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For the love & fear of turkeys

Daughter, age 7, Thanksgiving grace: “Turkey, thank you for this delicious meal. Sorry for your loss.” Alas, while my daughter, at seven, had mastered empathy for poultry, she had yet to master confrontations with poultry — with turkeys in particular, who roam throughout our woods and yard. “But -- but the turkeys!” she would protest, whenever I said she could run to the neighbor’s house solo. To me, her outsized fear was comical. Turkeys -- at least the ones in our neck of the woods -- are goofy-looking creatures, with giant meatball bodies and long, skinny necks that are wrinkled and red like crimson brains and chins that look like the tender part of a man’s privates. On tiny little legs, these puffed-up watermelons strut across our lawn and fly super-high into the sky (yes, they fly) and land in trees, where they roost for the night. “What if one falls on our head?” my daughter asked me once. Jeez, I thought. What if?? But it’s not only their looks; it’s how they sound, too. See, “Gobble, gobble” is in no way an accurate depiction of turkey-speak, which actually sounds like a giggling “gg-gg-gg-ggg” -- like how scrambled eggs might talk. Yet, as goofy as they are, I admit that turkeys are not not threatening: When you walk towards them, the big ones splay their feathers like fighting arms and come at you like, “Wut? Wut?” and you’re like, “I don’t know wut! I’m just tryna borrow some sugar!” Plus, they’re smart — you never see turkey roadkill. Still, I thought my daughter’s level of fear was ridiculous until I considered her height and realized how scary it would be getting charged at by a winged and feathered drumstick with beady eyes and a bright red ballsack for a chin who’s coming at you like “Gg-gg-gg-gg-bring it!!” -- and who stands at the height of your forehead. “If they chase you, just run away,” I told the kids. “What if they catch us?” asked my son. “Well... you watch Cobra Kai,” I told them. “Just practice your high kicks.” “You mean like this?” they asked, while practicing 57 kicks each. “Yes,” I told them. “Any of those would work.” When even karate kicks didn’t assuage her fear, I gave my daughter a softball bat to carry between the properties, just in case. “Mind your stance,” I told her. “Knees bent; elbow up.” But then, one evening, out of nowhere, she left the bat at home. “I’m not scared of them anymore,” she said. “You’re not??” I asked. How did she do that?? “Nah,” she answered. “I realized they’re just animals. They’re just being turkeys.” Just like that, she had dropped her fear. Fear is an interplay between our minds and our bodies — our Nervous Systems, which are sometimes triggered by even the smallest, vaguest hints of danger. When we are triggered, our minds might race (or shut down) and our bodies might tense up (or collapse) as we’re overwhelmed by fear -- a fear that can actually stop us from getting where we want to go — whether that’s just to the neighbor’s or, even, towards our dreams. We can disrupt this incapacitating fear with interventions of mind and/or body. Calm the body, and it will calm the mind. Calm the mind, and it will calm the body. My daughter calmed her mind first, with a lightbulb moment: she simply decided that she was safe. Her mental perspective changed from fear of turkeys to acceptance of them. (“They’re just turkeys; they’re not doing anything wrong.”) And in response to her change of mind, her body responded in kind, with a loosening of inner tension that allowed her to walk across the yard with ease. You can calm your body with deep breath and kind touch. And with your mind, interrogate your fears — maybe they’re nothing to be afraid of at all! The things that scare us are often just puffed-up “what-ifs,” with teeny little legs to stand on. Fear and love are the two grand polarities. This Thanksgiving day, let’s remember it's possible to acknowledge our fears and then drop them, to allow space for our minds and bodies to fill instead with love, as we offer thanks to our world and its turkeys -- in all of their goofiness and glory, and for all that they give. Love and Thanksgiving blessings, Mom


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