Recently my son came home with a stuffed snake that he and his auntie bought at a garage sale while visiting family in MN. His snake was wrapped around his waist while he slept in the car, and upon arrival in the middle of the night, stayed with him into his bed while daddy effortlessly maneuvered his ever-changing 6 year old frame up into his bunk bed. When he awoke, still clutching the snake, he realized it was school so he feigned sleep, this revealed to us much later that evening. The day passed playing, napping, and cleaning. He was tucked in the following night, and looked for his dear snake amongst the Skylander blankets, Star Wars and Mo Willems books, Mine Craft light, and at least thirty stuffed animals. Upon finding his new treasure, he noticed that an eye had fallen off his creature. He ran into our bedroom, bawling, “My snake lost his eye. I can’t sleep. It’s all I can think about.” Humongous tears splayed his red face and he shook with real grief. I held him tight, rocked him as I used to years ago, and promising to take him to the fabric store the following day for a new eye, was able to calm him down. Daddy offered a googly eye from the basement craft supply, but my son said he would wait, and once more, daddy tucked him into bed.
As my husband and I talked, I made light of the situation, using the phrase Snake Eyes, from my own childhood GI Joe and ninja memories. My son is very compassionate, and I knew he was also tired, so after making a few jokes, we snuggled into the latest episode of Mad Men. It wasn’t until my yoga practice the next day that I realized what was causing my son to feel the way he did. It dawned on me that he has a similar emotional state that I have when it comes to helping others, or fixing things. Because he couldn’t fix his snake, it was really tough for him to deal with emotionally. Because his snake was missing an important part of his character, a piece that my son knew he could take care of somehow, he was visibly upset. As a teacher, I deal with this on a daily basis. I cannot fix all my students’ problems, and it hurts. It hurts so badly that sometimes that I want to run to my parents and cry, just like my son did, hoping they have the means to fix it and make it better. But I know better. Society has conditioned us that showing emotion is not ok, and I’m glad my son has not learned that yet. In fact, I hope he fights that lesson for as long as he can. It hurts so badly that sometimes that I just want to keep driving along I-75 toward Birch Run and shop at the outlet stores all day rather than take the Corunna Rd. Exit to Carman-Ainsworth high school. But my students need me. And my son’s snake, well, he needed help, too. So after school we stopped at the fabric store, picked out new eyes, then while my son played outside, I proudly and carefully popped in a new eye to one very old, but very precious, garage sale snake. I think he’s rightly earned his namesake, Snake Eyes.
Carrie Mattern has published a recent children’s story, “The Magician’s Daughter,” available online. Contact her for more information regarding speaking engagements, book signings, her other children’s books, and YA novella, All About Jane.