I had just dropped the kids off at school when I returned home to realize our beloved pet, Sparkle the fish, was floating lifeless in its bowl. I was stunned that Sparkle had died so soon because we had just bought the fish two months ago. I had to do something before the kids returned home. I immediately began thinking of ways I could explain to our six-year-old daughter, Madison, that Sparkle was no longer with us. Madison is a sensitive, caring soul. I knew this would crush her. I never really gave any thought as to how my three-year-old son would react. All he really cares about is jellybeans and the cartoon PJ Masks.
I called my sister at work to seek guidance on the best way to deliver the bad news to the kids. My sister, Leah, was adamant that I not tell the kids that the fish died. She suggested that I just go to the store and replace it. She didn’t feel that Madison was emotionally ready to deal with the death of her dearly loved Betta fish. Next I called my husband Michael at work. I explained to him that the fish died and I asked his opinion on how to deal with the situation. He agreed with my sister. Fine, a brief prayer and I flush the fish down the toilet.
After a few household chores, I run out to the local pet store. I searched high and low for a purple-ish blue Betta fish. No luck. Time is ticking. The school day ends soon. I am out of options, so I grabbed the closest thing I could find.
An hour later, the kids and I are all in the kitchen as I prepared dinner. Our three-year-old son walked past Sparkle’s bowl, which is located in the middle of the kitchen table. He stops. He takes a closer look. I immediately knew I was busted. “Mom look!” he says. “Why is Sparkle red?” Madison ran to the bowl and began to worry. I quickly came up with a lie about how fish change colors with the seasons. Crisis averted… for now.
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Last week I enter the kitchen to discover a wretched fishy smell. I walk over to the new Sparkle’s bowl, but Sparkle is nowhere in sight. I thought it was odd, but we were rushing to leave for the evening so I didn’t dwell on it too long. I asked my husband to take out the trash, thinking that was the source of the smell. I walk back to the bowl to take a second glance when I discover a dark red lump on the counter. I began to scream in horror and disbelief. The new Sparkle had jumped out of the bowl. I was shocked, disgusted and confused. I had never, in all my life, had a fish jump out of the bowl. The kids rushed in when they heard my reaction. My husband grabbed a paper towel and disposed of the fish so the kids wouldn’t see it. But it was too late. They knew their cherished fish Sparkle was dead. We quickly ushered the kids out of the door. I wiped down the counter with bleach and hopped into the car.
Madison is devastated and in tears. Michael not so much. We pray for her fish. And recall fond stories of when we picked it out at the store. I try to console her by letting her know Sparkle is with its family in heaven. Amazingly this comforts her, although she is still sad. I suggested we go get another fish, but she just wanted Sparkle. Over the next few days we talked about the fish a lot. Each day her mood improved.
To me it was just a fish, but to Madison it was so much more. She enjoyed taking care of Sparkle: feeding it, talking to it, showing it her schoolwork. When she drew family pictures, she included Sparkle. Should I have told her that the first Sparkle died? Probably, but I wasn’t ready to deal with my kid’s heartache. Today we still haven’t replaced that fish. Now she wants a dog.