What’s a Mother to Do?
by Ann Edwards Cannon
[p.46]I used to be the mother of a turtle. Of course we didn’t know when he was born that he was a turtle. Unlike Stuart Little’s parents who knew immediately that they had a mouse for a son, we assumed with his red face and breath of hair he was simply another splendid boy baby like his brothers before him, so we gave him a good Welsh name in honor of his maternal ancestors.
He answered to it for awhile, too, but when he turned three, we learned that we had been mistaken about who he really was. He shared his true turtle identity with us then, and told us his name was Donatello although we, because he loved us, could call him Don for short.
Don used to wear green pajamas and headbands long after his brothers had put on their jeans and gone to school. Sometimes he wore a huge white shirt over his pajamas, but only if he were taking karate lessons from Splinter that day. Frankly, I never got a very good look at Splinter, although he was a frequent guest in our home. Don assured me, however, that Splinter was right there in front of me, so I tried to be polite even though, to tell you the truth, I felt like I was talking to the air.
Don and Splinter used to go outside on the front lawn when the weather was fine and practice their kicks. I stood at the window and watched. Don liked the flying kicks best. He’d run, his bright hair flapping about his ears, then leap into the air and boot his leg out hard as he could. No doubt Splinter’s kicks were high and deadly, too, although I really can’t say for sure.
Don specialized in machines. He took an ordinary boy’s bed with a Mickey Mouse comforter, for example, and turned it into the Turtle Blimp just like that, a flying machine capable of cruising at unusually high altitudes thereby allowing Don to elude the bad guys who sometimes slipped into our house when no one was watching.
Don could also take ordinary household items and turn them into Turtle-Coms whenever he needed to get in touch with some- [p.47]body fast. Many was the time I saw Don talking intently into a shoe that he had transformed into a communicator thanks to his mechanical magic.
Occasionally it was a little embarrassing to have a turtle for a son. Don didn’t like to leave home without his weapon, which meant we went everywhere—the neighbor’s, the store, the library—with a plastic baseball bat, i.e. “bow,” stuffed down the back of his shirt. Once Don even took his weapon to church, although I didn’t realize it until an older woman in the congregation nervously pointed it out to me. Frankly, I don’t know why she was so surprised. After all our family did accidentally take a dog to church once which seems a lot weirder to me than taking a baseball bat, although I’m sure something like that depends on your perspective.
I’ve been thinking about Don quite a bit because of a memory I had this morning when I stepped onto the porch and felt a flash of fall. We had a dog when I was a kid, an elkhound, who used to perk to life again when the cool weather set in. She’d run outside first thing each morning to sniff the air, her bushy tail looped over her back like a question mark. The colder it got, the more she quivered with excitement. When the snow finally flew, that dog went completely crazy. She’d charge outside where she’d leap and roll and throw snow with her snout.
For years I observed her giddy routine and didn’t think much about it except to laugh as I left for school. Now that she’s gone, however, along with that part of my life, I find the memory of it both sad and sweet and full of unexpected force.
Don left us so gradually that I hardly noticed until the day I saw a leggy six-year-old with a gap-toothed grin sitting at Don’s place across from me at the dinner table. His name is Dylan, and he likes baseball.
My life is an accumulation of small events, most of them supremely ordinary—chopping onions for dinner, saying hello to the mailman, combing a child’s hair, stooping over to pick up the morning paper, dialing the number of a neighbor, half-listening to my wind chimes, sharpening pencils, gossiping at work, over-eating on Sunday, feeding a cat, pulling a weed, picking up clothes, watching the news at ten, stepping onto my porch first thing in the morning when the air is still new and full of birds. I wonder which of all these events [p.48]will come back to me as memory, like that of my dog lost in silliness or of Don leaping straight into the air?
And which of them, I wonder, like the brief sight of violets in the spring, will take my heart in the passing?