Yeah, but he's an old 4. Hell he'll be 5 next month. And so this afternoon I wrapped my arm around his neck in a sort of awkward father hug and told him it was time to say goodbye to Nemo.
He named the fish Nemo when Grandma Gail - my Mom - bought him the fish tank for his birthday more than a year ago. Nemo is probably the most popular fish name in history these days, just how everyone named their pet dolphin "Flipper" in the 1960s. Nemo was a good little beta. He was red, he swam around the tank and peered back at Jayden when he would drag his chair over to get a close look at his first pet.
Lately, though, he just sat in the bottom of the tank, looking like I do after a hard race (like a marathon, per se). Only he wouldn't eat. That's usually not a problem after one of my races. And I wondered how I was going to handle this.
I did consider a fish switch. But I only want to lie to my kid about fun stuff, like a bunny rabbit that carries eggs to good children. And, more importantly, I wanted him to get his first lesson about death.
"OK, let's go say good-bye," I told him. "I'll need to flush him away."
See, I was working on my eulogy.
"But I'll miss him," Jayden said.
I know, buddy. I miss Sparky. He was my dog for 15 years. I miss my uncle, and my grandparents, and I'll always miss them all.
I hope I'm long gone before I'd have to miss you. That would be a hole that would never be filled.
I hate that a 4-year-old boy has to learn that people, and yes, pets, go away and never come back. Whether you see them again is up to you. I'm not getting into that with a 4-year-old yet.
Right now the lesson is hard enough. I'm regretting, in a way, thinking that he needed to learn it right now. Really? Couldn't I have just switched the fish?
"I'm sad," Jayden said.