Our fish died. The night we came home to find it dead on the bottom of the bowl it was pouring rain. I unpacked four hungry, cranky, from-camp-and-daycare kids from the car along with their tote bags, lunch boxes, snack bags, and wet towels, got everyone inside and tried to start our evening routine of dinner, TV, game, bath, books, bed. Everyone was crying, bickering, and picking on each other. The night before had been rough, with the twins playing Whack-a-Mole, one waking up as soon as the other had finally gotten back to sleep.
And then, while in the kitchen putting on a pot of water, I realized the fish had sunk to the bottom of the bowl and wasn’t moving. I flicked the bowl and pushed it, and the fish didn’t budge. While I shooed my potty-training twins to their potties in the bathroom, I tried to talk my screaming son into putting something on the TV everyone wanted to watch and not just YouTube LEGO videos, then went hunting for my daughter.
Might as well get it over with about the fish, I thought. She’s going to realize anyway and I know she’ll be sad because once I found a letter she had written to her previous fish after it had been dead a year about how much she missed it even though I always had to remind her to feed it… all this is running through my head over the tantrum my son is having.
“Honey, I’m sorry, the fish died,” I told her. I went into the bathroom with the twins. I sat on a step stool by their chunky toddler knees, and my 10-year-old sat in my lap and cried. My boy twin proceeded to scream when I tried to take away the M&M potty treats he’d somehow managed to get ahold of even though they were high up in the cupboard. I realized he’d already eaten about 12 of them and was covered in blue M&M dye. I looked at the real toilet and realized my girl twin had filled it with the remainder of the toilet paper, even though she was sitting innocently on her pink potty next to her brother. And I sat and comforted my oldest while she cried about the fish, and my older son was still crying about never getting to watch what he wanted on TV.
My daughter went outside to sit on the front steps and be sad. The twins got off the potty and began to play. My twin boy immediately peed on the living room rug. The fish floated in the bottom of the bowl. I gave up on waiting for the pot of water to boil and threw together a dinner of peanut butter sandwiches and fruit, cleaned up the pee, sent my son to his room to calm down, and got the twins upstairs for a bath — except they wanted to shower. Put them in the shower, and they began to cry because they wanted a bath. Put them in the bath to get the soap off them. Got them out and dug up pajamas and nighttime diapers. Chased them around the house to get diapers on until girl twin slipped and hit her face. Ice pack. My husband came home, bringing the oldest back inside with him, and asks what’s for dinner?
I’m too tired to answer him.
The twins jump on their beds while we hunt down their pacifiers, milk, and lovies. Read books until they sleep. Get cranky son to bed and don’t even bother trying to get his teeth brushed. Help daughter find a costume that looks like some kind of food for camp theme day the next morning (white tutu = whipped cream = that works, whatever). After they are finally all asleep at 8:45 p.m., husband and I eat soup and cereal, staring at our phones.
I look around at the mess of the house, the pee-soaked underwear still on the steps to go up to the laundry room, the dead fish in the bowl, the clothes I am wearing still wet from wrestling the twins in the tub, my sweet husband whom I never see or have time to talk to, remember the lunches that have to be made, dishes to be done, the laundry folded, the money I have to leave for the sitter and the popsicles I have to write a note for so I remember to bring them to preschool, the bathing suits that need to be packed, and I think to myself, What the hell was I thinking? How many wrong choices in life did I make to get here? Why am I not on a tropical island, reading a book with a pretty pink drink in my hand? Where is the nanny? The maid? The personal assistant and the chauffeur? The chef and the masseuse? The manicurist, hair stylist, and someone to find me a wardrobe that doesn’t scream “TIRED MOMMY“?! And when is Prince Charming showing up to take me away on his white horse?
I put my bowl in the sink and remind my husband to clean up the dead fish and head upstairs. I brush my teeth, switch the laundry, and am getting into bed when I hear him call up:
“Um… the fish… isn’t dead?!”
I run down the stairs.
“I just moved the bowl to clean it out and it darted around. Now he’s on the bottom of the bowl again.”
“Oh. Well, that’s good I guess? Should we tell her? Or should we flush it and not tell her he came back from the dead…?”
We laugh. The bowl stays on the counter.
I get back in bed and just when I am about to fall asleep, I hear a door crack and tiny feet pat pat pat their way down the hall into our room. My boy twin raises his arms and I lift him into the bed beside me and cuddle him. I breathe in his baby wash-clean hair and feel his sinking weight as he falls back asleep. I know he’ll kick me in his sleep all night, but right now it’s sweet to snuggle him.
Just when you question all the life choices that led you to this moment of picking up poop off the living room floor and scrubbing crayon off the windows, of eating Cheerios for dinner again and laundry that never, ever ends — there’s a toddler cuddle or baby smile, or a magical fish that comes back from the dead. In the crazy, it is hard to remember the sweet moments. In the sweet moments, the crazy never happened. Trying to balance the two is a never-ending juggling act that I never seem to get right.
I always have to remind myself: Yes, I made a lot of life choices to get here. But I don’t want to be anywhere else.