It was a stand-off of epic proportions, the air as fraught and full of tension as that between Kellyanne Conway and any sane member of the mainstream media. My two-year-old son and I stared at each other over the rim of the fish tank lid, his bright blue eyes looking defiantly into my green ones.
“Do NOT touch that plug again, Evan,” I said with my momma-means-business voice. “NO-NO!”
Without even a blink, his gaze never leaving mine, his tiny hand once again pulled the plug from the wall. The light from the tank went dim, and silence cut the air as the air pump gurgled to a stop. Inside, Froggy watched the battle over his territory as it played out: light on—light off—light on—light off . . .
Before I had my first-born, my maternal instincts were already searching for a warm or—as it turned out—cold-blooded critter to pour my love into. Since we lived in a small apartment, my (now-ex) husband and I bought one of those 1-gallon, octagon-shaped fish tanks and dutifully filled it with garish purple, pink, and blue neon gravel, cheap plastic greenery, and an adorable little African Dwarf frog. Our little family was now complete!
I enjoyed relaxing in our darkened living room at night, the bulb in the lid of the tank creating a small cocoon of light, as I watched the little guy kick energetically, diving from top to bottom then back again, the air tube burbling happily and spitting out bubbles for him to swim through. Every so often he’d stop, floating spread-eagle at the top, all gangly-limbs and little webbed feet, eyes studiously looking at me looking at him. We were both endlessly entertained.
Three years later, the apartment still held three people and the frog, but now I was a single parent to a toddler and newborn sons. Froggy was the only companion that had remained constant and faithful over the few years of my marriage, and his continued presence was a comfort – a touchstone to a simpler life and a relaxing way for me to wind down at the end of hard days as I watched him do his nightly laps. The pressures in life were heating up, and I felt like such a failure: as a wife, a mom, a daughter, as a woman in general.
Some time in the first few months after Braden was born, those endless days where I was sleep-deprived and exhausted, I noticed that the thermometer on Froggy’s tank showed that the water was pretty cold, so I turned up the heat. A few hours later, I checked again, but the temperature was still cold. I turned it up a little more. Busy with the boys, I kept checking the tank and adjusting the heater, to no avail. Finally, I noticed that Evan must have once again been playing with the plugs when I wasn’t looking, but this time he’d unplugged the heater.
Thankful to have figured out the mystery, I plugged it back in, got the boys into their beds and collapsed into my own. The next morning I went out to feed Froggy, but found him floating lifelessly, the tank’s temperature gauge over the top. I’d been so thankful to have found the problem, but in my sleeplessness I didn’t realize that all those times I’d tried to turn up the heat had added up once plugged back in.
Sitting on the floor, I broke, my body convulsing in gut-wrenching, shaking sobs, mourning my frog, my marriage, the fact that my boys would be raised without a dad, everything… If I couldn’t keep a simple frog alive, how on earth was I going to raise my two boys on my own?! My life was a mess, and Froggy’s sad demise seemed like the perfect metaphor for the turbulent waters I found myself in.
Finally having cried myself out, I sat on the floor, head on my knees. I heard the door to Evan’s bedroom click open, and little feet shuffled sleepily toward me.
“Mommy? It’s going to be okay…” he said as he leaned in to hug me and kissed the top of my head like I always did for him when he’d get hurt.
The sweetness and pure love of the moment took my breath away . . . Though times were rough, I knew my little family and I were strong enough to swim through anything, so long as we were together.