GROWING PAINS: Mom Enters Snake Pit Of Pet Compromises

We had a nice family outing to the pet market Saturday with the vague intention of getting a little hamster or splashing out on a goldfish and returned home with a large, black, and as it turned out later, vicious snake. I still can't quite work out how this came about, except that our eldest daughter Sasha had extracted a promise from me last month that in return for the indignity of being moved into a spacious flat with her own room, she should either be allowed to paint the walls black or get a snake. Not of course that I'm a weak mother who is ruled by her willful children. Far from it.

The fact is that when the snake vendor - a rather sleazy looking gentleman with long hair and a dog-fur hat pulled Fluffy out of his box and wrapped him around my neck, I was a goner. I can't quite explain the attraction of having a legless reptile creeping around one's person in a snowstorm, but the fact remains that within minutes, I was digging in my purse and asking how many mice we should feed it a month. We were assured by Dog-Hat that Fluffy wasn't poisonous.

He reeled off some long Latin name that didn't sound at all like "grass" or "corn" snake to me and then pulled open its jaws to show us it had no fangs. So we were all the more surprised when, on our return home, it bit my husband Kolya in the wrist (where the pulse is) leaving a two-pronged, bleeding wound.

While I was sucking out what might have been venom, Sasha was busy making excuses for Fluffy, saying that anyone would be cross at having been stuffed into a small coca-cola bottle for the transit home.

Kolya refused to go to the hospital for a checkup, so there was nothing left to do but settle Fluffy into a comfy aquarium at the foot of Sasha's bed, with lots of stones, a little lamp at one end and a hidey hole at the other and wait to see if either of us succumbed to the effects of snake venom. So far, so good, but Fluffy hasn't been so lucky.

Last night Sasha couldn't resist taking him out for an ooze around the room and he rapidly slithered off into some nook or cranny and has not been seen since.

This is not a pleasant situation. I went to bed last night wondering if I was going to wake up with a snake gliding across my neck, and every time I pick up a pile of clothes I wonder what might be inside. Come to think of it, Dog-Hat didn't actually know if Fluffy was male or female so he (she) might finally emerge with a nest full of little ones.

And what if he squirms down to the neighbors and drops into their cornflakes? The possibilities are endless. So it's back to the snake hunt.

Any volunteers?