Garbage Fish

As I write this my Moon is sobbing a little while she tries to get some homework done. She is sobbing not because of the homework (ok…maybe a little because of the homework), but mostly because of a painful social situation with which she is currently dealing and a little because her braces hurt. I will confess in all honesty…that it is breaking my heart and that it is taking every single bit of self control that I possess NOT to intervene (Mamma Bear is not warranted at the time and is under lock and key). We talked about it a bit; I tried to soften things; I gave her some ibuprofen for her physical pain; and she let me know that she wanted to be alone…. So, I am writing to keep myself involved in some other activity and to deal with my situation in my own way and to let her deal with hers in her way, while silently monitoring and preparing to offer advice when/if needed…and preferably requested, as this is the best way for her to truly hear it.

A while back when I was at the pet store picking up food for the furrier members of the family, I ended up wandering into the aquarium section. It was probably the first time as a mom that I had wandered back there just to look and not to try to find Little Man to tell him a million times “no” to the million times he asks if he can have a fish. I was alone, and I guess I was simply trying to extend my me time out of the house…which at times simply involves wandering the supermarket aisles…or the pet store, in this case. Anyhow, I stopped in front of one of the aquariums and watched for a while as the bright showy tropical fish swam back and forth, oblivious to my existence. As they flitted about in a formidable show of color, one fish caught my eye: a very plain colored fish in the back that I had not immediately noticed. It was one of those sucker fish that I used to call “garbage fish” when I was a kid. There he was, attached to the back of the aquarium, slowly moving across the glass, clearing it of algae and helping to improve the water quality in the tank to the benefit of the other fish.

Isn’t it funny how we can sometimes try to stimulate our thoughts with targeted books, articles, or films…and then something as banal as watching a little brown fish suck on glass at the pet store kicks our brain into deep contemplation? That is what this little guy did for me…and in a moment of rapture (or maybe it was Little Man mind control) I almost brought him home with me…almost until I remembered that I would most certainly become his sole caretaker, despite every little person’s best intentions…. So, I quietly thanked him (quietly as to avoid any local “desperate local housewife resorts to talking with fish” headlines) and went on my way, leaving with only my new line of thought and a couple bags of kibble.

I am a garbage fish. Or, at least that is what I am currently aspiring to be…perhaps against the odds. In my family tank, I am constantly trying to clean the environment of enough toxins so that my bright, shiny, even if sometimes extremely moody, little tropical fish offspring can thrive. I am not talking about house clutter here, though there is plenty of that to go around, and I do often find my gills clogged with the unpaired single socks that seem to be spontaneously generating in our home…. In this case I am referring to the psychological toxins that surround us on a daily basis and which have increased exponentially with the internet and the possibility of constant social contact that comes with personal computers, iPads, iPods, Kindles, cellphones, etc. I wander the tank and try to limit the negative effects, by sucking as much of the toxins into my own gills as possible, and filtering them out in smaller more tolerable doses: doses that my three little fishes can tolerate to a degree that allows them to flourish, while strengthening them so that they will one day be able to deal with them in my absence.

I am aware…painfully aware…of my limitations in this area, but, like the garbage fish, I try to keep on swimming and cleaning, cleaning and swimming. It is my job. It is my nature. I wish I could build them an impenetrable shelter, but shelters can be dangerous. It may be beautiful and peaceful within the shelter, but the day that shelter falls…or they are forced to wander outside the shelter, they would be completely unprepared. So, I suck in toxins, confiscate electronics at times, slightly skew some stark realities to make them a little less scary, swallow some of my own adult fears, comfort and move forward when I, myself, am paralyzed with sadness.

In one grand way, however, I know that I am much luckier than the garbage fish. Unless he gets purchased, he will be stuck in that same tank for life. I have the benefit of having access to multiple tanks in which I can clear my gills while my three little fishes are out in the world, off at school, camp, outside playing, or even sleeping safely in their beds…and prepare myself to start again when they return to me. I have a tank at the tennis club where I can transform from garbage fish to a fighting beta fish for a bit; there’s a tank at the elementary school where I can hang with other parent fish and we can trade advice and clear our gills…etc. The important thing is to remember to take advantage of these other tanks.

Also, as I realized the other evening while watching a movie with my Moon, my Sun, and Little Man and a scary scene came on causing Little Man to whimper, my little fish are growing up and the older two are stepping in to help “clean the tank” for each other and for the family. As they coaxed him back out from behind the sofa and explained that it was just a movie and that they were there to protect him, my gills felt a little lighter. Now…if they would just start in on those dang socks….