Sunday morning, Chris left early to be at work for the Target Festival. That left me wrangling the yahoos. I had approximately 45 minutes to get some breakfast in their bellies, stuff them into church clothes, and get myself ready.
Death never comes at convenient times, does it?
Bean went running into the kitchen, demanding his two favorite morning routines: his vitamin and to feed our fish, Lt. Dan.
We got Lt. Dan for Bean’s first birthday. I thought he needed a pet, and since Chris wouldn’t let me get a hampster, I was left with a fish as my only option. Don’t get me wrong. I love fish as much as one can love a pet that you can’t hold, pet, or walk. And Bean seemed perfectly happy to sit there and watch Lt. Dan swim in his Army bowl.
(Fun facts: There is an Army guy in the bowl is not because we practice violence around our house, but because at the time, Bean’s favorite thing on earth were the Army guys from “Toy Story.” Also, we named him Lt. Dan because he ain’t got no legs.)
So, Sunday morning, Bean goes hauling into the kitchen. I gave him his vitamin, and he immediately perched at the bookshelf by our kitchen table where Lt. Dan lived.
“Mom!” he yelled. “Why isn’t Lt. Dan waking up?”
I went over to the bowl, and sure enough. There was Lt. Dan. Swimming with the fishes.
I told Bean that Lt. Dan must still be sleepy, and that maybe we could check on him again after breakfast (…once I’d thought through teaching death to my three-year-old a little more). As the kids were eating, I very covertly snuck Lt. Dan’s bowl up to my bathroom, and placed a desperate call to my dad to find out what to do now. Dad said I needed to flush the fish and water, and then I could clean out the bowl and accessories. But, I don’t really like fish stuff. Too slimy. So, I flushed the fish, and then put the bowl with all it’s rocks and Army guys in a trash bag, and threw it all out.
I came back down to breakfast and was immediately met by Bean who asked where Lt. Dan had gone.
There was no avoiding this. I was going to have to say SOMETHING. Quickly, I weighed through my moral responsibility to my child. Should I tell him Lt. Dan had gone on vacation? Moved to Disney? Went to the beach? Was at brunch with friends? Had recently discovered the call of the wild? Or, should I just use brute honesty? “Kid, the fish is dead and he’s never coming back.”
I went with something in between.
I didn’t sit down and have a big dramatic conversation with Bean about death. He’s too young for that. Instead, I casually explained as I cleaned up breakfast that Lt. Dan he had died. And I told him that after someone dies, they go to Heaven to live with God. So, Lt. Dan wasn’t going to live with us anymore because he had gone to live with God.
Bean thought about that for a minute, and then asked if we could visit Lt. Dan at church (because we call that God’s house).
And so I thought about it for a second. Now would be the perfect time to talk to Bean about prayer and communicating with God and how God takes care of people after they die.
Instead, I told him that, yes, he could visit Lt. Dan at church. And that morning, we went by the koi pond at our church, and I pointed to something that vaguely resembled a blue fish and said, “Look! It’s Lt. Dan!” Then, I whirled Bean away before he could get a good look.
Someone better write a parenting manual for this crap before my kids get any smarter.