In 2004, my husband and I decided to invest in a saltwater aquarium…and we didn’t just go to the beach and catch some critters and throw them in a tank, we went all for it: special compact fluorescent lighting, rare types of coral, $30/piece fish, live rock, special filters, etc. It was a huge financial investment, and for a while, it looked really nice. As with most hobbies, though, once we didn’t have the cash to invest in it, it started to not look as spectacular. Fish died, coral died, live rock didn’t look as pretty…and for the past 4 or so years, we had one blue damselfish and a black sea urchin living in about a 60 gallon tank. Well, the blue damsel finally died about 2 weeks ago, I gave the sea urchin to a friend for her children’s tank, and we cleaned out the tank. Lydia asked if we could make it a turtle tank, but I heard that was really messy, so we settled on a freshwater fish tank.
Today we went to the aquarium store to look at the types of freshwater fish that are available. The store by us is really cool – they have displays with sharks and beautiful saltwater fish and large freshwater fish. Lydia loved looking at all the different types of fish, and she got really excited when she saw a light pink cichlid (she wanted a pink fish and blue fish). They also sell reptiles, birds, and a few other animals. Here are pictures from our trip.
On to the topic of death…. First we got to the tank with the blue damsels. Lydia said she liked those fish, and I said that was like the fish we used to have. She asked what happened to it, and I said it went away. “But where did it go?” I never actually found the dead fish when I cleaned the tank, so all I could really say was that it was gone.
Then we were looking in another portion of the store, and she saw this:
“Mommy, why is the fish broken?” How do you answer that question when a 3-year old asks it? Do you explain life and death? Do you ignore it? Do you talk about how we all must die one day? I knew I owed her an explanation, I just didn’t know which one to give.
I explained to her that, yes, it is broken. She asked if she could fix it. She wanted to help it swim. This honestly broke my heart. I told her that in order for things to live, they have to die. She asked why, and I said to make room for new babies (Circle of Life type thing). She asked again why that specific fish died. I said maybe it was old or maybe it was sick. We talked a bit more, and I’m not sure she understood the concept at all, but there were enough distractions there that after a few minutes, she asked questions about the other fish that were alive and swimming.
When Lydia was two-years old, the question seemed to be “What’s that?” about pretty much everything. At three-years old, the question is “Why?” Young children are curious and long to understand our crazy world. I owe it to my children to give them honest, respectful responses, but I know as their knowledge and understanding increase, the ability to give them the *right* answer will grow more challenging.
Have you discussed life and death with your young children? How did you present things to them? What prompted the conversation? I’d love some feedback!