Bugaboo got a fish for her fourth birthday last year; we deemed her old enough to have her very own pet, and that pet would be a fish. She was quite enthused about the whole thing.
She chose a betta, named him Blue, and was a faithful fish mommy, feeding him every night and blowing him a kiss right before she went to bed.
You can understand my consternation this morning when I realized that Blue was not moving and was, in fact, floating belly-up in his tank; after hastily setting one of the day’s lessons in front of Bugaboo, I went out in the back yard to call Daddy and inform him of Blue’s passing. We opted not to say anything to her, but to wait, either for her to notice or for Daddy to come home.
Shortly before Daddy left work for the day, Bugaboo did, in fact, notice that Blue was no longer swishing his showy fins around his mermaid. She tried several things to get him to move — shifting the knick-knacks on the sideboard, tapping on his tank, giving him a little snack — then flumped down on the couch, frustrated and confused.
I sat down next to her, and she asked me the question I’d been dreading. “Mommy, why isn’t Blue moving?”
This question came from a child who is not yet 5, who is still grieving for our hound Gretchen, who left for Heaven last February, who still sighs when she thinks of our ancient Schnauzer mix Sheila, who left when Bugaboo when our oldest daughter was a mere 19 months old. I said a silent prayer for wisdom, pulled her onto my lap, gave her hugs and kisses, an stroked her hair. Then I looked her in the eye and said in my gentlest voice, “Blue isn’t moving because he’s died, sweetheart.”
“Oh.” A pause. “So that’s what dead looks like?”
“Yes, honey. That’s what dead looks like.”
“Oh.” Another pause. “So does this mean I should get another fish?”
“You may have another fish if you want one. Daddy said he would take you out, if you felt like it.”
“You mean a special big girl outing to go find a new fish? Could we go tonight? Can Beanie come?”
They just pulled back into the driveway, bearing a new betta and a new tank. His name is Tot.
I’ll be making a little cardboard casket, covered with a scrap of blue satin, after the girls go to bed, so we can give Blue a proper burial in the morning.
Today’s prayer: Lord, thank You for resilient children. Remind me that my fears are almost always worse than reality.