Pong, our delightful little fighting fish has passed. I would like to say in a peaceful manner but I think he died of constipation. Fearful of not feeding our little friend enough during his stay with us I suspect I overfed him. Racked with guilt I shared my fears with my slightly amused husband, a whispered confession in the dark of the laundry, away from the flapping ears of our 3 year old son – owner of said dead fish.
These little Siamese fighting fish are amazing creatures living alone in tiny puddles across South East Asia. They wait patiently, for a lover to jump into their puddle so they can breed and continue their species. The clever and hopeful male builds a tiny nest of bubbles to entice a lady. However, if another male leaps into his puddle there will be a dual to the death – drawn swords, lights sabers, who knows? It adds to the wonder of these amazing creatures.
How to explain death to a 3 year old? As the family gathered around the porcelain bowl to say a few words, we explained to master 3 that Pong had died. Yes he hadn’t been with us long (2 months) but maybe he was old or a bit poorly. We won’t be seeing him again. We will flush him down to the toilet. Why? Good question. I had already said we would do that before I thought about the why. Lucky, there is a lot a parent can still get away with with even the most inquisitive of 3 year olds. Dear husband held a limp Pong over the bowl and I held back our 1 year old from chucking hot wheels car and pegs into the loo at the same time that Pong entered his watery grave. Pong plopped down and dear husband flushed. Bye Pong, you were a charming and special fish. Although somewhat aggressive; you just needed a girlfriend.
‘Pong is dead.’
‘ Yes darling he is.’
‘ Dead, dead, dead. Can I have a yoghurt mummy?’
OK, good job us. That went pretty smoothly.
Death is such an inconceivable concept for a small child, even an adult. Our minds can’t grasp the notion of not existing anymore. What makes it more challenging I think is my son is really into the movie Tangled and has watched it numerous times. The heroine, Rapunzel, has magic golden hair that she inherited from her mother who digested a magic flower when she was pregnant and very sick (with a non-specified illness). Mum recovers, gives birth to a daughter with said golden magic hair that when cut turns brown and is not magic anymore. Quite a bit happens (spoiler alert ahead) and then later, heroine falls in love with Flynn Ryder who get stabs by evil fake mum. He seems to die but then Rapunzel’s tear drops into the stab wound and the magic of the magic flower is released and he is alive again.
Two things have made me question my son’s comprehension of death and it all comes back to this film. I recently returned from the hairdresser, glowing with golden hair thanks to a half head of foils. My son looked at the dark brown underneath and asked what was wrong. Is mummy sick? Secondly, we rescued a very injured and frightened Lorikeet at the park the other day after it was turned on by his friends and a big scary dog. Recalling what to do with birds in shock, I wrapped the little thing with my hoodie so it could try and recover in the dark and quiet. I knew it wouldn’t; it‘s little heart and frightened eyes gave him away. I prepared master 3 for the inevitable news at the unveiling of the hoodie.
‘He has died darling. He was very frightened. That happens to birds sometimes. It’s very sad. Let’s go and put him on that rock under that beautiful tree.’
We laid the bird down.
‘Let’s just wait here mummy. He will come back to life soon’.
My heart broke a little. That was two weeks ago and every day he says let’s go and check him; he might be OK now.
I love your innocence little man and the wonderful world you occupy.