Today is World Turtle Day so we should shellabrate!
Seriously, it is World Turtle Day and turtles hold a very special place in my heart for two reason.
The first being my grandmother. She wasn’t a great fan of turtles, per se, but when things weren’t going as fast as I’d want them to or the world seemed to be “against me” when I tried “everything” to make something happen, she’d always tell me, “Slow and Steady wins the race.”
At the time, my response usually consisted of a large eye-roll followed by “Grandmother, you don’t understand…” blah, blah, blah. Yet now, seventeen years after she left us far too soon, I realize everyday how absolutely wise she was. How much she really did know and how we should be turtles from time to time.
The second is because my very sweet son, Alex, moves at his own pace. We often call him a turtle or tortuga (Spanish for turtle) and he likes turtles.
Laid-back is an oversimplification of Alex’s personality. He’s a watcher, an observer, and processor. He’s curious and inquisitive. He can follow directions on his Lego sets and put together a HUGE jet in a few hours. Along those traits, he’s all boy–he plays outside until he’s dripping with sweat, he rides his bike, he climbs trees, he plays basketball, he shoots Nerf guns, he douses his sisters with the water hose, and he laughs a lot.
He’s so much like my husband, it’s nuts, especially since Alex isn’t biologically related to us.
We were blessed to be matched with Alex and his sister, Sophie, in May 2012. In fact, they entered our lives the day after I got my first book contract with Soulmate (thanks Debby!). It was a big week for us, but there he was, our little turtle, walking in our front door, taking it all in.
Like any child being moved from an environment, no matter how chaotic, to a unknown home, he approached us with caution and concern.
Behind couldn’t even begin to describe his educational level. At the age of four, he didn’t know any shapes, colors, numbers, the alphabet, or any nursery rhymes. He couldn’t tell me what he liked or didn’t like to eat, but he could point to it.
His vocabulary was so stilted, we thought he only understood Spanish. We spoke to him in Spanish and he looked even more confused.
He had no idea what 99% of the items were in the produce section, but he could tell me where the chip, soda, and cookie aisles were. He pointed as we drove down the street at every fast food restaurant and told me what they served. He identified the city buses and cabs and explained that police cars were bad.
What had we gotten ourselves into? This child was a good two years or more behind his peers, would we ever catch him up? The task seemed daunting, but it didn’t take us long to realize this little guy simply needed a bit of coaxing to come out of his shell.
One week into his permanent stay with us, I playfully asked him what something was. As usual, he recoiled, pulled back into his little safe place until he realized I wasn’t upset that he didn’t know. I wanted to teach it to him and then our little turtle stretched his neck out and started taking the world in through new eyes.
This wasn’t an overnight thing. He didn’t know us, but slowly and surely, he opened up, came to trust us as we fed, clothed, loved, and showed him more Disney Movies than we care to admit. We took him to the grocery store, the zoo, the park, Target, Petsmart, the Children’s Museum. Every place was a new experience, a constant, “Mom, what’s this? What’s this?” kinds of moments. It was exhausting and at times frustrating, but always exhilarating when he’d smile at us with that triumphant look when he’d told us something he’d seen and used all his new words to describe his day.
We quickly found out he loved to build things. Because our older children loved trains, we still had our Thomas the Train wooden train tracks and one day, Alex designed this HUGE display. He had turns and curves and bridges and dead-ends. He spent a couple of hours working on it while I played with his younger sister and the older two children were at school. That evening, I asked him to come to dinner and he reluctantly agreed, but “I want dad to see it.” I explained Dad would be home in a bit and he could see it then, but it was dinnertime.
Our sweet boy walked to the table, shoulders sagged and said, “Daddy isn’t coming home.”
Well, might as well have stabbed me with a knife in my heart because I realized he thought I’d lied to him to get him to do what I wanted. That so many people in his life hadn’t followed through. I promised him when Dad got home, they could go right upstairs and finish the train tracks.
Sadly, he pulled back into his shell and poked at his dinner, but when the garage door opened, his head popped up and he grinned from ear to ear. The door opened and he jumped from his chair, yelling, “Dad, dad, come see what I built today” and off the boys went to play with the trains.
We just passed our four year anniversary of their arrival and our turtle, our slowly but surely kid is making all A’s and B’s in school. Through determination, consistency, his own love for knowledge, and the incredible guidance of his teachers, he’s come so far in a very short period of time. He’s not perfect and he might struggle with school for another year or two, but coming from his stilted beginnings, his drive his remarkable.
Just like all of us as writers. Sometimes we start as the hare, fast and frantic we write and get the words on paper. We’re driven and charged to tell our stories, but then we have to be the turtle, the tortoise to edit. To really make the pages shine and this process can be agonizingly slow and frustrating.
We want our editors to see our work, but worry about what the responses may be. We pull back into our shells when writer’s block hit or we get a sucky review, but inch by inch, we move forward and keep trying to improve.
But if we do it right, we can all get there. Little by little. Step by Step and guarantee that slow and steady really does win the race.
Happy Turtle Day my Soulies!