Some of you readers may recall that about two months ago we welcomed a new member to the Crocco family, when our 5-year-old won a fish at Patterson Fire Department’s Family Day. “Axie,” as my son named him, was with us for five days before he had to be flushed.
When he was found “sleeping with his eyes open” my husband simply made him disappear one day when Mikey was at school. I know, I know – we should have used that teachable moment to have a talk with our son about death. But we didn’t. Nope, instead we made sure to avoid all things aquatic, since Mikey didn’t seem to notice Axie’s absence.
We didn’t talk about the fish, we didn’t watch “The Little Mermaid” or “Finding Nemo,” and when we went to my sister’s house, I even had her throw a blanket over their aquarium. Avoid, avoid, avoid…
It was as if someone erased the whole experience from Mikey’s mind. Have you seen “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?” It was just like that. His memory was wiped clean. He never asked about the fish, never looks for it. Nothing.
Until last week.
It was bedtime. We read a story, then I told him a story, then I was sitting next to the bed tucking him in and rubbing his back, when he shot right up and whipped his head to look at me and asked, “Where’s Axie the fish?”
I have no idea what reminded him of the fish, or what made him recall said gill-bearing animal, but it actually took me a minute to even register what he was asking.
“Who?” I asked.
“Axie!” He pointed at the spot on the dresser where the mini aquarium sat for the five days of Axie’s life, which had been replaced by a pile of folded laundry.
“Oh! Uh… Umm… Er….”
I panicked. I was caught completely off-guard and it was late and I was tired and Mikey had tears in his eyes so I sputtered out, “He’s at the fish doctor! I’ll call tomorrow and see if he can come home.”
I know, I know… Another teachable moment down the drain.
My child proceeded to sniffle and frown and ask in the saddest, most mournful voice, “Is he allowed to come back home?”
“Yes, of course!” (Note to self, carve an hour out of my day tomorrow to stop at the pet store.)
“Is he sick?”
“No! No. He just had to go for a checkup. Just like how you do.” (Do we still have the little aquarium? What did we do with it?)
Sniff. “OK.” Sniff. Mikey let out a loud breath before he laid back down and I proceeded to tuck him in and kiss him goodnight.
I then left his bedroom and found my husband in the living room queuing up an episode of “American Horror Story.” I plopped down on the couch and stated, rather unceremoniously, “Well, we’re gonna have to get a new fish because Mikey finally remembered Axie.”
Mike just stared at me, mouth open. “What? How?”
“What did you say?”
“I said he was at the fish doctor and he can come home tomorrow?”
Mike pulled his eyebrows together and scrunched his face at me. “Why didn’t you just tell him the doctor found his family and reunited him with them?”
I scoffed. “Where were you 5 minutes ago when I needed an explanation?!”
Here’s the truly frightening thing: We decided to roll the dice and see if Mikey would ask about Axie again, and he didn’t. He hasn’t. The fish has been wiped from his memory once again, and I don’t know whether to be thankful or concerned.
Welcome to the Crocco household… Where nothing ever dies.
Holly Crocco is editor of the Putnam County Times/Press and mother of a 5-year-old. She can be reached at email@example.com.