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Thursday, July 31, 2008

It's A Paradigm Thing...

A few months ago I got the chance to meet my friend Josh's niece, Elise. Aside from being a ridiculously beautiful child, she is also deliciously precocious and a handful...in a way that intrigues you so much that you can't possibly be frustrated with her, while at the same time fearing for her parents sanity when she hits teenager-dom. I adore her.


Since meeting Elise, her darling little sister Chloe, and their fantastic parents and spending a great day with them in Baltimore (my first time in the Charm City) I have started reading their blog occasionally on my routine web perusals and I am endlessly entertained by the shenanigans of these kids. The other day, however, I saw something that made me think a little bit about differing paradigms and how my upbringing differed significantly from this little girl that I identitify with in a lot of ways...

What intrigued me were some video clips of the family's recent trip to Costa Rica. In the first clip Elise is holding a small lizard, which she proceeds to give very tender and repeated kisses (in spite of being nipped on the lip by the mini-dino...maybe he's already got a lady-lizard friend). What can I say, the girl loves reptiles...her dad's got to be so proud. In the second clip, Elise is holding a small garden snake while her dad looks on. Mom, manning the camera asks what she is doing and Elise responds repeatedly "I hold the snake...I hold the snake..." (You really should see this for yourself...you can see the video here...many thanks to Juli and Ben for letting me post the link).

On seeing this I was so shocked at the fearlessness of this little girl, particularly given my own experience at her age with snakes...time for another flash from the farm...

See here's the thing...I grew up in south central Montana on a cattle ranch closer to the middle of nowhere than anything else. For those of you who haven't had the opportunity to visit the illustrious locale of Toston, Montana, you should know that the sagebrush hills enclosing the Missouri River valley where I lived are FULL of Diamondback Rattlesnakes. As a 3 year old, I knew no difference between a harmless garden snake and a 6 foot rattler capable of dispatching small mammals of various sizes and ferocities...that may or may not be a real word...just go with it.

Whereas Elise was happy to "hold the snake" all I knew at her age was "kill the snake." I got it from all sides...my only real understanding about snakes was that my dad smashed their heads with shovels, my grandma accelerated and braked over them until they were nothing but slimy skid marks on the road, my mom lobbed stones as big as her head onto their bodies until they stopped slithering, and my grandfather blasted them to scaly bits with his shotgun...and all the while they told me "snakes are dangerous, you will die if they bite you, WE KILL SNAKES." * You can see where my biases against said serpents come from...and why I always seemed to relate to Indiana Jones...

So it occurred to me that at that age if you had asked me to hold a snake, I probably would have screamed bloody murder and reached for the nearest blunt instrument (probably a damn hammer...but that's another story in and of itself). This is not to say that I was a scared little kid...after all, I was taking on hundreds of pounds of charging 'Grade A' American Angus at the age of six...much to my father's chagrin...please ref the Cat Story...It's just a matter of growing up with a different mindset.

I think one reason I like Elise is because we are a lot alike; independent, a little serious, each fearless in our own way, and, no doubt, making our parents very worried for what lies ahead (still probably more true for me than not...). I also realized how much a person's environment influences their worldview...Where I will always shiver a little at the thought of actually letting my skin come in contact with snake scales that are actually still on a living breathing snake, Elise will be Dr. Doolittle-ing it up with all sorts of slithery critters.

As for me and my Stanfills, however, we will probably continue teaching our posterity the virtues of the business end of a shovel in human-snake encounters**...sorry PETA, it's nothing personal...just a matter of paradigm.

*My family is not violent by nature, quite the opposite actually...it's possible that snakes just don't really bring out the Stanfill's best side

**To illustrate how the anti-snake biase has pervaded Stanfill Family culture, I will refer you to my cousin Emily and her husband Michael's blog where you can request a copy of Emily's entrance essay to BYU...specifically about her first experience with grandma's preferred snake killing tool...grandpa's gold Buick...it's classic, and may have been the original inspiration for writing about the snake paradigm.

2 comments:

Mike and Emily said...

Love it, love it, love it! I love the violent descriptions of our snake-disposing activities. And yet, notice how mike and I ran like nancies the last time we encountered one. I should have rushed that sucker and skidded it with my tennis shoes....

Paxton family said...

Wow, I never would have guessed that such violent tendencies lay beneath. How do you feel about praying mantises?
Hopefully you and Elise will be able to work through your reptile differences and still be friends!