Rattlesnake Bites and Starting School

posted Apr 12, 2011, 3:27 PM by Greg Hamley   [ updated Apr 12, 2011, 3:28 PM by Jennifer MacFarlane ]

Starting School

August, 2010

I recall being on a plane headed to Pennsylvania seven years ago.  My husband and I were dropping our son off for his freshman year of college.  The day of our flight out, Flaps, our beagle, was bitten by a rattlesnake on a morning run up a coulee on the central plains outside of Great Falls, when she wandered away from us, as she was wont to do, to check out the local fox den. Nearly an hour later, she managed to drag herself up the driveway to my husband before collapsing at his feet. 

 After rushing Flaps to a Belt veterinarian who was legendary for his treatment of rattlesnake bites, and then rushing to make our flight, I began to relax and settle in when I caught a glimpse of my husband and my son across the aisle. My son stared out the window of the plane.  He was taking in Montana, his eyes seeming to say farewell to his home. I saw my husband, eyes filled with grief, with pride, taking in his son, the man.  I looked at our young man, simultaneously seeing the little boy, who, just yesterday it seemed, had released his hold on his father’s hand and walked alone into kindergarten.  I was gripped as I had been for some months – by my excitement for my son, by the fullness of having parented a child to adulthood, by my sadness at moving beyond this stage of parenting, and by the sheer loss of day-to-day living and being together.  Although Dr. Schott was confident that Flaps would survive her trauma, I was not sure we would survive ours. 

 As parents, we meet these moments of passage with our children in various ways.  We raise and strive to equip our children so they may grow to have a life where they live and love and work well.  Yet the very act of physically parting can be powerfully wrenching. Each year, as I stand outside with parents and preschool-aged siblings as they part from their children and brothers and sisters on the first day of school, I am reminded of this bittersweet richness of raising a child.

 After getting our son settled into his dorm room, it was time to part.   This time, his father and I would not see him at the end of his first day of school.  This time, we would get on a plane and fly 2000 miles back to Montana.  Although I worked hard to maintain my composure, my feet were leaden as I tried to walk away.  Rattlesnake bit, Flaps had used all her will to drag herself up the driveway.  I would use all of mine to drag myself away.  My husband took my hand and said quietly, “We can do this.  Just put one foot in front of the other. We’ll just keep walking.”  We did. 

 The number of years you spend together as parent and child are very few when you look at the span of a life.   The start of the school year serves to remind us that the raising of our children – loving, supporting, protecting, being the best we can be, and then letting go - is among the most important work we will do in a life.


Lynne Scalia is the Superintendent & Principal of the Monforton School District.   Her son is getting his Ph.D. in geoenvironmental engineering at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Flaps still runs, but on a leash.

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