April 4, 2014

Beta Fish & the Unexpected: A Snapshot of Mamahood.

Beta fish

More often than not, things don’t go as planned.

My ducks are all lined up in a row for a split second and then: they barf, or run in opposite directions, or drop to the floor in a synchronized tantrum.

This morning was an example of that.

It was an everyday morning, set aside only by the fact that Opal was cooperating better than usual. We were a half hour from leaving for Gymnastics Camp (it’s spring break so I had to spend an extra $40 to be able to do $45 worth of work this morning), and she was eating breakfast with only a minuscule amount of dawdling over her oatmeal. All was well.

And then it wasn’t.

A loud noise came from her bedroom—an inexplicable hummbuzz. Those jarring, wet-mechanical noises are usually attached to something bad in the realm of plumbing: an overflowing washing machine, a sewage backup, a burst pipe. Because of that, Jesse leapt from the table and was down the hall before Opal and I removed our napkins from our laps.

“Everything’s okay!” He yelled. “It’s just Rainbow’s tank. The water’s low.”

It turns out, Opal’s Beta fish, Rainbow, had a slight leak in her tiny plastic tank. (I know she is a girl because Opal decided on her gender upon her arrival home from the pet store, though I’m not sure how you actually tell if a fish is a girl or a boy.)

Aside from being low in water and having a loud pump, Rainbow was dandy. Seemingly thrilled with the sudden onslaught of attention, she coasted from side to side, allowing her blue fins to float through the water like the hair of a mermaid.

Everything was fine. Except for Opal.

She fell to the floor in a fit of sobs. “Rainbow! Rain-BOW!”  As if she’d seen her beloved pet perish before her eyes: Why, god, why?!

Face smeared, shiny and sticky, it took her a surprisingly long time to register the reality that everything was okay.  But when she did, she didn’t want to leave Rainbow’s side. She brushed her teeth and combed her hair while staring into Rainbow’s tank. She wiped off the fingerprints then kissed the plastic, then wiped off the kiss-marks. She put a doll and a photo of herself next to the tank before we left and only agreed to leave in the first place because I convinced her that Rainbow wasn’t able to get out much.

She needed Opal to go out and have adventures in order to come back and tell her about them.

“Like Elmo did with Dorothy?” Opal was referencing a Sesame Street book that used to be her favorite, where Elmo had his first day of school and came back to tell his fish, Dorothy, all about it. Mommy misplaced that book one day because the grammar was so bad, it was painful to read. Thank you, Elmo. (Never thought I’d say that.)

“Exactly.” I said.

Just the night before, Opal was climbing into bed when I said, “Did you feed Rainbow?”

“No, mom, will you feed her? I’m comfortable.”

The night before that: same thing.

I am curious if some of the billowing, disproportional grief that sloshed forth this morning may perhaps have been some guilt for having slightly lost track of her first real pet.

Or maybe I’m just thinking too much into it.

The point is, one never knows when a day that appears to be an open yard of wildflowers may transform into a minefield, suddenly and without warning. When a perfectly joyous day may turn to shit because of one, unpredictable detail.

So, it’s best to pay close attention.


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Pixoto

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