Did I just compare my kids to a pet turtle? Yes, I did.
I am 44 years old. Depending on who you ask the average life expectancy for a white male in the United States is somewhere in the upper 70’s. That means, technically, I am beyond middle age. Now many of you are probably saying, 44, Charles, you’re still young. Generally those of you saying this are older than I am. No, I am not young. I am not old. I am firmly in the middle of things. Each week I will take a look back at the life I’ve led so far, where I stand now, where things might be headed, and those times when life might have gone in a different direction.
I am, hopefully, in the middle of things.
What I am about to say will take some explaining but sometimes I view my kids not unlike a pet turtle. My wife and I have four children. They are all teenagers now but at one point we had four kids under the age of five. Raising those kids was a blur, and it still is.
Now back to the pet turtle thing. As a family, we have murdered all kinds of secondary pets. Goldfish. A couple of frogs. One unfortunate Easter chick. A baby duck (although two made it safely back into the water only then to be mauled by some wild dogs but you can hardly pin that on us.) We also killed some regular bird that apparently couldn’t digest peanut butter. We knocked off a whole mail order collection of butterflies. And we even got medieval on a pet rock via a Ball Peen hammer, although I’m pinning that one on a cousin who lived across the street. But when it comes to more mainstream pets, like dogs or cats, somehow, we are solid to the point that they refuse to die. And when they finally do, it hurts. We have become emotionally invested in them. They are family.
That’s why I sometimes have to treat my kids like a pet turtle. You know, the little guy in a glass bowl in the kitchen. He’s there when you want to see him. He doesn’t require much upkeep. He doesn’t go anywhere or do anything. And save a random elbow that sweeps his whole glass environment onto the floor or a misguided ball of some kind that smashes his world into oblivion, this little guy is pretty safe.
Quite honestly, this is the type of pet you can go a day or two without even noticing, let alone waking up at night worrying about. You just assume all is well, because, truthfully, what could possibly go wrong? And, if it does, well, words will be said, a Zip-Lock bag will be employed, there will be a couple of shovels of dirt or even a flush of the toilet depending on the size of the deceased, and life will quickly move on.
That is why my kids are like the pet turtle. Sometimes, as a parent, I guess I just need that distance to function. Hell, sometimes I need that distance for my sanity. How easy would life be if my children were simply pet turtles who required frequent rides to soccer and had very expensive orthodonture needs?
Of course, that isn’t the case. Something will happen to a child, as it tends to do in life, and even as I respond as a parent a part of me so wants that glass bowl between us for protection. Not just my protection, but theirs too.
And then in that moment of need, rarely dire, usually minor, I look at one of them in the eye and I see a reflection of myself. Or better yet my wife. Maybe a little more pure, without the jaded edges and certainly with more spirit than what I feel now. When I see this it is impossible to keep that glass between us. My heart is open to theirs. Pain is shared. And I wait for their next breath and I hang on their every word. They own me completely and totally. There is no distance. There is no separation. No space to breathe one’s own air. There is nothing to protect me from them, and them from a world I pretend to know. A world that most often shows itself as it can be. Its anger and selfishness. Its cruelty and disregard for life.
And I hate to say it but sometimes, just sometimes, once their moment of crisis has passed, I want to hurry back to a different world, to a kitchen with a pet turtle, while I imagine that glass wall between us again.