On Turtles and Frogs

When it comes to check-out lines, I’m slow. Really slow. Or so it feels when I’m standing at the register, fumbling to remove cash and slide coins back in my wallet without spilling them, fiddling with the receipt, finagling my wallet back into my purse.

If I’m shopping with one of my daughters, I’ll just let her handle the money so we get through the line quicker. If I’m shopping with Al, he takes care of the transaction. But since I usually do errands by myself, I’m often in this state of fumbling and feeling like I’m holding up the people behind me.

Lately, I’ve taken to hauling my purchase, change and receipt to an open counter where I can take my time to put everything back together. The other day I was in a store, arranging my stuff at an empty checkout counter, when the cashier at the next station asked if I needed help with an exchange.

“No,” I said, “I’m just getting organized.” To which she replied, “I wish someone would do that for me!” We laughed, and I felt better.

Some of this angst about being a slow-poke because my hands are clumsy is in my head. But I’m not imagining people’s impatience in the line behind me, either. We’re a society obsessed with speed.

When I was a marketing director for a dozen-plus years at a small New England college, I would always give my new employees a plastic turtle. Then I’d explain Herwitz’s Turtle Principle:

  1. Take the time to do the job right the first time, or you’ll end up spending twice as long fixing it.
  2. If our internal clients drive you crazy, draw into your shell and let it roll off.
  3. Pace yourself through the day, including lunch and breaks to clear your head. You’ll be more productive and keep your sanity.

Everyone loved these guidelines and our little department mascots, and many of my staff took their plastic turtles with them when they moved on to their next career step. While I’m sure it sounded odd and downright seditious to some of my colleagues who wanted us to jump to meet their demands, whenever we followed the Turtle Principle, we were highly productive, and whenever we succumbed to pressure and rushed to complete a project, we’d screw up.

Problem was, I had a really hard time finding those plastic turtles. I’d search in toy stores and party stores to no avail. It took creative thinking and serendipity to locate them. Plenty of plastic frogs, but few turtles.

Not surprising that the frogs outnumbered the turtles, when you think about it. We’re always hopping, running, chasing to keep up with
everything we try to stuff into a day. So often I hear people complain how busy they are, how exhausted they are—but the complaint often veils pride in accomplishment. How busy you are is also a measure of success. If you’re busy, you must be doing a lot of important things, right?

I get caught up in this cycle, too. Which is why I hate to waste time fumbling at the check-out counter, and why I’m so conscious of holding up people in line behind me.

But, really. What if we all took a few more minutes at the check-out line to stop, organize ourselves and chat with the cashier? Turtles are among the longest-lived creatures on the planet. In this 5-Hour-Energy, instant-download, five-minutes-ago-is-old-news world of ours, scleroderma or no scleroderma, I’d rather be a turtle than a frog.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.


  1. Megan Radtke says:

    I loved your article! I don’t know if I actually have scleroderma or not as my doctor is convinced I have eczema. Yet, she suggested scleroderma. However, I experience the situation you described with the “slow-pokeness.” Fortunately, it is only my right hand, but that’s my dominant hand and it swells up to the point I think my fingertips are going to explode. And even when it’s not swollen, I am still clumsy too. Guess I just wanted you to know you’re not alone. Hang in there! 🙂

    • Thanks, Megan! I appreciate what you’re going through. Especially the fingertip pain when your fingers swell up. I think there are a lot of us out there who deal with being slower than the norm because of physical restrictions. So many of our daily commercial transactions depend on manual dexterity–from paying in line at check-out to self-pumping gas–and it’s a challenge that melts into the background, because it’s not obvious to others. Thanks for your kind words, and I hope you are getting good medical care!

  2. Pat Bizzell says:

    Your post reminded me of the commercials in which smug smart-phone holders mock those near-by for making a comment that ‘s “so thirty seconds ago” as if they are desperately behind the times. Let’s crawl not hop!

    I sympathize with the self-consciousness about slowness, too, as I have become much slower at negotiating stairs than all the limber-legged undergraduates rushing to classes around me. I feel like I need slow-vehicle flashers on my backpack!

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