It probably wasn’t the nicest reaction, but both John and I blurted out the same thing when we saw Thomas trying to clean the fish tank by himself yesterday: “Your fish is going to die!” It was worse that it turned from idle threat to prophecy within the hour. It wasn’t our intention to shoulder our 8-year-old with the guilt and responsibility of the family pet fish’s death, but despite his naivete, in all reality he was a fish killer.
For a little while, it looked like the fish might actually pull through. He was, after all, an amazing fish. A ten-cent goldfish, he had survived many tank cleanings, countless days without food while we were off on vacation, three kids who “pet” him in his tank, and an entire day swimming in a small bowl when we moved 3 years ago. (No one really thought he’d make it that time, but he was always surprising us) If you’re catching the drift that we weren’t all that concerned about the fish, you would be correct. I would never kill a living being, but after six years, I was okay with the fish moving on to drain heaven.
Of course Thomas had the best intentions when he set out to clean the tank WITHOUT ASKING us first. We’ve gone round and round with this kid about the fact that he is not, despite his vocabulary, a 40-year-old capable of making all his own decisions. So we were more than a little disgruntled when we discovered the fish in a small container of tap water, and the fish tank dismantled in his room, half the water sitting murky and green in the tank, half the water spread all over the room. Things like, “You have to ask us!” “What were you thinking?!” and “You can’t do everything by yourself!” came flying out of our mouths. As John set to salvaging the situation, I alternately hid my laughter and stewed about an appropriate disciplinary measure.
And then the fish was belly up. They say the best way to teach a child a lesson is through natural consequences. This natural consequence was handed right to us. Thomas was heartbroken, and more so because–thanks to his mean parents pointing it out–he blamed himself. We let him prepare a fish burial outside in his marigold garden, complete with a tiny rock headstone. Then, in my best parenting demeanor, I discussed the experience with Thomas, and how the fish dying was the consequence of his actions (not consulting us first). As nice as I made it sound, it came down to this:
Conviction: Fish Murder
Sentence: Time Served