Sarah-Maize2Every parent has lived with a pet she did not want. In my case, it was an albino corn snake named Maize.

Maize was beautiful as snakes go with a lovely pattern in shades of deep rose, coral, and salmon. She was small at first and adorable as creatures are in infancy. She belonged to my daughter, who became a vegetarian and a reptile enthusiast in her freshman year of college. Maize traveled to and from school in a plastic box carrier.

Then came the semester my daughter matriculated in Ecuador, and Maize came to live with me. While my daughter sent home photos of her playing with boa constrictors in the rain forest, I was buying pinkies at the local pet store. Pinkies are Maize’s preferred meal. They are one-day-old, hairless, dead mice babies kept in a brown bag in my freezer. They look like pink embryos next to the ice cream and frozen peas.

One thing I knew from the moment I became a parent: I would go to great lengths for my children. Just like in my novel Book of Mercy, where parents censor books, for the sake of the children. They get into fights with their spouses, for the sake of the children. They throw pies, for the sake of the children. They reveal deep, dark secrets, for the sake of the children.

On the back cover of Mercy, it says, “There are more things worth fighting for than you can ever imagine.” One of the things we fight, for the sake of our children, is ourselves. You see, I (for no good reason) fear snakes. When I meet a snake on the hiking trail, it is like a scene from a cartoon—we both leap up and run (or wiggle) in the opposite direction. But there I was, during that long semester, dropping frozen mice snacks into Maize’s cage and, because my daughter insisted, taking Maize out for the occasional exercise.

I never fell in love with the experience of slowly lifting Maize from its cage and letting it wind its way around my body. Still, I turned my body into a snake’s playground because I certainly wasn’t going to let it loose in the house. Do you know how fast those suckers can get away from you? And then, I’d live in true terror of waking up one morning with Maize curled in my hair.

I took on a snake for a housemate, for my kid. That’s what parents do.

Memories of Maize came back this week for two reasons: I spotted a snake on a Facebook page that looked just like Maize; it was wearing a pink sweater. The same day, I saw a comic of a snake reading a book titled “Anyone Can Knit.” Ahh, if only that were true. One of my dreams has always been to sit in my cozy, snake-free house and knit something more intricate than a potholder, like maybe a sweater with only two arms.


If you would like to read how parents stay sane while their child studies abroad, click here.

Have you lived with a pet you didn’t want? Leave a comment.