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Moving the Turtle

My daughter knows I’m thinking about her because, every night, I move the turtle. Let me explain. One night our family watched a documentary about the life of a sea turtle. Afterwards, their little plastic toy turtle (named “Sparky”) became a focus of attention for us. We joked about his life and his journey and this led, first to some laughs, then a game. For some reason, we joked about the turtle hiding around the house.

On a night soon after we watched the movie, I put the turtle beside my eight-year-old daughter’s pillow while she slept. She woke up laughing and the game was on. Now, every night before she went to bed, she began hiding the turtle in my bed, or by my toothbrush, somewhere I would find it when I came to bed. Then, in my normal routine of checking on all the kids before I went to bed, I would hide it somewhere around her pillow.

The game has evolved now. Now the turtle has props and is no longer hidden. He is to be found on a table in her room, which she now refers to as the turtle table. (What did we use it for before?) One morning he’s sitting there, a huge pipe to his lips. One morning he has fingernail clippers to his little nails, another he’s reading Seth Godin’s Tribes. Sometimes, I find a note from “Sparky.” “Dear Sir, I don’t wish to be any trouble, but I should like a book for Christmas.” Yesterday, I found Sparky on my nightstand, sitting on the little toilet from my daughter’s dollhouse. When we saw each other the next morning, we both burst out laughing. There is this funny ritual between us.

As I write, I get the feeling this isn’t all that funny to other people. But that’s actually part of the point. It’s between my daughter and me. It’s been a way for me to connect with her. She loves it, I enjoy it, and it’s something we share. It’s a creation of shared imagination, a common joke. When this one’s over, I’m sure there will be others. But every night she knows I’m thinking of her when the turtle is moved.

It’s a small thing, yes. Every day is made up of these small things. Every day we as parents make hundreds of little choices that join together to make up who we are to our children. I could share some of my failures. There are plenty of them. But here’s this little thing I feel like is right in life. Moving the turtle.

I tend to over-think things, believing I have to have an elaborate plan to engage my kids. The truth is that elaborate plans can be great, but only when we follow through. Sometimes you just need to do something. Kids love being engaged. Do something!

As our kids get older, I think about potential disconnection more and more. When my wife and I see any signs of it (and we do, sometimes), we worry. So every thread connecting us to our kids is vital. Woven all together –Rich Mullins’ music and Andy Griffith; living room tents and whispered blessings; happy hymns and pillow fights; Advent prayers and soccer games; baptisms and turtles– these are the threads that make up our lives.

Are turtle games important? No, but she is. And she knows it.


  1. Beautiful! I’ll bet these memories will flash before her eyes when she walks down the aisle to get married, or when she leaves home for the first time. And when she returns home for a visit, the turtle will be one of the first things she will look for. This is one investment that will continuously yield true wealth for generations to come.

  2. I love this! My mom, my aunt, and I have had our own turtle game for almost 10 years now. We buy inexpensive turtles and hide them in the homes of the others from time to time. They even gave me a turtle stocking this year for Christmas. It is good to know that there are other turtles out there hiding or turning up in unexpected places!

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