Yesterday was a big day in the Fuerst house. We brought home the newest member of our family, Betta. Betta is a male Betta fish, named by Gwenevere. We kept trying to call him something else, but Gwenevere seemed to think that the name Betta suited him just fine. Micah held him gingerly on the ride home as I kept inquiring to how he was doing. Once we got home we placed our newest family member on the counter and watched as Gwenevere squealed with glee. "He's swimming, he's swimming!!!" she said with a sparkle of joy in her eyes. Micah and I hugged each other and we knew that for that moment our family was happy.
My reaction to this fish as the evening progressed was surprising to me. I kept finding myself in the kitchen hovering over the fish bowl, watching for signs of life. I would stand there until Betta swished a fin or made a flick with his tail then I would reside back to the couch. I felt my level on anxiety creeping up. I started to fear coming downstairs in the morning to a floating fish and needing to once again explain the concept of death and heaven to my two year old daughter. At first I tried to dismiss my feelings and push them aside, but they kept coming back. Why was I so afraid of losing this fish?
This morning Micah woke me up as usual and the first thing I said was "Is Betta okay?". Micah said he had checked on the fish and yes, he was in fact okay. We then got Gwenevere out of bed and she chanted "Betta, Betta, Betta!". We took her downstairs and for the first time since she has been a toddler she didn't immediately sit in her chair and ask for breakfast. She went straight over the the fish bowl and giggled as she watched her new pet swim in circles. Micah left for work and we started our day. All morning I could hardly pull her away from Betta. At one point I had to go in the other room for no more than two minutes. I reminded Gwenevere to be gentle. I walked back in the room to find the lid off the fish bowl and both of Gwenevere's hands submerged as she said "Mommy, I poked him". My heart dropped and I pulled her away from the fish. I nervously peered in the bowl and relief set in when I saw Betta gently swishing his tail around.
During lunch time Gwenevere ate as she kept glancing over at her new fish. "I love Betta, but Betta died and went to heaven". I looked over and saw the fish laying on the gravel. I took a closer look, no movement. I tapped the bowl and he swam away. I sat down to talk to Gwenevere and explain that Betta did not die (not yet anyway) and that he was not in heaven. My heart got heavy. I couldn't believe my little two year old daughter had such an understanding of death already. Death is not a subject we avoid talking about in our house, it is a part of our lives. But I hate that it's something we have to talk about whenever we bring up Penelope and James.
For now, Betta is not in heaven. He is in a bowl on our kitchen counter. I don't know how we will handle the death of our newest addition, but i know it will happen. I am painfully aware that every living thing will die, some sooner than others. Betta is just a fish, a fish that cost less than four dollars and I know that. But, that doesn't change the fact that when he does die I will have to explain it to my daughter. We will have to once again talk about the fragility of life.