Friday, September 16, 2011

RIP Lolita... we think?

Oh life.  It sure has its ups and downs, doesn't it?  Everything can be going along smoothly and then out of nowhere, life taps you on the shoulder and whispers, "Sorry to catch you off guard, but here's something for you to deal with.  Toodles!"

That's how I felt when I tucked Knolan into bed one night not too long ago and then went to feed our goldfish, Lolita, while Ken was reading stories to Kaycie in her room before bedtime.  I grabbed the container of fish food and went to feed the fish when I saw her laying motionless on the bottom of her fishbowl. 

My heart felt a pang.  This was Kaycie's pet.  The childcare provider she stayed with every day for 2 years had given her Lolita as a special gift, and Kaycie really did love that fish.

It popped into my mind that maybe she was just sleeping.  I reached out and gently jiggled Lolita's fishbowl, hopeful that maybe she was just dreaming away.

Nope.  Poor Lolita just floated softly with the rocking of the water.

I quietly walked upstairs to see if Ken was done putting Kaycie to bed.  I met him in the hallway, and just as I opened my mouth to tell him the sad news, he said, "I know... Lolita, right?  I noticed she was gone earlier tonight, but I thought Kaycie might handle the news better in the morning."

So, the two of us sat down that night to think about how we were going to help our little cutie process the sad news.  We figured we would tell her in the morning, keeping all of the emphasis on what a great pet Lolita had been.

Lolita's death did not come as a big surprise to Ken or to me.  She had been around for a long time, and even my mom was unconvinced that Lolita was the same fish we had got years ago - she was certain that we were trying to pull one over on her with a stand in for the original goldfish!

So, off to bed we went with heavy hearts.  I know... So dramatic!  I know she's just a fish, but this was our little girl's fish and we just didn't know how she would handle it.

The next morning we steeled ourselves to tell her the bad news.

First thing I did was chicken out and called my mom - the retired social worker - for advice.  Surely she had come across this kind of thing before!  She would know how to handle this!

Mom - ever the caring professional - asked me a battery of questions related to Kaycie, her relationship with Lolita, her level of connection with animals, what our plans were for the day, how long Lolita had been dead, etc.  It kind of sounds funny as I write it, but at the time I was literally hanging on her every word, and nodding my head enthusiastically at every bit of advice she shared.

So, we armed ourself with all of Mom's good advice (best things I learned were not to flush the fish and not to dispose of the fish without letting Kaycie know, as this can lead to weird associations with the toilet and paranoia about more important people and things in her world disappearing on her) and slowly walked into the living room where the kids were playing - Kaycie blissfully unaware of the devastating news we were about to share with her.

As Ken sat down and started to fashion a makeshift coffin for the impending funeral, I pulled Kaycie up onto my lap, put my best soothing, maternal arm around her and decided I would just cut to the chase.  Like ripping a bandaid off.  Yeah... that would be best.

"Kaycie, honey."

"Yes Mama?"

"Are you having a good day?"


"Are you having fun with your brother?"


... Ok, bandaid plan not happening!!

"You've been good friends with Lolita for a long time, right sweetie?"

Slow nodding.

"Honey, Lolita died last night."

Big, questioning eyes suddenly looking right at me and then at Ken. 

"But sweetie, Lolita had a good long life and you were such a good friend to her.  It was just her time to die.  We could have a little funeral for her and we could bury her in our garden if you want - you could even say a few words about her and sing her a little song if you want. Would you like to do that?"

Kaycie nodded and said, "I would say to her that I love her, and that she is a beautiful fish, and that every person in the world - even the tiniest tips of all the rice - love her with all their hearts."

I looked up just in time to see poor Kenny hide behind his coffin as his eyes welled up and I couldn't help but picture a character in a Mortal Kombat video game delivering their final crushing blow as the electronic voiceover bellows, "FINISH HIM!!!" 

Then Kaycie says quietly, "Can I see her?"

I quickly gave her a big hug and assured her that she could go see her and then we would have our little funeral service for her.

We began our sombre march up the stairs to the family room.  The silence was so unnerving as I held her sweet little hand.

We walked through the door into the family room and walked over to Lolita's bowl where she was happily swimming away.


How the hell had this just happened?  Was this for real?  What was going on?

Then I noticed the little blue eyes looking up at me with bewilderment. 

Ok... My mother's crash course in pet bereavement did not cover what to do in the event of fake death!!!  What had just happened here!?!

Scrambling for something to say, I finally blurted out, "That silly Lolita!  She tricked us!"  Luckily, Kaycie thought this was great and burst out laughing and then smushed her face up against the bowl, saying, "Lolita, you little trickster!" in a high-pitched falsetto voice.

It was at this point that Ken walked  into the room with his lovingly handcrafted coffin, took one look at Lolita, rolled his eyes and with defeat in his voice groaned, "Oh for the love of God!" and without stopping did a U-turn and left the room.

So, we had a miniature coffin and a funeral service all planned out, but no dead fish!  I swear, these things seem to only happen to us!

So, we decided to carry on with our day, and Kaycie elected to move Lolita's bowl into the kitchen where we could keep a close eye on her.  We cautioned her that Lolita might be sick and to try to understand that she might not be alive for much longer.  Kaycie turned our kitchen into a visiting centre for Lolita and positioned dolls all around her bowl to keep her company and plastered her fish bowl with heart stickers.

Then the doorbell rang.  My parents had been on their way to visit us when I called them that morning, and despite my best efforts, I hadn't been able to reach them since our bizarre discovery to tell them that Lolita had faked her own death.  "This should be interesting," I thought to myself as I opened the door to let them in.

When we opened the door, my parents got right down to Kaycie's level, spoke to her in soft comforting tones and asked her how she was doing.  I felt so guilty for finding so much humour in this little scene.  When Kaycie declared, "Lolita is ALIVE!" the confused look on my poor mom's face was priceless.  To their credit, my parents were lovely to Kaycie, and although it might have been fun to let the confusion linger, I offered up a quick summary of our morning so that everyone was up to speed.  Then Kaycie invited Gramma and Grandpa to come visit Lolita alongside the ever vigilant Belle, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and the roller skating girl from a Happy Meal of days past.

Anyway, to make a long story short, after a few more days, as we suspected she might, Lolita finally did meet her maker.  Kaycie presided over an awkwardly sweet memorial to Lolita, and Ken and Kaycie picked out a special rock to mark her final resting place in our garden next to the hosta.  And we learned a lesson about how resilient kids (and goldfish, apparently!) can be - at the end of Lolita's memorial, I asked Kaycie if she wanted us to sing a song, and she said, "No Mom... it's just over, so let's go have a snack, ok?" 

I'd say our first of what I'm sure will be many life lessons for our kids went pretty well!