When I agreed to get each of my children a fish, they agreed to participate in the weekly cleaning of Bubbles and Rock Star’s homes.
“You are now a fish mama and a fish dada,” I told them. “As such, you’ll have to clean their bowls with me each week.”
“Mama, can you call me Fish Head from now on?” was my four-year-old son’s response right before he asked if I could help him build a zip line for his teddy bear in the living room. He was really grasping his new role as a fish dada. Awesome. I was not relishing all the duties falling on me as fish grandmama.
“I have to think of it as an expensive weekly activity I signed the kids up for,” I told my husband.
I imagined the description I would write for this hot children’s program:
Foster responsibility and compassion in our Fish Keepers program. Each week your child will build her hand-eye coordination skills as she scoops a beta fish out of its bowl. She’ll develop her concentration as she follows the multi-step process of cleaning the fish bowl and its components. We’ll cap off each class by singing fishy-themed songs and, of course, having a fish-shaped snack.
All kidding aside, I did think cleaning out the fishbowls potentially teaches children responsibility. So, I made Monday afternoons the day we went to our fake Fish Keepers class in our kitchen. No play dates. No “real” activities. Just my daughter, my Fish Head son, the two fish, and me.
For weeks, we were all feeling very responsible, coordinated (it really is difficult to scoop those fish out of the tank), and pleased to give Bubbles and Rock Star a clean home each Monday. Plus, hosting this fake Fish Keepers class forced us into a quiet afternoon at home where, once we finished the 20-minute process of cleaning the bowls, my children would have a play date with each other.
One week, while they were giving matchbox cars a bath in a bowl of water, I snuck away to read in bed. Then I embraced what every toddler fights and for which every mom longs: a nap.
Almost an hour later, my children nudged me awake to show me – I kid you not – the functioning stuffed animal zip line they had constructed with tape and ribbon. I was refreshed. My children were being cute together. Getting two beta fish for pets was the best move I ever made.
Then obligations forced us to cancel our Monday Fish Keepers classes two times in a row. The rest of the weeks were busy, the fish bowls grew mucky, and I cleaned them myself after the kids were in bed. Something about those weeks felt off; I noticed an uptick in whining and fighting. It wasn’t because I didn’t nap (though I do love me a daytime snooze), but because we didn’t have a quiet afternoon at home.
Cleaning the fishbowls weekly not only teaches my children to take responsibility for their fish – it also teaches them to be responsible to themselves.
Fishbowl afternoons serve as a counterbalance to the avalanche of activities and opportunities that modern life offer us. We all need a quiet pause, a moment, and sometimes a nap. My children need to spend down time with each other – to foster their relationship – and to tinker around.
The Fish Keepers program is a keeper! Each week I start with scheduling our fish bowl cleaning afternoon and then see if I can find more slots into which I schedule a whole lot of nothing with my Fish Head son, my daughter, and the two fishies, fishies in the water, fishies in the water, fishies that are tiny, fishies that are round, fishies in a silent word who never make a sound.