I have a knack for jinxing things when it comes to my kids. If something is going well in regards to my kids then I really need to learn to shut the F up about it. I need to learn that it’s okay to just say “oh, they’re fine” and move on. No one needs a lengthy story, or ahem, blog post. People used to ask how Olivia was sleeping when she was a baby, and me, eyes bleary yet full of hope, would answer honestly “Last night was a pretty good night! She slept for eight straight hours!” This honesty was rewarded with a screaming baby for hours on end when I didn’t rush to her rescue at 3am, boob out and ready to feed. This has happened to me countless times as I can’t seem to learn my lesson. My kids have a sixth sense for me
I’m not sure why I thought the death of AJR’s pet fish would be any different. We were riding high on a two week streak of AJR not noticing that the fish was dead so why did I rock the boat??? The length of time that he hadn’t noticed was bordering on absurd, which is why I felt compelled to share this via Facebook with a bunch of people that probably didn’t 1. Care that the fish had died 2. Thought I was a terrible mother for not telling my son about it to begin with. So of course, of course he ended up noticing that the fish was dead a mere four hours AFTER I had posted that he had zero clue that his fish was swimming with the fishes.
First, I have to come clean. We were terrible fish parents. The fish was originally purchased when AJR was almost two years old. We were moving him from his cozy nursery to the “big boy” room in anticipation for the arrival of Olivia and wanted to have something to excite him. We went to PetSmart and let the little guy pick out a betta fish and purchased all the accouterment one needs for a betta fish. It was cute. We took photos.
Then we over-trusted that filter way too much. A filter does not replace a regular cleaning. Our idea of “regular” was once every four months. And that’s being generous. Before you call PETA on us, we were pretty good about feeding the thing despite the murky sludge that it was forced to swim through. In my weak defense, I got to the point where I thought if I cleaned the tank and gave it fresh water that the shock of fresh water would be too much for the fish’s system to bear and it would in fact, kill it. Motherhood has given me an extraordinary skill – I am the master of justifying ANYTHING. Even fish negligence.
Unsurprisingly, the fish died. My husband was the one who found “I Did It” (yes, this was the name AJR gave the fish many years ago) laying lifelessly in the tank. My heart sank. I felt bad. Truly I did. This poor betta lived for two years with a Darla-like owner and others that neglected his very basic needs. Then I panicked – what should we tell AJR? Do we go full disclosure and have the death talk? Do we try and match the betta fish and slip it into the tank hoping we can pull a fast one on him? Given all of the upheaval in our lives, we decided to go with straight up avoidance. Let AJR be the one to notice the missing fish. We certainly weren’t going to bring it up.
This theory worked. For two weeks. Until I tempted fate by telling everyone how hilarious it was that our kid had noticed his missing fish. Karma answered with a hell of a bitch slap that night.
We had some close calls. Olivia, or Darla 2.0 in this scenario, is sort of obsessed with the fish. She’s wandered into AJR’s room and on a few occasions, given the tank a quizzical look and said “where fishy go?”. She has quickly been escorted from the room without an answer to her question.
But this past Sunday night as I was laying in bed with AJR and getting ready to say goodnight and make my way to sweet freedom…
AJR, in a puzzled voice – “My fish tank isn’t making any noise.” (the filter has been turned off)
Me – “Oh, it’s broken. We’ll need to fix it.” (internally: Me – don’t notice the fish is missing, don’t notice the fish in missing…)
AJR, eyes searching frantically – “Mommy, where’s my fish?”
Me and my big mouth. Damn you, Facebook post and my inability to help myself! There was a long pause, excruciatingly long in toddler time. I finally took a deep breath – Joe was outside mowing the lawn and I was riding solo on this one – and decided it was time to tell him the truth. The actual truth. The truth that his fish had died and wasn’t coming back. I told him about the big D. Right before bed wasn’t the ideal time for a conversation of this magnitude, but the jig was so up and I remember hearing that honest is the best policy.
I told him that the fish wasn’t there anymore, that it had died, and was with all the other fish that had died. I made zero mention of heaven and didn’t paint this blissful and comforting image of him swimming in an ocean up in the sky with other betta buddies. No, instead I butchered it and then he cried. His little bottom lip quivered and tears pooled in his green eyes and he cried. I told him it was okay to be sad and then tried to engage him by asking his favorite thing about his fish in a feeble attempt to give this fish some sort of memorial service. I knew this was a futile effort as AJR hasn’t shown interest in his fish for 1.5 years and do fish really do anything interesting anyway? But I gave it my all. I made up a favorite thing about I Did It and tried to get AJR to smile.
Ultimately, he seemed confused, which didn’t surprise me in the least. What is “dead” to an almost 4-year old? Then he asked, in a most heartbreaking way, whether his fish was with a new kid. I felt even more terrible. He thought his fish had jumped tank for a cooler, more fun (or maybe just more reliable) pet owner. No, I reassured him, he was just gone and wasn’t coming back. And then he twisted the bad parent knife in a little deeper…
AJR – “I didn’t even see you take him out!”
Yes, because you helping remove his lifeless body from the tank and flush it down the toilet wouldn’t have been fraught with potential disaster. Emotional and physical. I did admit that we should have told him when it happened and then I apologized, which seemed to appease him.
With no more questions from the fish pet widower, I asked AJR if he wanted me to cuddle with him a little longer. He sniffed and nodded and I held his little body close to mine. Then I did what any parent would do. I gave him a kiss and promised we would go to PetSmart to pick out a new fish very soon. Finally, a smile crept on his face as he vowed to find a fish that looked just like his old one.