Open Door Policy for the New Year
December 30, 2010
Valentine Wish
February 14, 2011

Shell Shock

I think I’m in love.

The way he moves with a dignified slowness, each step a concentrated effort, draws me to his side. Small obstacles cause a moment’s hesitation, but he makes it past them. Sometimes by backing up before turning, sometimes by stumbling onward. Not entirely graceful, but I admire how he forges ahead with a certain determination.

I can relate to it.

It amuses me how he eats with gusto. Not always the tidiest diner, scraps of a salad remain on his chin a bit before he wipes them away. And given options at dinner, he reaches for the sweet items first. Why munch first on lettuce when mango and kiwi are available?

I can so relate.

Did I mention that he also prefers warm temperatures and particularly enjoys basking in the heat following a good meal.

Oh, how I can relate.

My affections came as a surprise to me. The melting in my chest, the sighing, “He’s so cute,” the pleasure at simply watching him go about his day: all present, all unexpected.

A declared dog person, I have fallen for a pet tortoise.

After crossing hamster off the list of possibilities for my son’s birthday present, I considered a hermit crab. Hamsters, I was told, bite. And make lots of noise all night. And don’t live very long. Hermit crabs aren’t particularly cuddly, but we have cuddly. The family dog more than fills the warm, fuzzy category.

I drove to the shop not yet certain what I’d drive out with. Rabbit? No, too tempting for the dog. Guinea pig? Hmm, my son’s room smells bad enough at times. Bearded dragon? Fascinating and friendly, but I couldn’t get past the feeding-it-live-crickets part.

How about a tortoise? the clerk asked. I followed her to the tank an gazed in. The little guy sauntered toward me, tripped over his water dish and craned his neck to  look up into my eyes. It  was love at first sight. I left the shop with my car full of materials to create a rain forest for a to-be-named red-footed reptile.

It’s not an  easy task hiding a giant terrarium. For the next few days, my husband and I stole off to search the Internet about care and diet and habitat, discussing our findings in a whisper. I’d sneak away to check on him. Often.

I’d stare through the glass at this ancient species. Not only did those moments bring me into the present as well as any yogic breathing or set of poses. I saw him and saw hope. If he can make it, awkward and slow as he is, I can make it.  When I’m feeling that stiff, when the meds wear off or it’s 2:00 am and I’m mustering all my strength to roll onto my side, I recall his way of moving and how it doesn’t stop him. And when it gets to me, I remember that life also offers mango and kiwi.

On birthday morning, my son was quite surprised. Ends up, so were we.

Typically not much of a talker, he went on for twenty minutes, a mix of enthusiasm and authority in his voice. He described the difference between turtles and tortoises. He pointed out that his is from the rain forest of South America (as opposed to being a desert variety). He explained the numerous shapes and sizes. He named the three parts of the shell. The uppermost, with the decorative spots (always  thirteen of them on a tortoise – who knew?), is called the scutes, which, he determined, was the perfect name.

Though he needs frequent reminders to change his socks,  make his bed, pick clothes up off the floor, he apparently was listening when reptiles were the subject at school. It’s a wonder what little minds can absorb when there’s interest involved, and this tortoise catches his interest.

The boy loves Scutes.  I can relate.

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