Motherhood & Monsters
Anna Mitchael’s “Rattlesnake Stories”
Many children fear monsters — whether they hide in the closet or under the bed. Some children fear them when the light goes out, and some have monsters who visit their dreams.
As mothers, we know these particular monsters aren’t real. But others are. What dangers await our children at each sunset? In Carrie Shipers’ poem “Mother Talks Back to the Monster,” she mentions such terrors as “unleashed dogs, sudden fevers, cereal / two days out of date.” Yes, some of our fears are silly, like expired cereal. Others are not. Part of motherhood is learning to tell the difference.
In “Rattlesnake Stories,” Anna Mitchael, who lives on a large ranch in Central Texas, has a very real fear: rattlesnakes.
When the country people say, “When you see the first bluebonnet, the rattlesnakes aren’t far behind,” it’s not a warning. They mean it as a statement of fact.
When I mentioned this statement at my book talk, the entire audience of Hill Country folks nodded vigorously.
So on Anna’s first date, she asked the man who is now her man, Andrew, this question: So are there, like, snakes where you live? And he answered, “We have snakes,” he said. “But only the poisonous ones.”
It was a truthful answer, and it might have been enough except, well, fast-forward a few years, and now there are two sons on the scene. This mother’s fears are not only for herself but also for these little boys in her care. How can she protect them? What if she can’t? What if even in all her worrying and planning she missed something she should have been fearing all along?
This is a book driven by its specificity — rattlesnakes. And that opens the way to talk about other fears, such as aging, depression, whether this year will be a good one or one of those we hope to forget. As Anna confronts her fears head-on, she becomes a little more of the woman she always hoped she would be.
Like the mother in the poem, she learns this about the fear of monsters:
And even worse
than feeling so much fear is keeping it inside,
trying not to let my love become so tangled
with anxiety my son thinks they’re the same.
Or, as Anna writes, “The snakes will slither. Fire ants will roam. Unspeakable evils and unknowable adversaries are out there, but that is no reason for us to stay in.”
Go outside. Talk back to the monster.
“Rattlesnake Stories” is a Kindle single, available on Amazon. I was honored to edit an early version of the book.