By Rebecca Lang of BeckyRebecca.com
The water was murky and should have been changed two days ago. The poor goldfish floated vertically near the top of the fishbowl. I was simultaneously relieved and guilt-stricken at the sight of the unmoving fish.
Two thoughts competed in my head. “Thank God this fish is gone” and “Damn, I killed the kids’ first pet.”
Then I saw its little fin move and its mouth open. It looked me straight in the eye, mouthing the words, “Help me,” over and over again. Ugh, it wasn’t dead. Yet.
I had two choices. I could go about my day and let the fish go belly up, or I could try to save it.
I saved it.
Fresh water and food perked that goldfish right back to life, and I was happy I made the moral choice. I was also annoyed that it had made a comeback. My guilt would have been assuaged if I had changed the water and it still died. Then I could say I had tried to save it, but it just didn’t make it; it was its time. I’d reference the circle of life, and we’d move on, grateful to have known Fishy, his memory always in our hearts, but thankfully, his stinky food no longer in my cabinet.
This fish—I completely underestimated the commitment I was making when I agreed to take it home from a one-year-old’s birthday party. How long could it last? A few days? A few weeks? It’s been eight months, including a ten day vacation and multiple weekends away, and it’s still here. Its survival has been so impressive that it almost earned itself a filtered tank, but just almost.
This fish— It’s an allegory for my parenting. Not the subpar living conditions and near death experiences. God no. But the small obligations children create and the times when my desires differ from what needs to be done.
Of course I knew having children would be a gigantic commitment, but I underestimated the micro commitments that come with them, too. It’s these little things that accumulate, absorbing some of my energy. There’s the monotonous cycle of meal prep, clean up and laundry. There are the volunteering and donation requests from school, the small talk on the playground, and the investment in birthday presents for new-found preschool friends. It’s the physicality of tending to toddlers coupled with the mental strain of negotiating with them on just about everything.
This fish reminds me that my energy is sometimes spent in ways I’d rather not spend it. He is another item on my list of To Dos, a list that never ends, never balances with the list of things I’ve already done, and it all makes me a little more tired than I expected to be.
The reality, of course, is that this fish asks for very little–some food twice a day and a clean bowl of water once a week, but he’s still one more thing that needs my attention when I’m already giving so much of myself in such little ways to my toddlers each day.
At least the fish can’t follow me into the bathroom like they do.
All of this is a privilege, of course, and hardly a big deal in the long run, so don’t mistake my confession for complaint, and don’t call PETA on behalf of Fishy. He’s happily swimming in his clean-enough fish bowl with a belly full of his stinky fish food. And because my kids like him, I’ll keep him as comfortable as I can.
This fish—He’s proven that he will be a part of our family for some time to come, as will the rest of the tiny obligations that raising children require. When he’s gone, just like when our children are grown, my list of micro commitments will shrink, and the daily grind of life with small kids will fade in memory. All of the incredible moments my children make possible will easily overshadow the small stuff.
Until then, I will be a little tired all of the time, but I promise not to kill the goldfish.
About the Author
Rebecca Lang is a Jersey girl who now lives in San Francisco with her husband and two children. She writes about the world of toddlers, stay-at-home moms, preschool, and the playground. Her work has appeared on Scary Mommy, Her View from Home and BonBon Break, and she’s a contributing writer for San Francisco Moms Blog. Follow her at BeckyRebecca.com or on Twitter.