My son wants a snake for his birthday.

I did not say yes, and I did not say no. I am relieved he has stopped asking for an Xbox. I said, “What does this hypothetical snake eat?”

“Mice,” he said.

Of course! “Live or dead?” I said.

“Dead,” he said. “But you have to put the mouse in boiling hot water for a minute.”

“So it will seem warm to the snake? Like it’s still alive?”

“I guess so,” he said.

“Which of my pots were you planning to use for that?”

That’s when he gave me the look that means he is not in the mood for my jokes. He insists that he will feed the snake, and clean the cage, and do whatever else needs to be done to take care of it. He was not even crossing his fingers.

Now as we all know, when a child convinces you to get him a dog, for instance, by promising to do these things, it may be well-intentioned and true at the time, but it’s not what actually happens. No, what actually happens is the parents end up in charge of everything to do with the dog. Wait—did I say the parents? I meant the mother. And when I said “everything,” I primarily meant cleaning up after the dog when it throws up on the carpet. Not that I would mind taking care of a dog. In fact, many times I’ve thought of encouraging my kids’ desire for a dog by pretending that I don’t want one, when in fact I would like to have a dog probably more than anything else. But I’m realistic. I have no time for a dog right now.

So, for now, a snake seems to me less complicated and demanding as a starter lesson in responsibility for another living creature, and I’m willing to put a little more faith in the outcome. It’s an opportunity to teach consequences.

A couple of years ago, we bought tadpoles and raised them in a terrarium pond. They grew into little spotted frogs. We were supposed to feed them crickets. Live crickets. However, when we dropped the crickets into the terrarium, they would immediately leap into the pond and drown themselves. I think this was intentional. Or they were very stupid crickets, because even when they saw twelve other crickets already floating in the pond, their little soggy carcasses losing limbs right and left, they would leap right into the water anyway. So, in order for the frogs to get enough to eat, we had to get more and more and more crickets. I began to wonder, if I flung a dead cricket across the terrarium as if it were leaping on its own, would the frog be fooled into eating it? The answer is no, by the way. I thought about letting the frogs loose in the basement to go after the camelback crickets that live there, but those crickets were way too big for these tiny frogs. So we continued to supply many, many miniature live crickets. In the end, the frogs died anyway. We don’t know why; it was certainly not from being underfed.

About the snake, my husband said, “What happens when the boy doesn’t take care of it, when he lets the cage get too dirty or when he forgets to feed it?”

“Dead snake,” I said.

Stay tuned.

For more from Paula Whyman, see and her online parody newspaper