Our brief but meaningful relationship with “Orangey Teddy Fish Manders” began last Saturday, and only lasted through the following Tuesday.
Last Saturday evening, Dustin took the kids to Oktoberfest in Addison after they’d each had a long late afternoon nap. (This used to be one of our couple rituals b.c. “before children”, but apparently, it might make it to our list of “family fall rituals” since they had such a big hit!) This time around, Mommy was sick at home, and in bed at 8:00. Daddy called about that time to say they had “accidentally” won a goldfish – GOOD NEWS! Or is it? That night on the Internet, we discovered that goldfish are actually quite a lot of work, quite filthy, and if they last, can live up to 20 years – great! (Daddy and I secretly crossed our fingers for the “if they last” part, but didn’t expect his demise to happen so quickly.) I had quickly prepared our very nice and never used glass trifle bowl as a temporary home for the fish. (Like so many other lovely wedding gifts - the silver tea set, the crystal pitcher – it sits there unused int he china cabinet looking back and forward to a time without young children in the house – when we will have time to cook nice things, to host dinner parties, to sit around and have a fancy afternoon tea party… okay, maybe some of them are just for show. Another garbage can would have been more practical, in retrospect.)
The children were so excited about our first family pet, even if it was just a goldfish! MJ had wanted to name him “Orangey”, and Ellie had wanted to name him “Teddy”, so they compromised and combined the names along with “Fish Manders”, so I’m not sure pour O.T. had even quite learned his new name before passing, though it was spoken with love through glass many times in his tragically short life. On Sunday when Daddy got home from work, we went as a family to the pet store to buy him a proper home, and all the necessary accoutrements (filter, gravel, goldfish food, pink treasure chest). Apparently we weren’t supposed to put him in tap water, but specially “treat” the water before he was placed in it. (Perhaps this led to his eventual demise.) So, that evening when the tank was ready, we sat around and watched it glow in the dark sans fish – relaxing family “play”. We had to give the filter 24 hours to do it’s thing to make his water safe.
Monday morning, the children were so excited to go to school and tell their classes and teachers about their new pet. Now MJ could change his “All About Me” page to say that he DID have a pet! And Ellie got a pet just in time to talk about him for “pet week” in her 3-year-old class. That evening I put him in his tank as the children made up a song to welcome him. The kids called their Oklahoma grandparents to fill them in on all the details, and we wrote up some rules to keep him safe. The children agreed whole-heartedly that they would help take care of this new member of our family with love, care, and all the responsibility of a 3 and 5-year old pet goldfish owner. No tapping on the glass, no loud sounds, no putting hands or other foreign objects in the tank. Ellie would feed him breakfast, Mommy lunch, and MJ dinner. Our journey into pet ownership was just beginning, and we were off to a great start! This little pet was providing so much joy, so much distraction from messy craft projects, TV, and computer, and it really was calming to sit down in front of his tank and zone out…
Tuesday morning early, Dustin said he saw him swimming around when he left for work. But later that morning, as Ellie came in to feed him breakfast and eat her own, we discovered him pale and floating up top. (No official autopsy was done, but I’m guessing he just hung out in his own stench for too long or something.) I held sat on the floor with a crying Ellie in my lap for a few minutes, but then we had to get ready for school! Ellie was disconsolate (mostly because she had wanted to feed him), and this was the day I ended up taking her to school in her panties because I couldn’t get her to cooperate, and I needed to get to an early staff meeting. That afternoon, I paged Daddy to break the sad news and flushed the little guy while the kids were still at school. When they came home, Ellie asked where “Orangey Teddy” was, and I lied. I said I had buried him. (She had asked me not to flush him because she didn’t want him going out to the big scary ocean like Nemo, but it just seemed easier.) MJ soon appeared at my side with a block of scrap wood, and asked me how to spell “Orangey Teddy Fish Manders”. I helped him make the gravestone, showed him where the fish was “buried” under his rock garden, and he went about decorating it. Then I invited Ellie out there before her nap, and we held a little service. I said something along the lines of “He was a good fish and a good friend. Ellie and Michael James did a good job making a nice home for him and caring for him. He will be missed.” I asked if anyone else had something to add. Elie said “I hope he stays safe.” MJ added a purple glitter ball, and commented on how fast he was. Then we sang “Peace like a River”, thinking Orangey Fishy would probably have liked swimming in a river, and went inside for Teddy Grahams and rest-time. I was not going to initiate this, but MJ did. I don’t even know where he got the idea of a gravestone. My grandparents ashes are still in “holding”, and he has never been to a graveyard to my knowledge. But thankfully, I had my memory of the Cosby Show episode where they hold a family funeral for Rudy’s fish, and this memory guided me, as do so many wise Cliff and Claire Huxtable parenting moments. (Watch Lamont’s funeral - so funny!)
After coming back inside, MJ disappeared to his room, and when I checked on him, I saw that he had drawn a picture. In a good Mommy moment, I asked him to tell me about it instead of getting perturbed that he wasn’t using the potty as I’d asked him to. I was glad I did. I had no idea it was about the fish. He said, “It’s all the people who have died, Mommy.” There was a picture of Gigidad, Mimi, and O.T. with arrows pointing down to indicate that they had all gone into the ground. I was just a little creeped out by the fact that he had left lots of room to add more drawings, and was planning to use this as an on-going “system” for keeping track of all the dead people, signified by the fact that he’s taped it to his desk to “work” on it. Okay, moving on…he wasn’t upset, just keeping track…(May it only have fishey-type “people” added to it for many years to come!)
We moved on this weekend by going back to the pet store as a family to buy some new fish-tank tenants/ family members. This time we let each of the kids choose a fish, with advice from the knowledgeable Saturday evening PetsMart worker. Ellie chose an Orange Molly, which the worker pulled out of the tank, studied, and said, “It’s a boy!” (Okay, maybe she knows more than I gave her credit for.) A boy who is now named “Molly Teddy”. And MJ chose a black and orange sword-tail fish descriptively named “Swordy-Tail”! We took them home and introduced them to their new tank. MJ sweetly gave them the tour, and also identified me and Dustin as their new Mommy and Daddy. Everyone agrees that the two fish seem to be the best of friends, and the good news is that they are still alive on Day #2, so Ellie got to feed them breakfast! I’ll keep you posted on our new pet adventure…
Watch a video of MJ singing about “Swordy-Tail”