Snakes in Maine

Did you know that Maine has no venomous snakes? We were informed of this tidbit while house-hunting two summers ago, as if that bit of knowledge would suddenly cause us to say, “Oh, well in that case…we’ll take this house right now!”  Being a natural skeptic, I simply nodded my head at the realtor and smiled real pretty-like, reserving my sarcasm for the privacy of our car.

I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could absolutely know whether or not poisonous snakes exist in a state filled with vast amounts of wilderness. Not only that but, how exactly, does one keep a snake from entering the state? Is there some kind of sentinel standing watch at the border of Maine and New Hampshire? “Can I see your papers please?” The visiting venomous snake pulls out some forged papers claiming that he is a common milk snake and hands it to the snake sentinel. “I’m sorry, sir…your photo looks nothing like you, you’ll have to turn around. We don’t like your kind in Maine.”

I subjected David to a relentless monologue about Maine and snakes after the realtor provided that weird (suspicious) piece of trivia. I have a hard time letting things go and, just as the ride settled into a comfortable silence, I’d ask, “So…do snakes just stop at the state line? Is there some invisible poisonous snake-repelling force field?” or, “Maybe the poisonous ones choose to avoid Maine. So….what? Maine’s not good enough?” I huffed, “Those elitist jerks.” We tend to engage in these types of conversations on road trips. Mostly because we’re slightly twisted and also because we make each other laugh with ridiculous scenarios.

Have you ever visited Maine? The first thing that you see as you cross the state line is a giant sign proclaiming that this is a state that lives life the way it should be lived. Evidently, whoever decided that living “The Way Life Should Be” also decided that life shouldn’t involve venomous snakes.

This morning I walked out of the house to find all three children huddled at the side of the driveway. Upon hearing the screen door shut, they all looked up and began talking simultaneously in a mixture of unintelligible squeals and excited sentences punctuated by high-pitched voice cracking. “Wait…what did you say?” Joe stood and ran toward me holding his hand out, “We found a snake, Mom!” I realized that the hand he was holding out was wrapped in a brown snake and my heart momentarily skipped a beat. Thankfully, I remembered that suspicious claim about Maine having only non-venomous snakes. I’m obsessive enough to have checked the facts and, short of contacting the State Wildlife Agency to confirm, I’m going to proceed living life the way I should…without fear venomous snakes. (The last known sighting of a Timber Rattlesnake in Maine was in 1901.)

Here’s our new (and likely temporary) friend, Mr. Baby Snake a/k/a Bing Bong. I can’t make this shit up.

Of course, after warning that snakes should never be picked up unless you know they aren’t poisonous and even harmless snakes bite, I let Joe hold Mr. Baby Snake who showed no signs of aggression. Plus, his tiny little head wasn’t threatening at all. I suspect that his mouth was too small to get a serious hold on kid fingers. Besides, how could I resist this textbook -boy” moment of exploration? Look at him… I love that smile and his new, too-big-for-his-face front teeth. I’ll think about the orthodontist bills later. For now I’m going to relish his final days as a six-year-old, big crooked teeth and all.

After he’d begrudgingly boarded the school bus and the grumpy bus driver shot me the hairy-eyeball, I realized that I was standing in the driveway in my nightie and a sweater. Whatever… we were having a moment. Besides, she’s pulled up and caught us doing The Robot and playing dead at the end of the driveway, I think it’s safe to assume her opinion of our family has been formed, nightie or no-nightie. (Do people even use the word ‘nightie’ anymore?)

Anywho… Joe was gone and the snake, now renamed Bing Bong, was subject to two inquisitive little girls who proceeded to poke him and decorate him with ornamental leaves. Bing Bong needed to look pretty for his journey home.


*Other than a bit of psychological trauma, Bing Bong escaped unharmed.

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As a mother, there are some experiences that just aren’t cool. Children have habit of saying the worst things at the most inappropriate of times. For example, when sitting in a dark and quiet movie theater watching Tangled, don’t announce to the masses that the villainess’ rant “sounds just like you mommy!” Really? Let’s rewind the day, honey.

I believe that upon awakening, you dined on a breakfast of French toast with strawberries and crème fraiche. Yes, that’s right. I whipped up a batch of crème fraiche for the ungrateful little b…. ummm, girl.

If I recall correctly, we then played “Beauty Salon” in my bathroom. It wasn’t especially fun or easy to paint each of your teeny, tiny fingernails and toes that appalling shade of green, but I did it anyway. Because I love you. I let you slap the hideous black nail polish over the entire end of each of my fingers. Exactly when, by the way, did skin and knuckles become part of a manicure? Perhaps you picked black because you find that color fitting for a crazy, selfish villainess like me?

We then retired to your bedroom where I was forced to sit through a painfully long and indecisive viewing of each of your tacky princess gowns. Let me tell you something, sister…a few of them are looking a little rough around the edges. You’d put Cinderella to shame in some of those rags you call gowns. Alas, we settled on the (busted) pink one. You know, the one with all the holes? You looked simply stunning.

We bid the rest of the family a fond farewell and lunched at that establishment of fine cuisine known as “Bumblebees”. For those of you who aren’t as smart and beautiful as the Princess, that’s Applebee’s-but don’t try to correct her or all hell will break loose. (Not really, but a theme seems to have developed here.)

Of course, we ordered your favorite, chicken nuggets and French fries. Far be it from me to criticize your developing palate, but really…aren’t you getting at all tired of processed chicken parts? I’m sorry the French fries were covered with bwack fings (black things). That’s called pepper and no, I don’t know why they put bwack fings on the fwies at Bumblebees.

I hope you understand that your loud comparison of me to the evil woman in Tangled was both humiliating and, well…funny. I have no idea why you got embarrassed and bent out of shape when the entire upper portion of the theater laughed for a painfully long amount of time in the wake of your declaration. Once the theater patrons stopped laughing at us, I was cool. The amused looks and statements of “ha ha, that was the funniest thing I ever heard,” from the audience when the lights came up was awesome. Truly awesome.

Mostly, it was just a good day with my funny little four year old girl.

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The Bad Finger

Right around the time that she began walking and babbling, I had Cookie’s number. She quickly made it clear that she was a mischievous tease when at 12 months of age, she toddled over to Joe and swiped his favorite monkey. She dangled the monkey in front of him and then with an impish glint in her eyes, she took off as fast as her tiny legs would carry her. I sat back in awe and observed my little Cookie as she ran laps through our tiny apartment, maniacally laughing as Joe followed in hot pursuit. He was screaming too, but evidently his opinion of Gwen’s game wasn’t quite so high. Unfortunately for Joe, his protests only fed Gwen’s good time and encouraged future monkey swiping. It was right around that stage of her growth when I predicted that Gwen was destined to be our lightening rod for trouble.

The girl has no filter. She can swear like a sailor and on a few occasions, she has let a word or two fly. Thankfully, up to now any profanity-laced indiscretions have been reserved to the confines of the house or car. That is, until today. This afternoon I was slightly early for pre-school pickup which provided me with the opportunity to spy. (Don’t you love those “fly on the wall” moments when they have no idea that you are there and watching?) I stood outside of the preschool peering in through the big glass window, trying to remain unseen. I covertly scanned the roomful of noisy children until my eyes finally came to rest on a small group in the corner. They were oddly subdued in comparison to the rest of the kids. Of course, I was immediately suspicious and even more so when I realized that it was Gwen who was holding court. A group of boys sat in a semi-circle around her. Nothing good comes from an unchaperoned, silent and barely-moving brood of preschoolers.

I squinted through the glare on the window trying to figure out what they were doing. The boys were enrapt as they watched Gwen perform some trick with her hand. My angle was bad, casting a glare on the window. For the life of me I couldn’t see, not to mention that one of the kids was blocking my view to Gwen’s hands. I saw her mouth moving and she shook her head ‘no’ at the boy in front of her. I thought I saw her roll her eyes and sigh with impatience as she shifted to the left. Finally, Cookie was in full view and to my horror I realized that my sweet little Cookie, the girl wearing a fancy dress and a big red bow in her hair, was teaching a group of boys how one properly ‘flips the bird’.

Right about now you’re thinking, “Well, who in the world taught that sweet little girl how to give someone the finger?” Joe did it. He came home last week with a long and sordid tale about how “So and So” from his first grade class was sent to the Principal’s office for “showing his bad finger.” He sternly proceeded to demonstrate the bad finger for Dave and me in precise detail and inquired as to its meaning. We barely attempted to hide our laughter at his solemn display, but then explained that using “the bad finger” is akin to saying the “F” word. His eyes widened and he immediately dropped his bad finger, but not before looking at it with horror. It appears that Gwen simultaneously absorbed the conversation and missed the message that The Finger is BAD.

I recalled that moment of parental failure today in the seconds it took me to lunge toward the door. I was still helplessly mid-lunge as I watched Gwen demonstrate her new found expertise to the group of followers. While I was I still turning the doorknob, she held her right hand up and began closing her little fingers one by one. She even pushed the disagreeable stragglers down, allowing her middle finger to stand proud and tall. I saw a boy giggle and raise his hand to his mouth to stifle his laugh at her naughty ability. Finally, I was able to jerk the glass door open and call, “Hey, Cookie!” She gave a startled jump at my interruption and gazed at me blankly for a half second. A happy look of recognition washed over her features but almost instantaneously, fear flickered through her eyes. She knows my “I saw what you were doing” glare well. She stood up slowly and stepped away from the boys who were now wearing expressions of wide-eyed terror. I pulled Cookie to me and gave her a giant hug while whispering, “I saw that!” in her ear. She pulled her face away and peered into my eyes with that mischievous glint I know so well. I made sure her entourage overheard the stern reprimand that followed before they ran for the hills.

I’m sitting here expecting a phone call from an angry mother. Something tells me that if it comes, it will be the first of many in Gwen’s school career.

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Reinforcing Good Behavior: Making the Princess Movie Work For You.

You know those days when you’re out and about and you cross paths with “that” kid? Come on…you know the kid that I’m talking about. She can be found wreaking havoc in any number of public places. Usually, the lucky soul accompanying the little angel is either feigning cluelessness or wanting to melt into the earth from the embarrassment of it all. Please, don’t tell me you haven’t lingered to watch from the corner of your eye while smugly saying to yourself, “Self, thank GOD you don’t have a kid”, or “Self, thank GOD that isn’t your kid!”

Is it horrible that I’ve been known exploit another kid’s crappy behavior for my own gain? I’ve seen my own wide-eyed children absorbing the offending kid’s mannerisms and watching for the parental response. Believe me, they’re processing the situation and rationalizing future use of the bad behavior in question.

Friends, this is a golden opportunity! You should jump on the chance to use some other mommy’s moment of public shame for your own benefit. This is the time to reiterate that bad behavior is socially unacceptable. For example, if the mother in question appears close to tears, don’t offer her kind words of support. Instead you should quietly say, “Look at what that girl is doing! She’s making her mommy cry.” Throw in a bit of hand wringing and say, “Oh dear, that poor mommy is sooooo sad.” While you’re saying this, don’t be afraid to paste an overly dramatic, wistfully sad expression on your face. One that shows empathy for the mom. Shortly, you’ll notice that your princess loving preschooler can’t help but feel involved and somewhat conspiratorial. After all, her own mommy is suddenly adopting facial expressions normally used by her favorite princess. By the way, peppering your sentences with princess-style language can’t hurt either. Interjecting expressions like, “Oh, my!” or “The poor dear…” can only serve to underscore your princess-ish persona.

The “Sad Princess” Expression

Overly dramatic resonates with the preschool set. Remember, they’re accustomed to watching the painfully sad expression of the Disney Princess as she experiences death/destruction/abandonment/neglect/abuse. Plus, your child is still looking to you for behavioral cues. So by adopting the “Sad Princess” facial expression, your child is likely to mimic your sorrow and, if you’re lucky, might even look at you and say, “That little girl is being bad, right mommy?” Now, this is the important part…while you have her attention, let out a big sigh, sadly shake your head and slowly tear your eyes away from the Mom-In-Hell. Make eye contact with your child and with lightening speed, change your expression to one of sheer joy and say, “I’m sooooo glad that you are such a well behaved girl! You would NEVER do that your mommy.” Give her a kiss, lovingly stroke her hair and then adopt a thoughtful look of surprise. (One that you might see in cartoon character whose brilliant idea inexplicably causes a light bulb to appear over his head.)
The “I have a Great Idea” Expression
Yes, it is at this moment that you should employ the most powerful tool in your blatant exploitation of bad behavior. You might say, “Oh my! I have a WONDERFUL idea! You’ve been such a lovely girl, why don’t we get you a treat?” BAM!! You can’t beat it. I’ve just served up an incredible method for reinforcing appropriate social behavior. Simply make the tantrum throwing kid the villain and the mommy automatically becomes the helpless Princess. It works like a charm.
The “Super Happy, You’re Such a Good Girl” Expression
So, next time the kids ask to watch Mulan/Princess and the Frog/Beauty and the Beast, don’t think of it such simple terms as the 127th viewing. Approach it as research and study the mannerisms of those princesses. Practice them in the mirror and store them in your arsenal. Now…if only I could figure out a way to have little birdies and woodland creatures follow me around…
-Toddler Discipline: Effective and Appropriate Tactics (

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