Fish and Lessons
“Call 911, Mommy! Call the Police!”
I could tell what was going on inside my daughter’s tiny body: her heart breaking, her mind racing for a solution. What do you do when the world falls apart?
Goldy had disappeared. Nowhere to be seen in his bowl, or behind his plant, or burrowing in the violet gravel she’d chosen in the hot, smelly basement pet store.
I’ve joked about goldfish dying, pets as mortality lessons, but seriously? I didn’t want to cope with another loss. Not yet.
Maybe Goldy had jumped out? I remembered a terrarium pet frog from long ago. I figured I’d look outside his bowl first. There was a chance, and aren’t Betas pretty hardy? Maybe he’d still have one breath left. It would be traumatic but it was worth looking first. Certainly before calling 911.
I rustled among the papers outside Goldy’s bowl. Many pieces of orange and red notepaper, some taped to his bowl so he could learn from them: because she was going to teach him tricks.
My daughter noticed that he could easily do two moves: swim straight, or turn around. Because “we don’t understand fish language,” she’d write him some notes: sequences of dashes and circles in crayon, the little square instructions taped on his bowl, facing in. “That way he can study while we sleeping. It will be easier for him to remember his instructions.”
Later, she said, she’d put on a show. She visualized the playroom with every chair in the house, all the way to the back wall, even some behind the couch. “And we’ll invite everyone we know, who loves Goldy, and all the kids from kindergarten, to see our show.”
I tore the notes off the fishbowl. He really wasn’t in there. Gathered up all the papers around it, gently, holding them together in one hand. Not there either. The shelf below? On a box of puzzles? No. Maybe behind the shelf – is it carpeted back there? A few inches of room. Definitely no fish there either.
“Mommy! You have to call 911 NOW!!!!!” She’d been crying at me the entire time.
How do you explain to a 6-year-old that you can’t even call about a missing person for 48 hours? I mean, that’s real life. I know because I see it on TV. Never mind a fish… it would break her heart to know that the official world that’s there to protect us didn’t give a crap about a missing pet fish, at least, not unless it was very very large and carnivorous, possibly not even then unless it were able to walk on land.
She jumped up and down, so angry at me, and sad, and I didn’t know what to do. One last ditch… pick up the treasure chest ornament. Maybe he’d gotten way under there…. I was sort of right. His tail, a swash of delicate Siamese fighting tail, wiggled from a crevice behind the hinge. He was head first in a fishy crawlspace, possibly not even stuck. Gently I raised it higher, tried to help him swim out.
He was out, and alive, and fine. My child and I cried in relief and hugged each other. A near-miss, to me; to her, proof that Mom is still powerful enough.
But our bodies are still mingled and kid logic’s still intact. This week she’s mad at me because I said I love her more than I love Goldy. Also, she loves fish sticks more than Tater Tots. Why? “Because… Goldy is a fish and I love him.”
P.S. Mr. Fresh told a cop friend, who said, if this ever happens to you, DO call the police (after you look for the fish). If they have free time, they will send an officer over for a civics lesson your kid will never forget. (I’d suggest calling the local number, not 911)
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