This morning Tom woke up when Nicky crept into our room. It was early, probably around 4am. We just pulled him into bed with us and let him fall asleep between us. Around 6:30am Tom asked if I could put him back in his own bed. I went ahead, and then realized I was pretty awake. I knew I could go back to sleep for an hour, but I also knew I'd probably be a LOT more tired if I tried that. So I went ahead and got showered and planned to spend some quiet time reading on the sofa.
Nicky woke up right as I was getting ready to settle in and read. He didn't want to watch TV, he wanted to go pet Abbey. So he went in the kitchen and cuddled on the floor with the dogs for a while. It was funny, Abbey sneezed and Nicky said "Ewww!" and then kindly reminded her "Abbey, you have to cover your sneezes." I guess he hears that a lot at school.
I told him he could let the dogs outside and then when they scratched he could let them inside. He let them all out, and then closed the door. He's getting so big! Then he wanted to feed his fish. I said sure, and reminded him to only give the fish 3 pieces of food. He held out three fingers perfectly and said "three, three foods, three fingers." Something else they must be working on at school. He'd had problems holding up three fingers not too long ago.
When Benjamin scratched at the door, Nicky was on a chair feeding his fish on the kitchen counter. It's a beta fish. The one he got for his 3rd birthday. Exactly 6 months ago actually. He told Benjamin to "be quiet" and then went to let all the dogs in. He closed the door again. Very nice to be able to let him "walk the dogs" in the morning! This might have to be a new chore of his.
He went back to the fish. He loves watching his fish. He was quiet for a while, so I asked him what he was doing. "Nothing" was his response. I should have been suspicious then, but he was quiet. No giggling like he does when torturing the dogs by playing with their feet or chasing them with a broom. I kept reading. A few minutes later I hear him say quietly, like he was talking to himself, "fishy will be okay."
Crap. I knew before I even rounded the corner what I was going to find. The water in the fishbowl was cloudy, I could see the fish wasn't floating yet, but he was lying at an unnatural angle in the water, nose down in the black river rocks. Dead.
The cloudy water, water on the countertop, wet hands, dog hair floating in the fishbowl. It was pretty obvious what had happened. Nicky tried to pet his fish. Maybe even got a hold of him and held him for a while. Out of the water. He always wanted to pet his fish, we'd told him he couldn't, told him fish were not for petting. Told him it would hurt the fish if he touched it, or put anything in the bowl other than food. it's been weeks, maybe months since he's messed with the fish.
But now it was too late for admonishing. I wasn't really prepared to have this conversation with Nicky. He's only 3 and hasn't ever been exposed to death. Not in any way other than maybe seeing it on a Disney video in the abstract way they portray it in animation.
I told him his fish was dead. It wasn't alive anymore. I tried to stay matter of fact and tell him I was sorry and that we better go tell daddy. We went together to wake up Tom. Tom was upset and sleep mazed. He probably spoke harsher than he would have if he'd had fair warning, but he picked Nicky up and held him. I went to get the fishbowl and we all went to the bathroom. I said it was time to say goodbye to fishy, and put him in the toilet. Nicky was very upset by this, and started to cry. Tom held him and cuddled him while I flushed Nicky's first fish.
He cried for a few minutes and I held him on the sofa. After a while he hid under a blanket on the other side of the sofa and then sat up calmly. He looked at me and said, "Fish don't go in the toilet. They go in the water." I agreed and said, "but your fish is dead now. He's not alive any more. Dead fish go down the toilet." At this point I realized I may have very well set us back in the potty training department. I wish I'd thought of that before.
We dressed Nicky quickly and all went to take me to work. Tom was keeping Nicky home from school anyway as it was an early dismissal day and 3 hours hardly seemed worth it. When I got out of the car I again told Nicky I loved him and I was sorry about his fish dying, and that he might feel sad about it, but that was okay.
This parenting thing is hard.