The Boy won a goldfish at a carnival at preschool on Monday. We learned this when The Wife went to pick him up, and he proudly pointed out his new fish. Thanks, guys.
Inevitably, The Boy named him Nemo. We devoted a Tupperware bowl to Nemo, and made him the centerpiece on the dining room table. He seemed content, and The Boy liked to watch him swim.
Yesterday, Nemo died. I was appointed funeral director, and carried out a classic suburban burial at sea, with The Boy at my side. No sooner had I flushed than The Boy started bawling.
For the next hour or so, The Boy was inconsolable. He wanted to know where Nemo went, and what would happen to him, and why he died, and whether all goldfish die at the same time. (He seemed concerned that his friends’ fish had outlasted his, which is probably true.) The Boy sat out dinner, which would be unimaginable under any other circumstance. He asked if Nemo would reach the ocean, and if he would come back to life when he did.
I told TB that Nemo was in heaven, and that he was an angel’s pet now. The Wife assured TB that it was okay to be sad, that we get sad when we lose a friend. TB slowly regained his composure and/or appetite, and eventually consented to dinner.
Bathtime conversation was a little odd.
TB: Who was that good President with the dark skin who made everyone stop fighting?
The Wife (from the next room): He means Martin Luther King!
DD: You mean Martin Luther King?
DD: He wasn’t a President. But he was a great man who taught people to be nice to each other.
TB: He died.
TB: That’s sad.
DD: Yeah, it is.
TB: That was before I was born.
DD: That was before I was born, too.
TB: That was before everybody was born!
DD: No, Grandma and Grandpa were alive then.
TB: Then how come they’re still alive?
DD: They’re older. They were younger then.
TB: Oh. Uncle Frank is 70! Grandma told me.
By bedtime, TB was pretty much himself again. We read Bartholomew and the Oobleck, talked about the field trip to the farm at preschool the next day, and kissed goodnight.
The poor kid. His little heart was broken, and he has no idea that this is just the first time. You want to protect your kids, but some things, you just can’t prevent. He’ll have his heart broken again and again, and ours will break right along with it. It’s part of growing up, and I know that, but part of me still wants to be able to hug him until the hurt goes away. I’ll have to learn to let go of that possibility over time, and the fact that it’s already started breaks my heart, too. I’m proud that he’s growing, but sometimes, part of me still misses the baby I could sweep up in my arms and make it all better.
I didn’t know the meaning of ‘bittersweet’ until I became a Dad.
Godspeed, Nemo. We hardly knew ye.