Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Why There Won't be a Bobo5.

"J Bean lied to me tonight," I thought as I puffed away on my bi-annual cigarette looking out over our alley from the back porch in the cool Chicago night. I was trying not to place too much importance on the event but simultaneously feeling like we had reached the end of an era. An end to the days when I could believe whatever this little one told me (at least after a few well placed questions). Her untruths to this point, as a new 4 year old, had consisted only of miscommunication and the occasional feeble attempt to blame a mistake on an imaginary friend or a real friend who hadn't visited in weeks. These stories always self-imploded with the simple suggestion they might not be true. Not this time. This time it was a bald face lie and it didn't run from my interrogation like fleeting shadows when the curtains are flung open as the others had. This one stood its ground and looked at me through the big blue eyes of my sweet little girl.

"I'm going to ask you again," I started, "Did you try to feed Bobo tonight without asking me?"

I had already been over this territory at least three times and had been met with incredulity and faux injury at my doubt. The sincerity of her claim to innocence was so genuine, on the face of it, that I began searching for explanations to the fish food pellets covering the water like so many berries in a Wisconsin cranberry marsh.
Wisconsin cranberry marsh

Had I been overfeeding the fish for days and not realized it? Perhaps Vv fumbled and opened the lid too much as she fed him inadvertently spilling food? J Bean offered what she felt was the reasonable possibility that our recent houseguest having just departed with Vv for a lady's night may have actually been to blame for the disaster. Finally, after denial upon denial, I told J Bean I knew it was either her or her mother and that I was going to call Vv at that moment to find out. One last time I tried, "Is there anything you need to tell me before I make that call? You're going to be in bigger trouble if I have to make a call to find out you are lying to me." Her eyes moved downward and her lips quivered momentarily.

"It was me, Daddy, I fed Bobo too much. I climbed up on that chair and put some food in. I'm sorry, I just wanted to do it." I had to stiffen my own upper lip. I let out a sigh of relief that she hadn't held on to the fib any longer. (I once denied taking a bite out of a block of cheese at my Grandma's house despite being a perfect dental match to the thief, so I was relieved that my firstborn had stopped short of the level of my deception.) However, Bobo had been sickly for days and this was probably going to be the straw that broke the Betta's back. More importantly, messing with the aquarium had been addressed before and was certainly known to be against the rules.

J Bean took her lumps. We had a long talk with several reminders to look in my eyes while I was talking; a trick I learned from many a lecture while wishing I could be free of the penetrating gaze of my father's eyes. The lecture session in itself is a punishment she would gladly give up a month of play-dates to avoid. She accepted there would be no TV over the weekend and that she would have an early bedtime and she came to terms with my disappointment.

Later that evening I could see Bobo4 (it might be important to know why this is Bobo the Fourth, see link here) was far too stoic, unflinchingly so. He had flared his fins at the passing giants for the last time, despite (or due to) his temporary placement in a smaller abode. J Bean, who had already been struggling with some of life's toughest questions earlier in the week, could see as well as I that Bobo was not going to make it to bedtime. With her discovery of this fact, I knew the line of Bobo was over, and I knew what would come next:

"Daddy, I'm sorry I made Bobo dead!" was followed by her sobs and a swift hug from me. I took some care and time in explaining to her Bobo had already been sick and that while over-feeding a fish can make them sick, I had found the problem in time. He died, I assured her, of his preexisting condition and possibly from my less than expert fish handling knowledge. Just like that the interrogator became the perjurer. My motives were different, but the act the same.

Later, I stubbed out the cigarette as the cold started to bite a little, swearing under my breath for having smoked it, tasting its acidity and feeling the bite in my throat reminding me why I quit.  I knew I would later confess to Vv the smoking violation in order to keep our trust intact. I also knew we would buy another fish in the morning if we could find one. It would be Easter morning, but there would be no resurrection for Bobo this time and another of childhood's lies fantasies would be dispelled (fish don't live forever). A lesson was learned, a few tears were shed and I grudgingly accepted another unwelcomed step in the march toward J Bean's maturity.

Easter morning we buried Bobo4 and I reminded J Bean he was loved and cared for all the days of his life and how he would return to the Earth to support the growth of other living things.

"Like trees and butterflies?" She asked with a little smile. "Yes, kiddo, just like that. Trees and butterflies."

I was surprised to find the local pet store open after the Sunday morning burial. Upon arrival, I conferred with the employees for advice on our chronic fish problem. Despite the recent (and appreciated) influx of tips on fish care precipitated by my blogging, I wondered if there was something else I was missing. According to the experts, we had done everything right (minus the overfeeding) and they gave us some recommendations for facilitating a low stress introduction to the tank. A new home is a big strain to a fish we were told. J Bean noted a few of the small bowls on the shelves had belly-up Bettas in them as well, so I stopped beating myself up over the handling of the fish, it may have just been their time. Ultimately, we walked away with some new water treatment, special gravel teeming with the bacteria that would help the Betta flourish and a new red Betta which J Bean promptly named "John".

Welcome to our home, John. Don't be afraid of the giants or the felines. You will be safe, fed regularly, and will see a lot of interesting life zipping by in the curvature of your tank if you stick around. If you do decide to go quietly into the night, try to do so when J Bean isn't looking, Ok? She's had enough lessons in death for a while, so if you kick the bucket, I'll track down a John2 and replace you before you can say "white lie."

Meet John.


  1. We've had our share of fish stories, too, and we finally gave up. Fish are hard.

    Nice post!

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Whit! How did you ever hear about my little blog? ha!

  3. That's rough. So sad that she blamed herself. My daughter still - out of nowhere - tells me she misses a cat that died a year ago. I didn't break down at the time until we had to say "goodbye" to the cat at the vet's & it hit my daughter that it was a permanent goodbye.

    Sounds like you handled it as well as possible. I'm not a smoker, but I might have needed a cigarette too.