Twice a week, I drive into town to teach a yoga class at a local studio. It’s a half hour each way up and down through rolling hills on two-lane country roads. Cows and long-haired horses graze behind a mix of white picket, barbed wire and, chain link fences.
On this particular trip into town, it’s partly cloudy with just enough sunshine peeking through to flick glitter on the morning dew and just enough to show off the yellowish-brown filth blanketing my windshield. Little Foot is asleep in his car seat and I’ve made it fifteen minutes into the commute before realizing I haven’t turned on any music.
Forty miles per hour, winding up and down and around makes having a stick-shift vehicle even more enjoyable. I sometimes shift gears just to feel impressive. I’m on the part of the drive where the road climbs up a surprisingly steep hill and then curves sharply to the left behind some trees when suddenly: a medium-sized turtle is crossing the road.
Here’s the thing about parenthood – the split-second decision is a far more chaotic scene than before. The flip-book of consequences that you speed through when these moments of quick-action arise must now include a whole extra chapter of potential outcomes that include your child. This extra chapter is different, however. What was formerly a quick-flip of realistic options when needing to make a fast decision (for example: Action 1 = Good Outcome or Action 2 = Bad Outcome…now choose your action) has now become an endless pit of despair where your child either ends up being taken away from you by CPS because of your neglect for their safety or your child ends up joining a gang because he feels safer with them and gets tattoos of bullets across his face. In other words: Action 1 = Good Outcome and Action 2 = Bad Outcome, Your Child Is Going To Hate You and Action 3 = This Will Surely Cause Your Child To Catch an Incurable Disease That’s Never Been Heard Of and Action 4 = The Mob Will Steal Your Child, Run Off To Peru And Raise Him As An International Assassin and of course Action 4 = OMGWTFTHEWORLDISGOINGTOEND.
Normally, I would pull off into the grass, check both ways, run and grab the turtle, and drop him on the other side of the road. But as I’m cruising up this hill, I’ve made it into the second chapter of chaos whereby my pulling over would end in either my Little Foot getting hurt (I cannot describe this as I’m welling up just thinking about it) OR a fiery crash, a headline news story, a mug shot, and scheduled, supervised visits with my child who would rather play his Nintendo DS than play with me.
So I drive on. I pass the turtle. And I cry because I’m filled with guilt for not stopping to help. I’m in fear that after I teach this class and am driving home that I’ll see the mush of turtle remains in the middle of the road reminding me of how I failed him.
I spend the next several minutes searching for meaning – bouncing from pride in my abilities to protect my child from potential harm to grief over the inevitable demise of the turtle.
I think of Little Foot and although his car seat is still rear-facing so I can’t see him, I am imagining him. His head, no doubt, tilted to the side with his bottom lip protruding in sleep. His dimpled hands lightly holding his giraffe. I wonder what he must be dreaming about. What do babies dream about?
I remember the day he was born like it was yesterday. I remember every speck of detail. King Ranch was on my left and the night nurse on my right. Between every push, King Ranch’s job was to put the oxygen mask back over my nose and mouth. I was on oxygen because my heart was struggling with a slow beat.
My heart was struggling, I believe, because the brightest light that the world has ever known was about to enter it and take his first breath. It was struggling because for 9-months, it obsessed over the safety of that growing baby and had grown so attached to it and now somehow, was required to push him out into the contaminated public where he would have to be shared with everyone. It was struggling because although love is the heart’s specialty, it hadn’t known how to love like this before. I think it was slowing down because it was afraid to let go of him.
When Little Foot finally came into this world, I was watching King Ranch’s face. The sleepless circles under his deep, brown eyes instantly disappeared as the corners of his 5 o’clock shadow-surrounded mouth pushed his dimples up into his cheek bones. His whole body sank an inch – no doubt bowing under the pressure of pride. He was the most handsome I had ever seen him.
I followed his gaze and saw Little Foot’s eyes. I remember how surprised I was with how almond-shaped they were. My heart struggled, but this time it was too fast. It was so afraid yet so excited. It wanted so badly to wrap itself around this new human whose fingerprints were one of a kind; whose lungs had just begun to share the air with the rest of ours for the first time.
I called for him but not with words. I called for him with the only sounds I could conjure up and it was somewhere between and “ohh” and an “aww.”
As the nurse placed his tiny, wet body on my bare chest, I made a deal with my aching heart that I would guard this child with my entire being. That I would do anything and everything I could to keep him safe just like my heart had been doing for months. I poured this promise so powerfully into my heart that I believe it welled up out of my chest and into Little Foot’s brand new and un-scarred heart.
I’m thinking of this day when I notice my heart is throbbing. I realize I’ve driven on auto-pilot for 10 minutes and have shown up at the yoga studio. As quickly as I can, I pull Little Foot’s car seat out of the back because all I want to do is squeeze him and assure him that everything is okay. He’s rubbing his eyes as he wakes up. He sees me and smiles. I smile. He’s safe. In his contentment and my panic, I realize I’m the one who needs to be convinced that everything is okay.
On my drive back home, I approach the part of the road where I’d passed the turtle. Thankfully, there is no spot or mush on the pavement. He made it across. Everything is okay.
Every day, we’re faced with difficult choices, even if they seem trivial. And sometimes, we might not make the right choices. You can’t control the turtle crossing the road if it means risking the safety of your child in the back seat. You have to make those hard decisions. But I guess what is important is that we’re always trying to do the right thing. And we’re always trying to do our best. After all, if you’re giving it your best – if you’re trying to do the right thing, then that’s all you can really do. And it’s all going to be okay. It always will.
Did you read the letter that Sheryl Sandberg posted after losing her husband? If you haven’t you should check it out, its incredible. But I bring it up because she makes a comment about people getting out of the way for ambulances (or rather lack of people getting out of the way) that I think you will appreciate.