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Baby Steps to Tortoise Mama-hood

My Malti on her very first day home with me (I was so nervous I drove over to my own folks' house for help caring for her!)
My Malti on her very first day home with me (I was so nervous I drove over to my own folks’ house for help caring for her!)

Can I just say I thought being a tortoise mama would be easier?

I kept several water turtles when I was a girl, and it felt smooth and simple (of course maybe this was because my mom was the real “keeper of the torts” and I just fed and admired them….and fled when it was water-changing time!)

But for years I had wanted a tortoise (land turtle) and one day, after a bit too much “bad day” for my taste, I got on Craig’s List.

The next thing I knew I was driving home with a tortoise the size of a silver dollar sitting in a tiny tupperware in my front passenger seat.

It has been like this ever since.

She is 1 year old this month, and I don’t feel any more confident (well, only marginally more) than I did on that very first day.

One of the hardest things about being Malti’s mom is not knowing where to go to get my questions answered.

With my parrot, Pearl, there are loads of amazing cockatiel groups and communities with wonderful peeps who eagerly respond to all my queries.

It is not the same with Malti.

Even internet searches for specific questions (“baby redfoot with itchy eyes + best tortoise eye drops”) yield few useful hits.

It occurs to me this is how my mom must have felt trying to parent an 11-year old girl who was developing anorexia. What was wrong with her daughter? Why had she stopped eating? Who could she ask? Were the answers she got good advice?

And – my biggest fear to date, which I’m sure my mom shared – what if, despite all my best intentions and efforts, my little bit is the one who doesn’t make it?

What if she does make it, but ends up hating me in the process?

What if I turn out to be the worst tortoise mommy in the history of turtle parenting?

And what if everyone finds out, and that is what I become famous for – being a horrible turtle mama?

Whoo boy.

But the truth is, my little Malti is the really brave one.

Today while I type, Malti is busily attempting to scale the "heights" of her rock cave walls.
Today while I type, Malti is busily attempting to scale the “heights” of her rock cave walls.

It is she who has somehow accepted her lot – a captive bred, captive born, and captive kept tortoise who cohabitates with a strange inter-species flock (one who is small with lots of feathers and a VERY loud voice, one with no feathers and a soft voice who is large and hovers a lot, and of course, herself).

It is she who confidently asserts herself when she wants to climb, wants to play, wants to drink, wants to eat, wants to do things herself….

In fact, right now as I type and worry and worry and type, she is energetically circling the outer perimeter of her habitat, climbing up anything she can find (it is far too cold for outdoor play so she’s making the best of a warm, heated room and plenty of indoor UV light).

I could – and do – learn quite a bit from my courageous little love – a generous soul who had no say in becoming either my mentor or my lifelong non-human companion – but who nevertheless takes every opportunity to fulfill both roles to the best of her ability.

p.s. I have posted a gallery of Malti’s baby milestones – just a few of the many memorable moments we’ve shared thus far that I plan to treasure for decades to come!

Today’s Takeaway: Whether it be a child, a pet, a new position at work, a relationship, recovery work – have you ever taken on a new challenge and then later thought, “OMG I must have been NUTS?!?” What keeps you going? What helps you stay ahead of the fear-wave just enough to round the next bend of learning and progress? What tips your own inner balance in favor of courage and continuing forward day by day? When you are not sure which way to turn or what to do, what words comfort and reassure you the most?

Baby Steps to Tortoise Mama-hood

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2019). Baby Steps to Tortoise Mama-hood. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Mar 2019
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