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Published: Sunday, April 13, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Pet fish full of surprises, and a few confusing life lessons

A couple of months ago, a miracle happened. Our pet betta, Princess Rip-Jaws, lay at the bottom of her fish bowl, upside down and seemingly dead. Both of my kids were crying their eyes out. Funeral plans were discussed. There seemed to be only two ways this situation could go: down the toilet or buried in the back yard.

For 10 minutes, Princess Rip-Jaws was out cold. She lay at the bottom of her bowl while my son and daughter learned about death. There were a lot of tears and heartfelt good-byes. I started mentally searching our cupboards for an appropriate box to make a fish coffin.

Then the miracle; Princess Rip-Jaws moved! First she flicked one fin and then the other. We all hovered around the bowl and watched Princess Rip-Jaws swim back to life. Her long red fins flowed all around. It was like Christmas and Easter rolled up into one.

What actually happened is still up for debate. My husband and 4-year-old were cleaning Princess Rip-Jaws’ bowl. She started out her normal swishy self. First Princess Rip-Jaws got dumped into the holding jar. At this point, she was still fine. Next, my daughter dumped her back into the freshly cleaned bowl.

It was that second transfer where things slipped up. Was the water too cold? Was my preschooler too rough? Did Princess Rip-Jaws hit the sandcastle? We’ll probably never know. For 10 minutes she was gone; and then, the miracle!

To be completely accurate, Princess Rip-Jaws has changed. She’s no longer her swishy self. It’s hard to tell with a fish, but I think she might be injured or depressed. It’s not just that she keeps staring at the same plastic castle over and over again (that’s nothing new), it’s that Princess Rip-Jaws has lost her wiggle. When I observe her, I see a lot of aimless floating. Her near-death experience has been life-altering.

The rest of us have been affected, too.

We passed a dead squirrel on the road the other day and my daughter asked “Is that squirrel all the way dead or just a little bit dead?” It was like preschool Monty Python.

But that’s a big problem because pets usually teach kids about death. In our case, Princess Rip-Jaws has taught my children false hope. When the time comes for my kids to deal with the loss of a loved one, they won’t have any prior experience with lasting grief. Their pain will be brand new.

There is another major source of confusion, and anyone familiar with bettas has probably already guessed what it is. Princess Rip-Jaws is a brilliant red color and has long fins. In all likelihood, she’s actually a boy.

Maybe we should have named her Lazarus.

Jennifer Bardsley is an Edmonds mom of two and blogs at http://teachingmybabytoread.com.

Story tags » ParentingAnimals

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