jen groeber: mama art

4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.

The Betta Fish, the Sugar, and the Fevers

I had a dream last night that I killed one of the betta fish. In the dream it was in the same glass bowl we had goldfish in as a kid.

My mom was a busy lady and she had no time for anything that wasn’t immediately dire. Not cooking from scratch, reading, or cleaning a goldfish bowl. And so we had goldfish that lived for months and months in a bowl of water so dirty we couldn’t see the fish, and we finally released it into the creek behind my house in the New Jersey suburb where we lived, which was rumored to be downstream from the industrial metal plant with all the chemical run-off.


And yes, I cleaned these bowls last week.
January 2015

Which seemed humane at the time, actually. We were that horrible with pets. It is part of the reason that I have no desire for any pets in our home now, or even poinsettias for that matter. The keeping alive of all these things is exhausting.

In the dream though, I spilled confectioner’s sugar in the fish bowl but was too busy to change the water. Each time I walked by the fish it got paler and paler, more and more out of focus and feathery, until it was a ghost of a beta fish that disintegrated when I finally got the ladle to scoop it into a bowl of clean water.

Amazing I’d remember such a dream as this, but with people waking me up every few hours I have loads of time to reflect on what I’d prefer to be doing…dreaming. We’ve had someone in the house with an avaerage fever of about 103.4 for almost fifteen consecutive days. Our bathroom looks like a kiddie meth lab if you could make kiddie meth out of children’s ibuprofen and acetaminophen. It’s just empty bottles spinning on the countertop next to thermometers and old soap.


Not a kiddie meth lab. It’s just ibuprofen.
January 2015


It’s been a contest to see who could score the highest fever. 104.6 is holding a strong lead right now. Which isn’t all that shocking, we have four kids and it’s winter. We’re competitive like that. It was only a matter of time before each child fell ill with an ever more outrageous fever.

And if you have a fever of 104.6, you’ve come to the most relaxed Mom ever, by the way. My brother was once in the hospital for more than half a year when I was growing up, which we were not allowed to tell my dad who was in a different hospital. If you’re feverish, I’ll offer you some Tylenol and some water, but I’m confident you’ll be fine.

But these betta fish, we received them as a party favor at the indoor waterpark party all four of my kids were invited to attend. My four-year-old daughter dropped one of the plastic fish containers on the floor before we’d even left the party. It split down the side and the fish went wiggling across the blue indoor outdoor carpet next to the present table.

We couldn’t even walk out the door past the magician and the Frozen movie on the large-screen TV without killing a fish?! In fact, that’s about what I said.

“We can’t even leave this dumb party with all of these blargin’ furgin’ fish alive?!”

The birthday girl’s dad scooped the fish into a new container and it made it home. Ten months later and we’ve had only one fish funeral, which seems an inexpressible miracle in my world, but still…

Clearly the fish haunt me.

Or maybe it’s my childhood.

Or the sugar.

In the new year a part of my mom posse is cleansing, and not their homes. They’re off the wine, the dairy, the gluten, and yes, my greatest addiction, the sugar.

I get it, this desire to take care of our bodies the way we would our most cherished possessions, to not put in them them garbage we can’t defend, like pesticides or hormones or caffeine or processed sugar (which NPR said is more addictive than heroin to rats… So I’m in good company, apparently.) And of course, preparing wholesome, homemade, healthy food for my kids, sans corn syrup and confectioner’s sugar, well who wouldn’t want to do that?

But what with the fevers, the kids, the existing household allergies to nuts, dairy, soy and gluten, and yes, the responsibility of these fish among a host of other things, well.

I just can’t give up the sugar. Not even in my dreams apparently. And if Better than Bouillon contains corn syrup, so be it.

Nonetheless, I am haunted by the sugar. And the fish.

And the sleep-deprivation brought on by feverish children wandering the halls at three o’clock in the morning begging for something to drink, something to soothe an aching belly, something to make the headache go away.

The fish. The sugar. The fevers.

These things we try to manage, find a place for in our schedules as moms and general home caretakers. We line them up, feed and straighten, soothe and watch over, but still, in the dark of the night, when it seems everyone else is in the deepest of sleeps, I think there is a small army of moms (and mom-like people) haunted by these unnamed possibilities.

I may never figure out exactly what the fish dream means, but at least I know I’m not alone.

Finally, a walk outside when the fevers clear.  January 2015

Finally, a walk outside when the fevers clear.
January 2015
(Photo inspired by WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge “Shadowed”.)

4 comments on “The Betta Fish, the Sugar, and the Fevers

  1. AnnaMarie
    January 14, 2015

    Hi Jen- My name is AnnaMarie- you don’t know me but I’ve been reading your posts for a while now. I love how you write about your family- so loving and funny!! I have been trying to find a way to contact you other then to comment on your blog in reference to past family history but was unable to do so. I was wondering if you could possibly email me so I may give you our story. My email address is (e-mail address removed…) I live in NY and Im hoping we will be able to talk soon!

    • jgroeber
      January 21, 2015

      Hi, AnnaMarie. Thank you for the kind words. I’ll reach out to you in e-mail and we can see what sort of parallel lives we’re living. 🙂

  2. Jenn Berney
    January 18, 2015

    I’m so relieved to learn that you don’t want pets–or poinsettias. We’ve got a pair of dogs, but I nurse some chronic guilt about how little I offer them, and just tonight my son was crying over the memory of a cat we had who disappeared three years ago. I so badly want to give him a cat but, you know, there is just absolutely no way that’s happening.

    • jgroeber
      January 21, 2015

      It’s so funny you mention this. A friend’s partner wanted a dog and so they got one, but my friend is the one that gets stuck with this mayhem-seeking pup all day. One day she tried to sneak him into my car at pre-school pick-up. I caught her and sent her and her puppy packing! Ha! No Dogs Allowed (as that old Charlie Brown cartoon used to go.) No way, no how. Now hopefully the rest of my family doesn’t somehow sneak one past me either.

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