Suburban Snapshots

Bigger Fish

Sunday, February 27, 2011

We came home from a morning spent in Maine to find Anna's betta fish keeled over at the bottom of his cloudy bowl. Steve and I shot each other the look that says, "Crap." While Anna occupied herself with couch acrobatics, Steve and I debriefed at the kitchen sink; this seemed like a potentially loaded parenting moment and we needed a strategy. After a minute we decided on a big cover up; we were both exhausted and neither one of us had adequate brain function to describe fish heaven to a 2-year-old.

Steve took the bowl stealthily into the bathroom where he unceremoniously — well, you know. No sooner had he left the room — tank in hand — than a previously oblivious toddler pulled the meat thermometer from its drawer and announced that she needed to "measure" Jervis, the ex-fish. She does this often, breaking the water with the point of the thermometer and announcing with a wide-eyed gasp, "He's FOURTY-SEVEN!"

Steve came back into the room and put the vacated bowl into the kitchen sink, turning around just in time to see Anna over the half wall, climbing up onto the arm of a chair and looking confusedly at the spot where her fish's tank used to sit. With the meat thermometer un-sheathed she asked, "Where'd Jervie go?" Another, more desperate look passed between me and Steve and he mouthed, "We'll have to rent her Finding Nemo."

I'm not sure if my heart broke just then because I understood she might actually miss the fish, or if it was because I knew that the next thing I'd do was lie to her, or because I realized that eventually we'll have to deal with this in a meaningful way — that someday we'll have to come up with something better than, "Jervis swam back out into the ocean, now watch this uplifting, animated feature."

She's only just shy of three and I pray that her first experience of real loss is years away. Hopefully by then we'll have something better than guilty smiles and Disney movies to console her.

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