aquarium, fish, parenting, The Boy, water

Free to a good home…

In foster parent training, they always told us that when we discover a child’s misbehavior, it does no good to ask that child why he or she did something. Often, he or she doesn’t know why, anyway, and asking kids this question really misses the point. It’s better to deal with what’s happened in a calm and matter-of-fact way, using logical or natural consequences, than to discuss motivations for the crime once it’s already been committed.

I know this. I know a fair number of other things about managing kids’ behavior, at least in principle. I’m sure these things shape my parenting choices, and I try to keep them in mind.

There is nothing quite like walking into my own child’s room, though, and seeing a scenario that could have come off the pages of one of my child development textbooks (bonus points for you, dear readers, if you can identify which of Kohlberg’s stages of moral development my child is currently embodying!).

It was really only about 5 minutes this time that he was unsupervised. I was changing a poopy diaper and preparing to get the girls down for their naps. Our guests were just gathering their things to leave after a mutually agreeable playdate. Fun had been had. Snacks had been eaten. Mamas had chatted. It had gone well.

Just then, my friend’s daughter casually came into the room and mentioned that The Boy was playing in his fish tank.

I was down the hall before she finished her statement, already counting backward from ten.

Sure enough, there he was…standing on the toy box, soaking wet. He had the fish net out this time, and the tubing that his dad uses to change the water was lying on the floor. The top of the tank was fully submerged in the water, the tropical heater was floating, and two old cell phones (which they had been playing with earlier) were sunk like ships run aground on top of the little rock cave. Uprooted plants and panicked fish were everywhere.

I wanted to ask him why, why, why he would do such a thing…again!!and yet I already knew he would tell me that he didn’t know. I also kind of wanted to shake him. I do, however, have my very own tantrum badge for not throwing a tantrum under almost these exact circumstances last month, and although it probably wouldn’t be revoked if I lost it today, I have standards to uphold. This mama can keep it together…cool, calm, collected…

I took a deep breath and said His Full Name. Quietly.

The Boy turned around, mouth open, and said, “Oh, I really do not want you to see what I am doing right now.”

No kidding, kid.

I sent him to sit in the hall outside his room and cleaned up quickly. It’s just water, after all…and if you pretend that farm-raised tropical pet fish haven’t been living and pooping in it for months and months, you can just sop it up or wipe it off and say it’s clean. I told The Boy to change into dry clothes and take a nap and that I would deal with him later.

I still did not ask him why.

After a few minutes, he helpfully volunteered that maybe we shouldn’t have any friends over to play for two days, because having friends over reminds him how much fun it is to play in the fish tank, and he doesn’t feel like getting in trouble for that tomorrow.

Unable to stand it, I asked him. “Why? Why would you do that again?” I looked directly at his small face. He raised his eyebrows, held out both hands as if he needed to explain something obvious to someone who might not get it the first time.

“I just wanted to see if I could change the color of the water by adding some things in there.”

I would like to volunteer him as a project for child psych, if anyone needs one. He’s fascinating. And kind of horrifying.

Puzzle piece, empty food container, ping pong ball, two old cell phones…apparently, the color of the water was unaffected.

After a brief conversation with his dad, who was still at work, I decided the following:

1. The Boy may no longer play with friends in his room without a grownup (which will effectively eliminate his ability to do it at all for now, since the babies can’t come in there due to all the small Lego pieces, etc., all over the floor).

2. The fish need to find a new home.

They are nice fish, as fish go – 3 mixed fruit tetras (named Apple, Banana and Cranberry), one red-tailed shark, and one gold gourami. (The snail was never found.) They have been alive for a while and have been stable and disease-free. The red-tailed shark and the gourami are officially “semi-aggressive” (though not toward each other) and the tetras are community fish.

If you’d be interested in being the new home for some or all of our fishy friends, please let me know.

Oh, and if you have any insights into why our son likes to recreate situations in which he got into big trouble before, please let me know that, too. I’m at a loss. Do your kids do this kind of thing? Mom, did I do this kind of thing? (I can’t remember ever doing anything like this at all – he must have gotten this from his dad!)

aquarium, fish, merit badges, parenting, The Boy

Update: Merit badges, fish and tantrums

So, for all of you who have been worrying about our fish and our children after the aquarium incident, I’m pleased to report the following:

  • Number of fish casualties to date: 0
  • Number of children who succumbed to fungal infections: 0
  • Number of snails still unaccounted for: 1 (it can’t all be good news, after all…though I’m not convinced his disappearance is related to the incident!)
  • Number of Merit Badges earned by the Mama in this story: 1

Just after I wrote my post about The Boy’s fishing escapades, I sent an e-mail to the amazing Amy of Mama Scout, who makes the Mama Merit Badges. She likes to hear stories from parents who have badge-worthy experiences. I thought my story qualified, and I wanted to share it with her.

To my great excitement, Amy wrote back and said she was sending me my very own Tantrum Badge…for not having a tantrum. (If you didn’t catch the original story, you should go back and read it. I believe a tantrum was justified. I have certainly had them in less extreme circumstances.)

Ta-da! My very own tantrum badge

Before Amy could send my badge, though, my lovely friend Karen got one for me and mailed it to me herself. What a wonderful surprise!

I am sewing it on our diaper bag. I hope people will ask about it so I can tell them about Amy’s badges…it makes me smile every time I look at it. (Thank you, Karen.)

There is cosmic benefit in sharing these kinds of stories. A whole tribe of parents know the feeling of surveying the wreckage after some mishap, eyeing our offspring and wondering what possessed them to do what they did. We can all use some knowing nods, sympathetic words, and pats on the back on those days. Parenting is a full-contact sport. We need involved spectators to cheer us on when the going is rough.

Thanks, everybody, for your support of our family and for following our adventures with this little blog. It’s nice to have your company as we figure out what the heck we’re doing.

aquarium, fish, merit badges, parenting

Merit Badges for Moms (and why our fish need therapy now)

Today, I found myself still in my pajamas at 4:30 pm, making coffee and wondering how I was going to survive the rest of the evening until bed time. I had that slightly manic feeling that comes with a whole day of managing (but just barely managing) chaos and putting out fires, and I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. I thought about sitting down in the kitchen floor with the coffee and the carton of ice cream and doing both at once.

Sometimes, the best way for a worn-out, overwhelmed mama to cope is to bring another equally exhausted, slightly crazy mama and her brood into the picture. Somehow, combining our chaos makes the chaos seem more manageable. I’m not sure why this is, but it always seems to work. There’s often not much chance for adult conversation in these playdates, but the kids distract each other, and the mamas can at least look into the eyes of someone else who knows exactly what it feels like to have this kind of day.

Enter my dear friend and her three children, whose ages line up nicely with my children’s ages. Babies on the floor together with a basket of toys, preschoolers playing contentedly, we were enjoying each other’s company and actually getting to finish sentences.

We should have known something was up. It was awfully quiet down the hall…

When her three-year-old daughter appeared, wet hands holding a measuring cup with water in it, we looked at each other and moved quickly toward my son’s room. There, we found him standing on his toy box, both arms in our 20 gallon fish tank up past his elbows, chasing the fish around with the bottom of a bright green barrel of monkeys container. (One can only guess where the monkeys were.)

The poor fish were darting around the tank, panicked, eyes wide. (Yes, okay, the fish always have wide eyes, but I’m sure I saw terror there this afternoon.) They probably thought it was the fish apocalypse or something. All the plants had been uprooted, and the little stone cave was turned on end. I did a quick count and managed to assure myself that all the fish were still in the tank (although I still haven’t found the snail). Water was everywhere.  The floor and the bed were completely soaked.
Not our tank…but it was much too cloudy to get a picture. Image credit:

A brief interview with my sopping wet boy established that he and his friends had been wondering what would happen if they took the fish out of the water. Somehow, during that wondering, they decided it would be a good idea to pretend they were fishing. I’m still not sure how they got from “pretending” to be fishing to actually fishing…but The Boy told me they were planning to catch and eat the fish.

It seems the fish were right to be so scared.

My friend and I are fairly sure that if the boys had managed to actually catch one of the fish, her daughter would have certainly eaten it. She’s just that kind of girl. Fearless.

After a complete clothing change, including dry socks and underwear (because he was really just that wet), I gave my son a peanut butter sandwich for dinner and put him to bed early, mostly because I just had no idea what else to do. When his dad gets home from playing a gig with his band at a local vineyard, I’ll have to tell him the story and figure out what will happen tomorrow. In my best Love and Logic parent voice, I told The Boy that Daddy and I would need to discuss what his consequence would be and that we’d talk about it tomorrow…and that he should try not to worry about it.

He said, “Mama, I feel so sad because I wish I hadn’t done that to the fish tank.”

I said, “Oh, boy, son, I wish that, too! Good night!”

I think we are really in for it with this boy, because I find that I can’t imagine (at all!) what he is going to do next.

As I waited for George to get home and tried not to worry about the bacterial infections that our preschoolers were going to develop from the water in the fish tank, I browsed some favorite sites online and saw these Mama Merit Badges. Amazing. I would so love to hand these out to my mama friends who have had the kind of day we have just had here. Yes, my children are a blessing. Yes, I’m grateful to be a mother. But at the end of a day like this, I’d really like someone to hand me a glass of wine, some chocolate and one of these merit badges and say, “Good job! You survived.”

I didn’t see any with fish tanks on them, but maybe I can make my own. I’ve certainly earned it today.