Joanne Palmer: Lessons from a new, hairy pet |

Joanne Palmer: Lessons from a new, hairy pet

Joanne Palmer

In 1989, Joanne Palmer left a publishing career in Manhattan and has missed her paycheck ever since. She is a mom, weekly columnist for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, and the owner of a property management company, The House Nanny. Her new book "Life in the 'Boat: How I fell on Warren Miller's skis, cheated on my hairdresser and fought off the Fat Fairy" is now available in local bookstores and online at or

One morning, a few weeks ago, I scribbled the following on a piece of paper:

Nothing says I love you like a tarantula.

Here's the back-story:

Like many people this year, my bank account was no match for my son's Christmas list. I thought he understood as we talked about it frequently, and I cautioned him about getting his hopes up. Nevertheless, he surprised me one night with a PowerPoint presentation of his wish list. I was impressed by his creativity and ingenuity. As far as I knew, he didn't know anything about PowerPoint until he sat down to create one on his computer. After watching his brief presentation, and contemplating what a natural-born salesman he'd make, nothing on the list really resonated with me. There were overpriced video games and an overpriced machine to play them on and he wrapped it all up with a request for a baby bunny. Just in case I couldn't commit the list to memory or find it on his computer, he thoughtfully printed out a hard copy for me and left it on my nightstand.

I had a wave of nostalgia for his toddler years, when he wrote this letter to Santa: "Marey Crismas, Santa. I want a rat."

Although a tarantula wasn't on the PowerPoint presentation, he had talked about wanting one. He liked the one his science teacher had, and surprisingly, I had just received a phone call from his teacher regarding a Chilean rose tarantula in need of a home. This led to scribbling on the pad, drinking coffee, and making a list of the pros and cons.

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Pros: Tarantula is free. Female. Low upkeep. Eats crickets. Tarantula comes with her own cage. My son wanted one. It would make a memorable Christmas present.

Cons: I don't like spiders, especially ones that might eat me for a snack.

Pros outweighed the cons. Reluctantly, I went to get the spider.

Holy Charlotte's web! This beast did not look like sweet little Charlotte. She looked like the star in a horror movie and might have more hair on her body then I did.

And yet, the more I watched her, the more fascinated I became. She was surprisingly elegant and ladylike. She moved like a ballerina, gracefully unfolding one long leg out and stretching it until it was twice the length of her body. In the middle of her back, she had a pretty pink spot.

On Christmas morning, my son was thrilled. The spider promptly was named Rosie, and I held her for the first time. It was like holding a cotton ball. She weighed nothing, and she moved cautiously around my hand, her legs tickling my skin. Like many women, she was diligent about her exercise routine. Every night she did her spider aerobics, crawling up the glass sides of her cage, one side at a time. I found myself cheering her on, "Go, Rosie," and worrying about a fall.

Spiders, I learned, have external skeletons, and I thought it was brave of her to climb so high.

Watching Rosie, I remembered a time I sat on a friend's deck and watched a mother skunk parade her young across the backyard. The four baby skunks marched in a straight line across the grass, and I thought about how hard it would be to have children everyone would recoil from. There is also something sweet, and important, about loving the unlovable, seeing beauty in what people scream and run away from, but all of creation is magnificent and continually renewing itself and beginning again.

Rosie is a good reminder of all of Mother Nature's lessons, and that, truly, is the best present of all.