Star Of The Day and The Suicide Fish

Every week in Ethan’s second-grade class, one student was named “Star Of The Day.”  As the Star, Ethan needed to create a poster about himself that would hang in the front of the classroom, and he would be the teacher’s special helper during class.  Lastly, the teacher wanted us to speak with Ethan in front of the class for 20 minutes about our family, our home and our jobs.

I immediately had a panic attack.  Professionally, I present in front of hundreds of people each week.   But a room of second-graders?  They are a tough crowd, especially when your job can’t be defined in one word.  Teacher, fireman, nurse – they understand these jobs, but Regional Vice President of an investment management firm?  Most adults don’t understand my job, let alone second-graders.
The Saturday before my classroom gig, Ethan had a sleep-over with one of his friends.  While I was making pancakes for them on Sunday morning, the friend asked what kind of job I had and presented me the perfect opportunity to practice my spiel.
“Well, I work in investment management, which means I help people who have extra money in the bank make more money.”  I was pleased because it was simple but not dumbed down.
The boy nodded politely while I spoke, so I thought it went well.  “Wow, that’s really… BORING.  Let me tell you what my father does, because it is a lot of fun…”  I was deflated, but had to agree that his father had a much more exciting job, working as a display designer for museums.
The next Monday I showed up at Ethan’s classroom.  He clutched his favorite Percy Jackson book, eager to show everyone, as we went up to the front of the room.  All I could think was “please don’t ask me what I do”.
The kids kicked it off by asking Ethan about his favorite toys, what sports he played, and his favorite books.  They then proceeded to discuss which Percy Jackson book was the best, which characters were their favorites and the distinction between reading the books yourself and having your mom read them to you.  I checked the clock.  Ten minutes to go.
Someone asked Ethan about his pets.  “Well, I have two dogs, Pickle and Sweet Pea.  We used to have three cats but two died from old age and we gave the other one to my aunt.  Oh, yeah, and we had a fish that committed suicide.”
A little blond girl in the front row looked confused, “What is suicide?”
My parental instincts went into overdrive, thinking how to handle this discussion delicately, but Ethan replied in a matter-of-fact tone, “Suicide is when someone kills themselves.”
Her face became pale and she looked sick. “How did the fish kill himself?”
Ethan warmed up to his topic. “It was so cool.  He jumped out of his bowl, and landed on the kitchen floor.  We didn’t even notice it until the next morning, when Dad almost stepped on him because he looked like a dried-up leaf.”
He hit a vein of interest with the other seven-year-old boys in the class, who responded in kind. “I had the same thing happen with my fish.” “It was a Beta fish, right?” “I had a baby turtle that someone stepped on by accident.  It was disgusting.  I really miss that turtle.”
The little blond girl in the front row looked like she was going to start crying, and I knew her mother was going to wonder what happened in class today.  Maybe I would get a call from the mom tonight but selfishly, I was relieved that my job was much less interesting than Percy Jackson or fish suicide.
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