For the past four months we have been preparing to have a sensitive conversation with our kids. When their grandparents died we were so blindsided by grief that we didn’t tell them anything. We shielded them so we could have time to figure out how to do the conversation right.

Part of Adam wanted to wait a really long time to tell them. We never wanted their deaths to be a secret, but Adam wanted to spare them the pain of knowing. Someone wise reminded him that our job as parents is to prepare our children, not protect them. Awful things will happen to them and around them as they grow and they need to have the skills and knowledge to deal. The idea that we can protect them from everything is unrealistic. So when it comes to learning about death and their grandparents we are planning on preparing them (a post on that to come).

So while we’re preparing for tomorrow, I had a moment of pure Mama Bear protection yesterday. I sent Ellis out into the yard to let the chickens out of their coup. He came right back inside and said “Mom there is a huge snake in the yard.” We have practiced this report in theory, but we had yet to have a live situation. I was very grateful that my older articulate son who explores with his eyes, but is very caution with his hands, was the one to find the snake. As opposed to the younger, infinitely curious and grabby child.

We get some really big (like 5 or 6 ft) black snakes from time to time. The black snakes, although large and intimidating, are harmless and in some cases helpful because they eat rats and claim a territory that keeps the big bad copperheads away. I assumed this would be a big black snake.

It was not.

This snake was sand colored with darker hourglass shaped patches. It was almost invisible in the grass. It was a poisonous copperhead. In our backyard. In the middle of the day. With its head up and mouth open. And my curious baby was heading towards it.

I had to do what mamas have done since the dawn of time- protect my young at the most basic level. So even though I routinely rescue bugs from our house and release them back into the wild there was no middle ground in this situation. While I have been preparing for months just to talk about the concept of death, now I was going to give them a live demonstration.

I have vivid memories of cowboys killing rattlesnakes at the Wyoming ranch we would go to every summer. They would strike them with their thick rodeo belt buckles and then put the heel of their boot on the head and pull the body off. One time they tossed a rattle for my brother and me to keep.

So I channeled my inner cowgirl. I improvised with a shovel at first, but that turns out to be an advanced technique for a novice snake killer. So I stepped on its head and pulled off its body. To further complicate the idea of death the snake’s headless body continued moving for over ten minutes.

The boys were unfazed by the snake incident, but I was high on adrenaline for the rest of the day. Go figure. Protecting them turned out to be a way to prepare them for dealing with future snakes and future deaths. At the very least they (and I) know we can handle whatever slithers our way.