just two more souls to love

We were at our local playground’s Spring Fair this past weekend. This is a fair I have volunteered for in the past, but no one asked for my help this year; I will try not to take that personally. They must have seen me on the street and think, wow, has she aged badly. She must be overextended.

Anyway, we enjoyed the fair thoroughly, and saw many families we knew there. As we were finally preparing to take our leave, Cooper saw an aquarium tank on a nearby card table, festooned with paper streamers, and squealed, “Mommy! The goldfish game! Can we win some goldfish?”

“OK,” I said. My friend Karla, who was within earshot, leaned over and muttered: “You are BRAVE.”

It wasn’t like I didn’t know what I was getting into. We “won” two goldfish at the fair last year. (Here’s a little tip: for six tickets, at least they make sure that every plastic egg has a Goldfish cracker inside. You can’t lose.) We brought our prizes home and set them up in a punch bowl we never use (and I guess never will, now). Cooper thought long and hard about his fish’s name. He finally decided that evening just before bed. “My fish is named Swimmy,” he said, possibly referencing the Leo Lionni book of the same name. Fergus, never one to think independently when his older brother can do the thinking for him, immediately said, “Mines name is Swimmy too.”

I started to protest, assuming Cooper would have a cow about that, but he was surprisingly amenable to the idea. And so, for a week or so, we had two fish named Swimmy on our kitchen counter. We fed them often, changed their water often, and they seemed to be thriving.

Then David took the boys to see the grandparents for the weekend, leaving me for 36 hours of luxurious second-trimester napping. And when I went to the kitchen before bed on Saturday night, Swimmy and Swimmy were NOT MOVING. At all. They were suspended in the bowl.

I swirled the water. Nothing. Are they asleep? I wondered. Do fish sleep? (As of this writing, I still didn’t know the answer to this question, and so I just asked Digger Doug, who says that yes, they do, but they don’t close their eyes.) OK so I wasn’t crazy. Maybe they were asleep.

But they weren’t moving on Sunday morning either. And I had shortness of breath. How could this have happened on my watch? How could I do this to a 4 year old and a 2 1/2 year old? How was I going to break this to them? How would they feel after their first encounter with the loss of a loved one?

I sweated this the whole morning, and after finally facing facts and flushing Swimmy and Swimmy down the toilet around noon, I came up with a great story, which I would tell the boys when they came home: Swimmy and Swimmy looked really sad, I would tell them, so sad that I could tell they missed their mommy and daddy, and so I took them down to the Hudson River (which you can see from our kitchen window) and put them back in the river so they could be with their parents again.

That would be comforting to them. Perhaps we could even visit the spot where the supposed reunion took place. I would brush a tear from Cooper’s eye, and all would be well.

Daddy and the boys got back that afternoon. I waited for them to notice that the fish were gone, so I could sit them down and tell them this gentle tale. An hour went by without their noticing the Swimmys’ absence. Then two.

In the end, it was THREE DAYS before Fergus looked up from his chicken nuggets at dinnertime and said, “Where Swimmys?” When I spun them my tale of love and loss, they both looked at me like I had gone a little bit mad. “Their mommy lives in the Hudson River?” Cooper said, brow furrowed. But I stuck to my story, and that was the end of it. Swimmy and Swimmy were never mentioned again.

Now, here we were, trying again with the goldfish. This time Cooper was more decisive about his name choice:

COOPER: Mines is named Balloon.
FERGUS: Mines is also named Balloon.

But Cooper was not OK with that this time around.

COOPER: No, you have to name your fish something ELSE.


COOPER: How about Foxy?
FERGUS: Yeah! Foxy.

I asked, wondering in what context my elder son might have heard a name more commonly used by strippers. But Fergus liked it just fine.

So far, Balloon and Foxy are doing nicely. Of course, it’s been three days. Stay tuned.


Holy crap y’all. I just got home, and Balloon is a floater.

That’s Balloon at the top. I can tell it’s Balloon because he was a little bit bigger. Foxy is still going strong. Of course she is, she’s foxy.

But what do I tell Cooper? He’s at a friend’s house till 4:00. I have time to plan… watch this space for further developments.