bowl of water, a toilet-paper tube, a small length of pipe, and, for some reason, two plastic forks. And on top of the drawer, we have an old window screen that is significantly larger than the drawer, and it’s weighed down by a box of promotional mugs that my wife got from her boss for some reason. In case we thought we had no use for the mugs. We’re pretty sure the snake can’t lift the screen, unless it figures out how to prop up the forks.

From what I understand, most people with snakes keep them in fish tanks. We never had a fish tank, but we have a fish bowl, and I actually wanted to keep it in there, especially since it’s taller than the drawer. But my wife said that amount of horizontal space is too small for the snake to move around. It’s not like a fish that can also move up and down, baruch Hashem. So we set up a whole big drawer that takes up an entire end table in our living room, and the snake basically always hangs out in the pipe.

We think.

To be honest, I spend a lot of time these days worrying about where the snake is. Not because I care about the snake, but because I care about it getting out.

See, that’s a huge difference between owning snakes and owning fish. With fish, every time you glance over at the bowl, you see the fish. With the snake, we spend a lot of time hunched over the drawer trying to figure out where it is, usually in a slight panic. It’s not like we could fill the enclosure with water and have it float around. This thing lives on the dirt, and sometimes under the dirt, and it’s the same color as everything in its habitat except the fork. So we often find ourselves taking off the screen and moving things around and raking at the dirt with the fork to make sure the snake is still in there. Maybe that’s its strategy.

It’s like being at the zoo, where you’re constantly squinting at the enclosures and trying to find where each animal is, except in this case, it’s largely to figure out whether our animal escaped. Maybe the zoo should give out giant forks.

Because that’s the other thing about fish. Even if you momentarily don’t see your fish, you’re not suddenly afraid that the fish are going to escape their bowl and hide under the furniture. And then crawl out when you’re sleeping and bite you. Though as far as I can tell, this snake really doesn’t bite. At least not yet. I’m more worried that it’s going to crawl into my mouth when I’m sleeping and go to sleep.

But that changes nothing. Fish don’t escape their tank and then have you always looking over your shoulder in case they climb into your mouth while you’re sleeping. Also, the snake would just slither up quietly behind you. You wouldn’t even hear it coming. Whereas with the fish, you’d first hear a “Flop … Flop … Flop …” coming toward you.

But is there really any other pet that you constantly look for in its cage, and then when you see it, you breathe a sigh of relief?

I mean besides mice.

Whenever one of my kids finds a spider, he feels the need to chase the others with it. But with snakes, the best prank isn’t to chase anyone. It’s to take it out of its tank without telling anyone and quietly put it somewhere else so that everybody goes crazy looking for it and then goes to sleep with tape over their mouths. With air holes, of course, that are big enough to breathe through, but not big enough for the snake to crawl through. Something like what beekeepers wear whenever they decide to take a nap on the job.

But for now, we’re doing pretty well, in that, so far, it’s only escaped once. That we know of. And we can’t quite figure out how it did so. Baruch Hashem, by then we’d figured out how to grab it without worrying about getting bitten. I wore gardening gloves. So we’re learning. We’d better, because I still haven’t gotten a chance to look up how to take care of this thing. I have to keep checking if we still have it.

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.

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