Wednesday, November 2, 2011

An Inconvenient Fish

It was a big deal when we brought the twins home from the hospital. Having already survived the first years of parenting a single child, we knew we were in for double trouble and tried our best to be prepared.

First and foremost was ensuring that our 3-year-old daughter did not feel overlooked or pushed aside in all the excitement. After all, she was going from center stage spotlight in a one-woman show to equal billing with two relative unknowns in a loosely scripted performance. We began the assimilation process in the hospital with the sharing of gifts. She gave the boys their very first rattle toys and they each gave her a doll. I'm still astonished at the quality of shopping that can be accomplished from within the womb. For my wife's sake, I hope they were internet purchases.

As we had hoped, Our Daughter instantly became a second mother to her little brothers. Upon their arrival home she desperately wanted to introduce them to their new surroundings and dazzle their two-day-old eyes with the magnificence of her prized possessions. That's when things started to slip sideways.

Months earlier, at the North Carolina State Fair, Our Daughter won a goldfish. I don't have anything against state fair goldfish, unless, of course, they choose to come home with me.

The state fair goldfish is not the most robust creature on God's green earth. Its lifespan is anywhere from a few months on the outside, to a few seconds after the crack-skinny carnie fishes him out of the barrel and ties him up in that little plastic bag. Also, they smell, and not like fish. A fish smelling like fish makes sense to me, regardless of the unpleasantness. But somehow a goldfish creates an odor like no other swimming thing. It hovers in place all day long, eating orange mystery flecks, and trailing impressively long strings of excrement that somehow make an entire room smell like a rotting squirrel in a stagnant pond.

Our Daughter was proud of that smelly state fair goldfish. She named her Dorothy and fed her every day. Dorothy was the very first thing she wanted to share with her new brothers. Unfortunately, even though Dorothy had managed to survive all the way from October 2000 to May 2001, it was the very day we brought the boys home from the hospital that Our Daughter found Dorothy floating belly up in her bowl with bulging eyes and a ghostly white pallor.

Stupid, smelly state fair goldfish.

After consoling her over the loss of Dorothy, we were happy to see Our Daughter regain her composure and focus instead on the greater meaning of the day. Okay, so the fish was dead. There remained an entire house full of wondrous baubles and bangles with which to dazzle her baby brothers, like that bottle of sand art. Perfect! It was shiny and colorful and sparkly and just the kind of treasure any 3-year-old girl adores.

She plucked the bottle off its low shelf, enthusiasm spreading in a wide smile that drew upwards through the tracks of her tears of mourning, and headed down the hallway to show off her prize. Seconds later, our sweet sniffling daughter burst out in peals of ear-shattering cries. The top of the bottle had broken off in her hands, cutting her finger and sending a rainbow shower of fake sand all over the beige hallway carpet.

Sometimes fate seems determined to spoil a special moment.

You might be tempted to think the experiences of that day served as a looming omen of the quality of their future relationships, but young children are far more resilient -- and forgetful -- than most adults. Our Daughter and her brothers are sweetly loving to each other, marred only by brief requisite eruptions of female teenage hormones and tweenage little brother obnoxiousness.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

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