Georgia has a vivid imagination, like most 3-year-olds, and so we gain “family members” on a very rapid basis. For a few months this summer we had a new baby in the family, Baby Udon, whom Georgia would occasionally diaper and nurse and tenderly care for and occasionally forget in the closet or under her bed for weeks at a stretch. (She isn’t the most responsible mother, but when she’s on, she’s on.)
Then, a couple of weeks ago, she brought home a stuffed soccer-playing monkey from camp and named him Daddy Ruth. Daddy Ruth went everywhere with us for several days – to camp, to the grocery, to bed. Georgia was much chagrined to learn that Daddy Ruth could not join her in the bath, but she was agreeable to the idea of setting him on the sink to keep her company. And then, just as suddenly, Daddy Ruth was left forgotten, and she’d moved on to another beloved friend.
One thing that has remained constant, however, has been her attachment to her blue betta fish, who she got for Christmas and immediately christened Benny the Bull after her favorite Dora the Explorer character. We feed Benny together every night, and Georgia loves to watch him swim.
Last week on Thursday, the first of Ruby and my Mommy and Ruby days, Ruby suggested getting a new tank for Benny since the light and pump filter had stopped working on his.
We went to Petco and dropped an alarming amount of money on equipment for a $2 fish. I followed all the instructions to the letter: rinsed everything with warm water, added special betta-specific water dechlorinator, let the water sit next to his tank for an hour so they would be the same temperature.
But Friday morning brought a sad discovery. Benny was very still and very upside-down and very very dead. Ruby and I were the first to wake up and the first to discover it. Before we could even really wrap our brains around it, Georgia woke up.
“Does Benny love his new house?” Georgia asked immediately after opening her eyes and seeing Ruby and me gathered by the tank.
“Oh,” I stammered. “Um. Yes. He does. He’s just … resting now. Come on; let’s eat breakfast and get dressed for camp.”
“Mom,” Ruby hissed at me in the kitchen as I started to make breakfast for Georgia. “You lied.”
“Just go with it, Ruby,” I hissed back.
And so Friday morning found us, after dropping Georgia off at camp and getting bagels at Panera, browsing the betta selection at Jefferson Feed.
“That one is the right color but too small,” I said, pointing at a tank.
“Maybe we could tell her Benny got hit by a shrink ray?” Ruby offered. “Or that he went back in time and became a baby again?”
“Let’s try another store,” I said.
We finally ended up back at the same Petco as the day before, where we bought a replacement Benny and got a receipt that we can bring back to the store, accompanied by a fish corpse, any time in the next 15 days for a full refund.
“They don’t have a lot of confidence in their fish, do they?” Ruby asked, eyeing the receipt.
But we went home with New Benny and gave Old Benny a burial at sea (Flush!) and rinsed and re-filled the tank and installed New Benny in it.
A week later (with eight days to go on the receipt) and New Benny seems to be thriving. Georgia is none the wiser. But Ruby keeps shooting me these looks.
“I think we need to tell her,” she says at least once a day. “You’re not the kind of mom who lies about things, are you? You don’t want to be that kind of mom, do you?”
I keep hedging. “Look, I don’t want to tell her, and then this fish dies, too! Let’s wait until New Benny is for sure going to survive before we say anything, OK?”
I know I can’t protect Georgia from everything. I know she’ll one day know true grief and loss, although I wish that weren’t true. But right now, at barely 3, she’s still so innocent and I can’t quite make myself take that away from her.
Excerpted from Eve Crawford Peyton’s blog, Joie d’Eve, which appears each Friday on MyNewOrleans.com.