Sitting in the corner where I intended to nurse my second baby, I looked around myself and thought, “The kids sure would love a fish tank here.” My older son could watch the fish when I couldn’t play with him while nursing. The baby would love the calming gurgle of running water. As an added bonus, I could enjoy the inhabitants during those hours stuck underneath a baby.
Just like that, I was obsessed with creating a Nursing Nook Aquarium. I searched Craigslist daily for a setup. I bought tank chemicals. I researched fish that like to live together. Sorry for the inconvenience, moon, but my kids will be over you when they see this aquarium! Then I went to work convincing my husband that we needed a large container of water in the middle of a carpeted room. He finally obliged; after all, our kids were going to have every kid’s dream. All kids love fish. All of them.
I put the aquarium together piece by piece. I found some flat, round rocks by the Rio Grande that had a zen feeling to them. I debated over which plants looked more realistic. I made sure every level of water was covered by an animal: shrimp crawling across the bottom, a goarami who swam throughout the middle, and a pack of danios dashing around the top. I hate to toot my own — okay, that’s not true — TOOT… I made my kids the most stupendous 20 gallon aquarium in all of novice aquarist land!
Fast forward two years. The kids have hardly glanced at the aquarium. They like feeding time but only because that is when they are allowed to play with the little trap door next to the light. I no longer crusade to get them to show their friends the tank when they come over, only to watch their I-guess-that’s-cool eye glaze. But none of it really matters to me, because every night I sit by the fish tank, watch the creatures enjoying their levels like invisibly divided apartments, and forget about the stress of the day.
One day during this time, my mother-in-law visited and handed my son a booklet of sea-themed stickers. “If your mom doesn’t think it will scare the fish,” she offered, “You can stick them on your aquarium.” I don’t know if she saw my eyes blast out of their sockets in horror, but I responded as restrained as I could, “Let’s put them in your sticker book, okay?” My son agreed. After all, he couldn’t care less about the aquarium.
I went through two days of anger, thinking about how my mother-in-law apparently cared nothing for other people’s belongings. Then I remembered that all anyone else knows about the aquarium was my original battle cry: “It’s for the kids!” Little did they know that inside my head, I was steaming with, “No one puts stickers on Mama’s aquarium! NO ONE!”
Why had I waxed on about the aquarium being “for the kids?” For a while I thought that perhaps I had felt an aquarium “for the kids” was more prudent; more worth the time, effort and money I dumped into that glass vessel like so much chlorine remover. Maybe I thought I wasn’t worth an aquarium but the kids were.
What I believe actually happened is this: I thought the aquarium would make more sense to other people if it was for the kids.
Truthfully, my ego is too healthy for that to be the case. What I believe actually happened is this: I thought the aquarium would make more sense to other people if it was for the kids. I suspected my husband wouldn’t argue over another pack of animals to clean up after. I probably knew I would seem like I was putting all those resources into enjoyment for my kids instead of enjoyment for me. “Awesome aquarium” would go on my parenting resume while simultaneously satisfying one of my own desires. Sure, I did originally think the kids would enjoy the aquarium, but there are other things I confidently know they’d enjoy much more that I haven’t championed. Without thinking about it, I let “for the kids” be my back-door escape from the responsibilities of the aquarium being “for me.”
Once I stood up and admitted my false use of “for the kids,” I started noticing the other places I’d let it be my bartering chip in my desires, whether vying with other people or my own sensibilities. We needed the bike trailer that helps me get out of the house… for the kids! We needed all the special storage items I bought… for the kids! We need a TV so we can watch movies… kid movies! I’ve found reasons the kids needed me to buy everything from art to food to clothes they don’t get to wear because I’m so afraid they’ll wreck them. Every time I cry out, “But it’s for the kids!” I write myself a blank check for whatever it is I wanted.
The aquarium is mine. I wanted it, I got it, and that is fine. What isn’t fine is my using “for the kids” as a bartering chip to cloud my motives. Not only because my desires are just as valid as everyone else’s, but because their input is valid, too. Next time I want something which might require my family to empty loads of carbon and poop, I should make my point about why I want it and evaluate from there. Then, if the kids love the fish, it’s a bonus. Then, if someone tries to put stickers on my aquarium, they can help me fit my eyes back into my sockets.