PaR Cooked

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Freddy the Fish is Dead

Our fish died last week.  It is especially embarrassing to admit in the wake of his death that, at first, we didn’t really want him.

Three years ago when our babysitter, who was graduating from college and leaving the area, asked if we’d be interested in taking her fish I said, without any reservations, “No, thanks.” It wasn’t that taking care of a small, iridescent blue and purple betta fish would require so much work. It was that it felt like caring for a four year old, a baby who rarely slept, and ourselves pushed the limits of our capacities. It was only recently that we’d killed all but a single sprig of a low-maintenance houseplant through pure neglect. We were not people who needed more.

“I’ve looked into taking him with me on the plane out West, but it’s just really complicated,” she said.

Living in a college town you hear the horror stories of dogs left locked in closets,  pets abandoned outside the pet store, and much worse done by probably well meaning, but clearly clueless and immature students. Here she was researching the options to bring a $3, three year old fish home with her.

I immediately said yes.

We grew used to having Freddy around, even fond of him. It was as soothing to watch him swish and swirl as he swam in circles as it was terrifying to find him napping inside his ceramic shark, when only his tail, flopped out flat and perfectly still, was visible.

At the kids’ insistence I made him a tiny Christmas stocking while they constructed a faux mantle to hang behind his bowl. The girl went through a phase when she kissed his bowl every morning and night. They argued feverishly about who would get to place the grey rocks back in the bowl during water changes.

Admittedly there were times when his water got cloudy before it was changed and a meal was missed here and there, but that wasn’t any worse than the kids fared with missed washings and  yogurt occassionally passing for dinner. It was hard to tell what Freddy thought about the whole thing, but he kept living, which we took as a good sign.

Because he was a betta fish beyond his prime, I had be preparing for his death pretty much since he came to live with us. Before leaving for Uruguay we told the kids that chances were good he would be dead before we got home. 365 days was a long time for a fish. He wasn’t dead. Our neighbors had managed to nurse him through the polar vortex in a poorly heated house.

In the end, like it almost always does, death caught us off balance. There was no chance to prepare the kids with pep talks about mortality, the circle of life, or of flesh eventually turning into the dirt that feeds life. One morning last week there was just a dead fish in a bowl.

The kids were sad, but quickly practical. “All animals die,” said the boy to his sister. “We’ll die someday because we’re animals, too.” The girl now calmly points to the empty bowl stowed on a shelf and informs visitors that Freddy is not in it because he’s dead. Then, because she is three, she will lie down on the ground and pretend she too is dead. When she pretends to be dead she also asks that you put her in the freezer, which is a story for another time.

What are you supposed to do with an aquatic pet when they die? The kids had opinions about his funeral arrangements, but neither of them wanted any part in the actual internment. I buried Freddy in the backyard and covered the spot with a couple of bricks to deter the neighborhood cats from making a late night snack of him.

And then I cried. Not the tears of gasping, gulping grief, but a misty sadness of saying goodbye to something we hadn’t wanted, but ended up loving; and a creature we kept alive and healthy at a time when we thought we couldn’t.

 

 

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When My Husband Turned into a Shoe

People have a lot of advice about raising children. A lot.

This is especially true about sleep. All the sleep books that I read were guilty of using scare tactics couched as evidence to convince sleep-deprived parents to stick with a particular method. Using an opposing method either meant that you and your child would become so unattached that he or she would become a sociopath, or you would become so attached that he or she would never ever be capable of independence. Either way you’d be screwed in the long term, and still so sleep-deprived in the short-term that you would be a complete jerk. I speak from experience on the jerk part. Then there are the well-meaning advice givers who parrot back advice from one of the books you recently hurled into a wall. They have the added benefit of telling you long-winded, unsolicited stories about their own children’s sleeping (or lack thereof) habits. As parents we’re almost all guilty of this. I know I’m guilty of this because reliving the trauma of sleep deprivation is very cleansing for me. Less so for the poor schmuck, like you, stuck listening to me.

The thing sage advice givers and slick books don’t tell you is that whatever method you choose probably won’t work forever. Babies grow into kids. Needs change. Expectations change. Suddenly, the dark is scary.  Night terrors happen. Extra books will need to be read. Pre-bedtime extreme dehydration, which can only be resolved by a cup of water that should be from the fridge and served in the Monsters, Inc. cup (which is most certainly dirty and likely missing) because only an ass would bring it in the plain white cup, will need to be addressed.

In our house we sometimes fail to stay ahead of the curve of evolving needs and wheedling.  We give into some request for a short-term gain, but that leads to a long-term loss.

When it got colder here and was dark by dinner it was so easy to give in to the kids demands for extra snuggles at bedtime. It was warm under those blankets and they were finally quiet and still. What could it hurt this one night to stay a little more?  It couldn’t for that one night, but then one became two and two became three and three became a week and a week became a month and a month became an expectation on the kids’ parts that we would always stay with them until they were asleep.

After a while it felt like all we were doing was getting children to sleep or rousting them out of bed in the morning for school. Staying with the kids until they were asleep also meant that I was asleep, which meant that Nathan and I saw each other alone approximately never. It’s not that I don’t love time as a family, but trying to have every household conversation in the presence of the Why-Monster and the Interruptasouras Rex is maddening. Also, never spending time alone with your partner can mean seeing them more as an amalgam of all their annoying habits than as the person you do actually love and respect. So I was a pile of clothes on a chair  to Nathan, and he was his shoes left in the middle of the entryway to me.

Please note: This photo is a dramatization of actual events.

Please note: This photo is a dramatization of actual events.

Finally, we decided enough was enough, and one Friday night over dinner, all Bearenstain Bears style, we had a family meeting. We laid out the plan, which was clear and simple. Read. Brief snuggle. Leave. Children sleep.

The girl mulled this over for a bit while picking her nose. The boy immediately began to look for loopholes. Do you mean every night or just once? How long a snuggle? What exactly do you and Papa need to talk about?  The girl continued to pick her nose.

We held our ground because consistency is important, because children need boundaries, and because we really wanted to finish watching the third season of Sherlock, which we had started long before we got ourselves into this mess.

Now it’s 9:30 on the first night under the new regime. The kids have moved through the stages of denial and negotiating. They are in their beds with the lights off, but they’re still awake.

The music ostensibly lulling the girl to sleep suddenly switches, meaning that she has again stood up in her bed to retrieve the iPod off the shelf. The boy is groaning as he flops from one side to the other. When no one immediately responds he increases his volume.

The new music hits a crescendo and the boy reaches his breaking point. “Does anyone think I can sleep with that wailing music?” he yells, sounding much like a Florida retiree annoyed by the teenagers on his lawn.

We intervene to negotiate the lowering of volume,  the partial closing of doors, and to offer a gentle reminder that the girl is not to play club DJ at bedtime.

There is relative silence.

“Paaaaatito,” comes the forlorn cry from the girl’s room. “Want Paaaatito.” The stuffed duck is procured.

Silenceish.

“Ow. Ow. Ow. Ooooooow,” howls the boy. “My foot. It hurts. I can’t sleep. Ow.”

We can only hope this is a last ditch effort because he can’t help but slur his words.

Silence. Then snores.

One and half hours from bedtime to sleep.

Nathan and I then spend ten minutes alone together (mostly talking about the kids) before I fall asleep mid-sentence. It’s not much time, but it’s enough to make him look distinctly less like a shoe.

This night has been an unmitigated success.