I think I can pinpoint the day my biological clock started ticking. I wasn't very old - perhaps 25 - and I certainly didn't understand what was behind it all, but suddenly, one morning, as I watched the Today Show before work I saw a story about the near extinction of the Kemp's ridley sea turtles. And as I watched hundreds of motherless baby turtles hatch and make their way toward the ocean, I started to cry.
These sea turtles, for those of you who don't know them, are still the most endangered turtle species in the world, with only an estimated 1,000 females of nesting age left. These sea turtles mainly live in the Gulf of Mexico, and though much has been done to protect them over the last 30 years, they simply aren't rebounding. Still, with the dogged will to survive of most living things, the mother turtles, approximately 2 feet in diameter, drag their 100 pounds ashore, dig a nest and lay about 140 eggs every third year or so. Then, they bury the eggs in the sand and return to the sea, leaving behind their future offspring. About 60 days later, the babies emerge from their shells and instinctively begin making their way toward the water with their very first uncertain steps.
I am still not sure whether I wept for mother turtles who never saw their babies or for baby turtles left to face life alone from their very first breath. I recognized that it was sacred. Parenthood is a sacred gift, whatever its form. Some of us are conventional parents - birthing children and raising them to adulthood. Some of us are birth parents, loving our children enough to give them a better life than we can offer. Others of us are adoptive parents, shaping life for a child we love as fiercely as any we might ever birth. And some of us parent children who will be, forever, children. There are as many ways to parent as there are nesting mothers turtles. No matter the form, sooner or later we will all have to let go.
At the Padre Island National Seashore you can pay for the privilege of escorting the baby turtles safely to the water. That's what you do, dear parents. You pay, in love, in fear, in tears, for the privilege of escorting your children to the water. Sacred water. Where they can be marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit. Forever.