Remember this guy?
Last February we brought Reddy home and Alex, after much begging and pleading and understanding of responsibilities, had his first "very own" pet. He's taken good care of Reddy all these months – food, cleaning the tank (with Daddy's help), and bestowing as much love and affection as one can on a fish.
Now…do you remember this guy?
That's a photo (mid-shed) of the late Dinoraptosaurus, who passed away last March. Apart from the anonymous neons and hatchet fish and so forth that have died, this was the very first time Alex experienced the death of a pet. He was very broken up about it, and we had a rather emotional funeral. In time, of course, the pain lessened. And we still have the other lizard. And, of course, the kittens.
Well. About that. About Reddy.
This past Monday while the kids were at school and Bill was at work I was doing something uncharacteristically productive around the house, I think, and as I passed through the living room, heading for the kitchen, I glanced at Reddy's tank.
Reddy was sort of snuggled into a nook near the root system of his tank plant, which was not unusual, as he and his brethren like to be cozy like that. I've even been fooled in the past into thinking that because he is tucked in there, motionless, he is dead, but when I'd tap on the tank (which you're not supposed to do because it stresses the fish but hey, he was stressing me by being motionless, so fair's fair, I say. Anyway, I looked at him in the tank this past Monday and something in my head said "Um…I don't think he's just playing tricks on you this time." I tapped on the tank right near him, and sure enough, he didn't move. So I tilted the fish-shaped tank a bit and his poor little body just floated away from the plant…on its side. Pretty strong evidence that he wasn't faking it this time.
And all I could think of, besides "aw…poor Reddy" was "OH NO. This is going to send Alex into a several-day period of mourning and crying and I just don't know if that's really NECESSARY right now." Alex, at least at this age, is very sensitive and emotional. And I didn't want him to cry. I really didn't. I didn't want him to be sad and heartbroken that his first very own pet had died, and I didn't want him to think that somehow it was his fault.
So I called Bill at work. I don't do that very often, because, as a teacher, he can't just take a break mid-lesson and chat with me for a few minutes. So I save the calls for the important things. Like dead fish.
"What?" He had to ask his students to quiet down a bit. "What did you say?"
"Reddy is dead. Alex's fish."
There was a silence and then "OH."
Yes. We had an understanding.
"I'll see what I can do. Does he know?"
"No, he's at school. And then I figured I'd bring him with me when I bring Julia to gymnastics. So he won't be home for a while."
"Got it. Okay, I'll take care of it. Did Reddy have any other colors on him?"
"No, just all red."
"Okay. I'll see you later."
And thus the plan was made.
While I was watching Julia do forward rolls and walk on the balance beam and Alex was writing all the numbers from 1 to 100 just for his own fun in a little notebook I keep in my purse for times like that, Bill was going to a couple different pet stores in search of a Reddy substitute. He left a couple of messages for me on my cell, updating me on his progress.
When we got home, I got the kids sorted out first and then headed into the living room. Reddy's tank had been cleaned out and re-filled and there, swimming around like he owned the place was…Reddy II. Bill had also cleaned the big tank in the basement, and told Alex later – when Alex commented on how clean Reddy's tank was (not that it was filthy before, mind you, but it was clear that the Fishy Merry Maids had come by and spruced the place up) and Bill casually (as casually as he can – he's not a good liar, really) that he was cleaning the big tank and figured he might as well clean Reddy's, too.
A bit later, Bill was building a fire and I was hanging out in the room, reading, while dinner cooked. Alex came in to check on the progress of the fire – he and Julia had helped carry logs in from the stash outside – and then he turned away from the fireplace and gazed over at the little fish tank.
"I just love Reddy so much," he said.
Bill kind of froze for a second where he was rearranging logs.
"I know you do, Alex." I said.
It had worked.
Bill and I both felt a little…wrong…about this bit of deception. But…it's a fish. He knows that things die – he's been to both human and pet funerals in his little life, and there will be enough of them to come throughout the rest of his life. So yes, we lied by omission, I guess. We skipped over reality just this once.
But, you know, he believes in Santa and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, too, right now.
When you're six, magic is a good thing.
Meet Reddy II.