Despite all my best efforts to talk myself out of a fish for Izzy, I still kept coming back to the idea. So we are at the Farmer's Market and we had just left the puppy mill store...I mean pet store, the one that doesn't have fish, and I decided to go into the flower shop across the way.
It was so strange...I've been going to this farmer's market since childhood and never once can I recall stopping into this flower shop. I'm not good with plants either and so I was just about to, ya know, walk on by. When suddenly, and without warning, there was this total eclipse of the sun. It got very dark and there was this strange sound like something from another world. And when the light came back this weird fish was just sitting there, just, you know, stuck in, among the decorative bamboo shoots. I could have sworn it hadn't been there before but the old Chinese lady sold it to me anyways, for a dollar ninety-five.
Hahaha! I'm just kidding y'all. But if you caught onto that, bonus points for you!
Really though, I had never gone in that flower shop before so we wandered in just for something to occupy our time. Tucked in the back, truly among the decorative bamboo shoots, were cups and cups of pretty beta fish. I always feel so badly for these fish. They don't get along with other fishes - so even if they make it out of the dixie cup prison they live in, they never get to have any pals. So I picked the most pathetic looking fish on the shelf and hoped my husband wouldn't be too pissed at me (because I think it's probably obvious by now that he takes care of the pets) and home we went. I was a little short-sighted in my attempt to rescue this fish as I was ill-prepared to give him a new home. I had nothing better than a vase to put him in.
We quickly acquired a small aquarium with a palm tree for our new family member. Izzy named him Goldie and she and her daddy spent the last nine months bonding over feeding sessions. I was banned from feeding Goldie as I always seemed to over-feed him. This inevitably led to Izzy chastising me, "only a few pieces, mommy!", while holding up three fingers, and me exclaiming "That fish should just be grateful that I ever brought him home. He should learn some self control!" Harumph!
Yet here I sit, wondering when and how my daughter learned how to roll her eyes.
Over the past three months though, Goldie went through phases of looking not-so-hot. At least twice a week or more Christian would report to me that he didn't think Goldie would last much longer. We hoped for the best but every time Goldie rallied and returned to his perky self, flexing for the plastic, bobble head chicken we'd place in his eye line for entertainment (his and ours). Eventually I treated my husband's reports like Bigfoot sightings - I'll believe it when I see it.
Then finally yesterday morning, when Christian came to kiss me goodbye before work, he informed me that Goldie had finally passed away. I asked if he was sure because that fish had faked us out in the past. He assured me that he was gone - so gone, in fact, that he'd already flushed him.
All morning I ushered Izzy passed the empty fish tank, hoping she wouldn't notice and we wouldn't have to discuss this before school. All day I rehearsed what we should say to her and what we'd do when she sank into a weeping pile on the floor over her beloved Goldie. And so last night, before dinner, we sat her on the couch and told her we needed to have a 'big girl' talk with her. As she sat on the couch and her daddy and I kneeled on the floor, my husband attempted to deliver a heartfelt and philosophical soliloquy on how things in life come and go and everything changes. It was when she started to squirm and whine about wanting lemonade that I decided I should take the reigns. I did my best to avoid phrases like 'Goldie went to sleep forever' or 'Goldie got sick and went to heaven' lest she get it in her head that either of those things would cause her to die. We'd never get her in bed before 9pm ever again!
As I struggled to find the words to find a simplistic and not scary way to explain death to a not-quite four year old, I finally decided that quick and dirty was probably best at this point.
"Izzy, honey, Goldie went to Heaven and we won't see him anymore. But he's really happy in Heaven. Okay?"
Long pause and a thoughtful stare...
"Goldie is in Heaven?"
"We'll just go to the store and get a new fish and we can call it Goldie too!"
She didn't care. I spent the whole day fretting over breaking our little girl's heart with the awful news of her pet's death and in the end, she didn't care. Then I briefly worried that I was raising a sociopath that didn't have compassion for living things.
But she's four - not even. How much can an almost four year old comprehend death when it's never come up before? My guess is that they can not...that is until they realize that death can be used as a tool for manipulation.
Evil little genius.
And how stupid are we? We couldn't leave well enough alone and asked her if she was okay. One of us asked if she was sad about Goldie and that's when the lightbulb went off. Like, for real, I saw an actual lightbulb go 'bing!' right over her manipulative, blonde head. The eyes got wide and watery and she hid her face in her shoulder, "I'm sad that Goldie went to Heaven" and peeked back at us to see if we were paying attention. When I saw her try to hide a smirk I called an end to the game. Throughout the evening she tried to feign mourning. She was too sad to eat dinner, too sad to clean up her toys, too sad to take a bath. This was such a profound sadness that could only be quelled by ice cream and an extra episode of Dora the Explorer. But as my husband said, all things come and go, and I suppose this applies to grief - actual or acted. By this morning, Izzy had forgotten about Goldie and had moved on to attempting to convince me that all the little kids bring their Barbie collections to school.
I don't think we'll be replacing Goldie any time soon but it will be nice to have another fish in the future. You were a good little swimmer, Goldie. I hope you enjoy your new fish tank in the sky. And I hope it has a little palm tree in it for you to rest upon; you seemed to enjoy that in your tank with us.