We were having a fun and friend filled Friday and at one point Nathan and I were sitting outside with our friends Mariah and Pete (who were visiting for just a few short hours) sipping sangria and watching our two little guys, Finn (1 year) and Owen. We had a little chuckle because it was so quiet and peaceful with the big kids up in Zoe's room playing their favorite game, "Goodnight to Baybah" (don't ask, because we don't know either--all we do know is that they quietly play it for a really long time together without asking for our help at all, so we don't ask either) that it was almost as if we each just had one kid ("Like the good old days." Nathan lamented--no, no joked). It came time for our friends to head off to their next adventure and we almost immediately welcomed more friends for dinner. It was a packed day and we didn't really have time to regroup until bedtime.
I was helping Zoe get ready for bed when I looked at Ada's fishbowl. As I began to notice Ada was looking a little funny, Zoe started telling me that she and one of her friends had held her earlier on. I gave Ada a little nudge with the fish net, which confirmed that she was most definitely dead. I took a deep breath and braced myself. This was the moment I had been dreading since we got the fish. I knew it would happen and had warned her that it would happen but I knew that it was going to be hard on her as well as a difficult thing for me to try and explain (2 big reasons why I actually thought it was a good idea for us to get a fish in the first place). I decided not to pussyfoot around and just said it: "Okay, Zo. You know what? Ada is dead." She took it shockingly well in the first moments. She even cheerfully told me she wanted to hold her one last time so she could say goodbye. I told her she couldn't but that she could look at her and say something before we flushed her down the toilet. She looked at her and just kind of said "Oh" and we all said a quick goodbye as I quickly plopped her in the toilet (Owen from the bathtub: "BYE!!"). As soon as I flushed, I saw Zoe bow her head and could tell she was starting to cry. I walked with her into her bedroom to hug her (Owen was being far too silly and unsympathetic in the moment, as you would expect from a baby brother in such a situation). She proceeded to go through a bunch of mixed emotions but whenever she was able to collect herself she would inevitably lose it again when she saw the toilet or the empty space on her dresser where Ada's bowl once sat ("It just doesn't look the same without Ada there, Mommy"). I felt bad for her because I knew she was realizing it was kind of her fault but of course, I didn't want to say that. She at one point told me she thought it had happened because she and her friend were holding her, and she broke down again as she asked me if I also thought that was why she died. I just said "Well, yes it could have been but she was a fish and fish sometimes just die and you don't know why. She actually lived a really long time for a fish." I just couldn't tell her that it was most definitely because they had taken her out of her bowl for too long.
At one point, she asked me THE QUESTION: "Mommy, where is Ada now?". Now, if you want to see someone squirm, be present when an agnostic like me is asked a question like that by their sweet, innocent (tearful) child. Immediately I saw 3 choices I could make in that moment:
1) Tell her the hard truth: "She is in the sewage system. You know, the same place all our poop and pee goes, but she's dead so it's okay.". I immediately ruled that one out
2) Tell her something I don't believe to be true but know to be more comforting than my truth: "She is in fishy heaven." In my need to find a way to comfort my daughter, I saw part of the appeal in this belief system and came really close to giving in as I said "Well, maybe she's swimmin' around somewhere...." but she kept me within my comfort zone by cutting me off, saying "But--she's dead, Mommy."
3) Tell her a half truth and omit the hard stuff: I thankfully, finally settled on this after stumbling a bit. I said "I don't know where she is right now but what I DO know is that when she was HERE, you took really great care of her and loved her so much. I could tell she was happy living in your room with you and that's what's important."
Gah! Like I said, as nightmarish as this kind of thing is for me, part of me knew it was a really good reason to start getting and taking care of a fish. I figured I'd be forced to face the conversation at some point soon, but I hoped it would be fairly easy for her to get past the sadness of losing a pet fish (turns out I was right about that. She's already 98% over it today). I have a terrible time talking about death with her because it terrifies me and I don't have any answers. I don't believe in God or Heaven but I also know I could be wrong about that. Since I won't know until I actually die, I try not to dwell on it and concentrate on living life the best way I can in the moment. I don't want to say these things to my rosy cheeked children but I don't want to lie to them either. I struggle with the thought a lot, so this felt like a practice run of sorts. I know now, the next time we lose a fish she won't feel as shocked (and she will KNOW not to hold it with her friends) and I feel like I have the beginnings of my "Death Conversation" which makes me feel a lot less wiggy at the mere thought.
Not to make this all into a bigger thing than it was, though. Honestly, I did feel horrible for her and squirmed a bit at the questions it raised but mostly it was sweet and kind of funny. After I put them to bed, Nathan told me he'd had this conversation with Zoe earlier that day:
Zoe: "Daddy, DON'T TELL MOMMY and don't be disappointed but if you ARE disappointed, just know that I won't do it again. (pause) Sophie and I held Ada.
Nathan: "I'm not disappointed, but just know that if you take a fish out of water, it can't breath and could get hurt."
Zoe: "Yeah, like when they bounce on the floor."
Nathan: "Oh, did she bounce on the floor?"
Zoe: "Yeah, but only like 2 or 3 times. Then I held her really tight so she wouldn't fall again."
Anyway, we had a great day today too. Zoe had her big race in Louisville (I've been there a handful of times, but oddly had the most powerful "I want to live in this town" feelings today) and had such a blast! Nathan and I weren't convinced she'd actually do it. I worried that she would feel intimidated by all the people there and would change her mind and then regret it later. She totally rocked it though and it was so darn cute and fun:
|I wasn't sure if they would have race numbers for the kids, so I made this shirt for her. I asked her what number she wanted to be and she said "Either 96 or 99, but you can choose, Mommy.". I used heat transfer paper for the actual number and her name, and she wanted me to add the appliques.|
|She said this was how she was going to start the race (she forgot to but was okay with that)|
|Waiting at the start|
|She was way in back, but these kids just killed me! So, so cute!!|
|Inspiration happens anywhere, anytime.|
|Crossing the finish line|
|Water for the runners|
|She wanted to hang out near the finish line for a while and recap, relive and just soak it all up. I could totally relate so we sat there as long as she wanted to.|
|Nice job, big girl.|
|Owen was really cranky the whole time but he had little glimmers of silliness. Here, he's doing his signature worm dance. Lasted about 10 seconds and he was crying and yelling at us again.|