Technically, it was negligent homicide. But in the eyes of my nearly-adult daughter who came home from work to find I had re-homed her Betta without her consent, my act of aquatic malice was unforgivable.
I had the best of intentions, and this poor fish had been sitting in a tiny unfiltered tank for weeks, waiting to be transferred. He was stinking up her room (the smell was beginning to travel), and he wasn’t looking so good. He was lethargic. Poorly colored. Did I mention the awful fucking smell? And a shiny new tank sat in a box only feet from where he floated in his filth. So, while she was at work, Papa Bear and I set up that nifty new tank and proudly put that little guy in there. We were so pleased with ourselves! Fishy was happy again… for approximately an hour. I have never seen a fish literally curl up and die at the bottom of a tank, but this one did, and only minutes before she walked in the house. I met her at the door and prepared her for the news of her loss and watched her face fall. She did not speak to me the rest of the night, with the exception of asking me to explain what happened, and then describing in explicit detail what I did wrong (and she was correct).
In the grand scheme of awful mom moments, this really shouldn’t be such a big deal, but sweet Jesus, I lost sleep over it. Finances. Work pressures. Health. At that moment, all seemed to pale in comparison to the look on her face when she realized I had overstepped the boundaries in an attempt to “save” her fish from certain death.
I hate the term “ah-ha” moment, so I won’t use it. Let’s just call it what it is – one of those “I fucked up and can either learn from it or remain forever indignant” moments.
I like control. I can let so much go to an extent, but when I get a bug up my ass, I have a hard time letting it go until I have found some kind of resolution. This was one of those moments where I let my need to control a situation take me over and it resulted in more than the loss of fish-life.
From this, my daughter that I don’t trust her judgement (she’s 17… it’s debatable).
She learned that my need to control a situation is greater than her need for autonomy.
This is what keeps me up at night. The relenting thought that these little things I do that shape my girls’ lives and influence their development will undoubtedly make or break them. It these moments – the “fish incidents”- that I, too, can learn from and grow.
In the end, the trauma of the fish loss was slept on by all parties, and in the morning came resolution. My daughter accepted my invitation to accompany her to the pet store to buy a new fish to honor the life of the last one.
From this, I learned that my nearly adult daughter has developed the ability to reflect on a situation and maturely respond.
I learned that something I did along the way may have contributed to this. I’ll take the win.
Mère Masquée – Common mother of two teen girls. Heterosexually mated since 2000. Native to Northeastern region of US.