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The day a deer told Steph what to do

I found the house on a walk from my in-laws, five years ago. It was just down the road from their house in Long Island, around a curve. I’d stopped to watch a deer in the wetlands who was staring at me menacingly across the tops of the brush, on high alert. She locked me in her gaze and wouldn’t step away. I felt slightly scared, not like she was going to charge exactly, but like there was some reason she was afraid, and it made me afraid too. What is it? I wondered, staring into the incredible deep browns of her huge eyes. What’s going on?

I had started believing in the idea of animal totems, of animals helping to guide you. I had started to see dragonflies everywhere, especially in moments when I was questioning my path deeply. They would appear as if on cue, like they were carrying some message I just had to figure out. I’d gotten a tattoo of a dragonfly to commemorate a huge transition time in my life and to remember the necessity of change.

Believing as I do, I was sure there was some reason I was standing there, locked in with the deer, some message I was supposed to glean from the moment. Wondering what it could be, afraid to move, I heard something in the grass and looked just beside the deer in time to see a tiny foal scramble to its feet — seemingly for the first time — and then begin to run away from me, all gangly-legged, its mother loping alongside.

It was such a beautiful moment and I understood implicitly what the fear had been borne from: maternal instinct. The deer was protecting her young. I was a threat.

As I thought of this, I looked beyond where the deer and its newborn had run and there was a little house, its mullioned windows looking on to a little concrete deck and the wetlands and a beautiful inlet beyond.

“Wow,” I thought. Then I saw the sign. I thought it was a “For Sale” sign, and when I saw the “1,” I thought it was a million-plus.

“Of course,” I thought, “like I could afford a house on the water.”

Then I realized it was a “For Rent” sign, and the monthly price was actually not too terrible for a little place with such an incredible view.

I hadn’t been looking for a second home, but as I walked up the driveway and onto that deck, when I looked in the big windows and saw the cute little room, the sweet fireplace, I understood the deer and its message: I needed to protect my young.

I didn’t grow up in an apartment in a big city. I didn’t compete for my middle school, or test into my high school. I didn’t have Academy-Award winners and famous authors and business leaders as my neighbors. I had a big yard, and the desert beyond my house to explore. I watched soap operas, sometimes plugging the television in outside so I could try to get a tan with some baby oil. I babysat and worked at a little ’50s diner as a hostess. There wasn’t so much pressure in Tucson and, as I looked at this little grey-shingled house, at the trees and shrubs that protected it from the road, I knew it was something I wanted, if it was at all possible.

We figured it out. We rented it to friends to make up some of the expense, we furnished it from odds and ends that we gathered up, mostly, in a single day, adding to the shabby chic look over time with flea-market finds and found objects from the beach.

It was a safe haven for my family, a little respite from the city sights and sounds, from its pressures. My boys slept late in their little dark room, then came out onto the deck in their underwear for the apple donuts, stopping to pee on the “pee tree.” One summer, they rented “Twilight Zone” episodes from the library and spent an entire week watching them.

We are giving it up, our little house. The boys go to camp now, and, of course, there is that idea of transience, that there are places you have to go for a time, and then you have to find something else.

But I want to thank that deer mother, for stopping me on that day, and showing me that little house. It was indeed a safe haven for me, and for my kids, and for those who came to stay.

Read Fearless Parenting every other Thursday on BrooklynPaper.com.

Without accepting the fact that everything changes, we cannot find perfect composure. But unfortunately, although it is true, it is difficult for us to accept it. Because we cannot accept the truth of transience, we suffer.

— Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki

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