I didn't think Rollie would notice, but the day after I flushed Mr. Shark down the toilet and thus into the big fishbowl in the sky, Rollie paused in front of our tank.
After studying it for a few seconds, he asked, "Where'd the shark go?"
I froze. Do I tell him the truth, that Mr. Shark was likely attacked by our bully of an Orange Molly, picked at and prodded until he turned pale and I found him floating vertically among the water plants, his dorsal fin shredded like cole slaw? Or do I wimp out and come up with some sugar-coated, cotton-candy spun tale about him swimming away to be with his friends in a beautiful blue lake, his life now full of rainbows and sunshine?
"Uh, he's probably hiding," I said. Like a giant, lying wus.
Rollie stood on his tip toes, his chubby hands pressed against the glass as he scanned the tank, trying to catch a glimpse of the suddenly timid Bala Shark.
"I can't see him," he said.
"Oh," I said, feeling my scalp prickle as my mind raced. "Well, maybe he's sleeping."
Rollie nodded, accepting this as perfectly reasonable. "Night, night, Shark."
I felt terrible about lying, but really, what could I have said? How do you explain death to a two-year-old? I mean, I've mentioned death in passing plenty of times....in reference to batteries, or worms that have been baked in the sun, curled and black as overdone french fries. But when faced with a question regarding a pet (albeit a lame, neutral pet that Rollie couldn't care less about), I turn into an overprotective, fretful mother hen, paranoid that any mention of the D word will instantly turn my son into a sobbing mound of jelly.
Which is completely retarded of me. Of course he won't have a breakdown as soon as I say the word Dead. He might even ask for--and understand--an explanation. I don't need to include the gory details of the shark's demise. I don't need to say anything like, The Bala Shark was attacked in his sleep by a bigger, meaner fish, and probably suffered a slow, painful death all alone in the darkest, coldest part of the tank. Something simple like, the Bala Shark died and Mommy took him out of the tank, but we can remember him as a nice fish who enjoyed swimming, would probably be fine, right?
But still I balk at the notion of telling my son that something, or someone, has died. I guess I feel like someone still in diapers doesn't need to wonder about death. He should occupy his little mind with the wonders of life. And if I'm lucky, the wonders of the potty. And a desire to use it. Perhaps if I tell him it's where the shark went.....