You know how a go-to episode on sitcoms of a family-flavor is when one of the kid’s pets die and the parents have to find a replacement that looks just like it? Can I just remind everyone that what happens on TV shouldn’t be emulated in real life?
My youngest child E is Miss Tenderheart. All creatures are precious. Not just your rabbits and puppies. I’m talking sharks, bugs, freaking scallops (“They’re so silly!” Uh… sure.). So here my little nugget is at three years old getting two betta fish and a crab for Christmas. (This was not a mother-approved gift and it’s because I know better.)
Right away, Mr. Crabs–I never said my children were clever, just that they love all the beasts of the earth–snaps Nemo the pink betta fish right in half. Cue my child’s horrified screams.
“They do that,” I said, rocking her. “They have to eat, too.” I had my husband clean out the floating entrails and refresh the water. Dory, the pretty blue betta, fortunately was smart enough to keep clear of Mr. Crabs. Didn’t matter in the end, because Mr. Crabs mysteriously died overnight. No, it’s actually a mystery. I didn’t give him what-for in the shadow of darkness for upsetting my child, but I would have if I’d thought about it. He just… up and died.
Emily is now positively traumatized. All creatures are precious, even sawing-the-betta-in-half-Mr. Crabs, who apparently died from the weight of his sins or possibly from being a crappy mall crab, who really knows. But two pets are down! Only one is left! These were the first pets that were just hers and not the family’s, and my tender schmusen is not going to suffer for one moment longer.
Gee dee it, Dory is going to be the oldest damn fish on the planet if I have my say.
We had Dory in one of those terrarium-type containers with a plant growing out of the top so she could eat the nitrogen bubbles at the roots. This will be important. Also important: My husband goes away on a business trip to Brazil. Now it’s just me and the kids, all who are under eight years old, as well as the dog, our cats, and of course, Dory.
Well, guess who flipping dies a few days into this business trip of the Mr.’s? Every morning Emily would pad to the fishbowl and sing, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming! What do we do? We swim, swim.”
The problem is that there is no swimming for Dory, not anymore. Now Dory sleeps with the fishes. The angel fishes. Not actual angelfish but ghost fish. She is dead. The damn thing is dead. She doth cease to be. She’s singing with the choir invisible. Son of a….
There I am with a cup of coffee in one hand and a trembling child at the other, both of us staring at this failure of a pet listing on its side like a bombed U-Boat. But before I can allow her little lip to wobble after putting together that Dory isn’t circling the bowl because she is dead, I point out that it’s okay that Dory is kind of on her side in the plant roots, because… she’s sleeping. Yeah.
That’s… that’s why she’s still. So very, very still.
“Okay, Mom!” Emily skips off to breakfast and I mutter a series of curses at jerks who gift fragile living creatures to small children. Also, they’re stupid as pets. A goldfish can’t go for a walk; it’s in the song. At another point in the day, Emily scooch-Magootched over to watch her wee fishy, so I had to act out of desperation.
I very quickly shook the bowl when she wasn’t looking to make a little vortex, an eddy that caught Dead Dory and sent her on a circle. A circle of lies. This was enough for Emily, who left her alone for the rest of the day.
Now, I’m all by myself with three small children. I have no one who can come watch the kids for an hour so I can zip over to the pet store or Walmart or whatever back-alley hell where betta fish are spawned in order to get a replacement. To really jazz this up, a damn political coup happens in Brazil, and the Mr. is literally trapped in his hotel while the military and rebel forces wage war outside.
So he couldn’t get home, half the time I couldn’t get in contact with him, so I had to suck it up and do what I could for as long as I could. For three weeks I shook that bowl, sending an increasingly grey, dead fish in a spiral to keep up the charade, sometimes lodging her in the tangle of roots as that made it appear like she was “eating,” and we don’t bother people when they eat, now do we?
Finally the Mr. gets home but now I have to leave overnight. There was no time to do a swap. He literally came in as I was going out. I said in my fiercest mom-whisper, “Just shake the bowl a couple times. Just do it; trust me. We’ll fix it when I get back so she’ll never know.”
I got a dismissive hand-wave, but Emily was the apple of his eye. He’d do it. I had to believe he’d do it because I had to go.
Before I board the plane to come home the next day, I get a call from a frustrated husband. “Great. Emily’s crying because Dory’s dead.”
“Didn’t you shake the bowl??”
“Oh, right. No.”
You had ONE JOB. For the love of… Three weeks, down the drain.
Just like Dory.
RIP Dory, Blue Betta 12-25-04 – 1-18-05