Alex in the spotlight

I have one more letter to my children to write, but I’m going to hold off a day on Nicholas’s. Yesterday was quite a day. I got an unexpected hour all to myself, which I spent on the MKT trail, and then last night Alex claimed center stage.

We all went outside after dinner while Christian mowed and I raked. (Our mulching mower has bit the dust.) Obviously, raking with three kids outside involves a lot of interruptions, and midway through the evening, as I hurried to attend to one of them, I discovered an injured garter snake rippling lethargically at the edge of the garage.

Harmless it may be; still, it’s a snake, and who likes finding a snake in their garage? Alex caught me staring at it, trying to suppress the natural panic and a natural aversion to suffering, and decide what to do about it. He came running over. “What is that, Mommy?”

“It’s a garter snake,” I said. “Don’t worry, it’s a nice snake.” (Problem A: I used the words nice snake. The word nice means more to our deeply imaginative child than it-won’t-hurt-you. It means a friend, like the menagerie of stuffed animals he sleeps with.) “And it’s hurt, anyway. I think Daddy must have hit it with the lawn mower.” (Problem B: draw attention to the fact that it’s hurt by human folly.) I steered him away by the shoulders. “Don’t worry about it, Alex. Go play.”

Riiiiight. Next thing I knew, Alex was running down the sidewalk toward me, wailing incoherently. Close behind him were the neighbors, who were shouting, “Alex! Alex!” Now, he and this neighbor boy had a fight the other night, so I jumped to conclusions and lit into him. But then the babble cleared enough for me to realize he was saying, “M-m-mommy, I don’t want the snake to be dead!”

He was inconsolable, and right then, as I held my big boy, who is too big to be held as he wanted to be on my shoulder, I realized something: my boy has a heart for animals. And not just the cute and cuddly ones, either. A few weeks ago, he dissolved into tears because his cousin was coolly and methodically pulling the legs off a daddy long legs (I was horrified, too). And a few days ago, my mother brought him a caterpillar. He was so excited to have a pet, and heartbroken when it escaped its spice bottle prison. I tried to comfort him by telling him that it had run away to become a beautiful butterfly, but I don’t think it helped much.

In any case, the snake clearly had to be dealt with. So I sent Alex to sit on the steps while I tried to scoop it up with the snow shovel. But it took off and disappeared into the gap at the edge of the concrete in about three seconds, which made me think maybe it wasn’t as hurt as it looked. I called Alex back and told him the snake was going to be okay; it went back home to get better. He sniffed, “I hope it finds a snake band-aid!”