What Being a Fish Means to Me: What’s Out There in the Big World?

When I think about what being a fish means to me, I think about my pregnant belly as a fish tank and my baby inside as a fish bonking the glass trying to get out. Boop boop, “What’s out there in the big world?”

My baby ferociously attacks the glass like a Beta fish when I lie on my side to sleep, and she joyously twists and swirls around her tank after a midday ice cream.

Six of seven nights a week, I lie awake in excitement for her to come into the world and experience the richness that life has to offer– the deep connection of laughing into the early hours of the morning with a close friend, the awe elicited by a mountaintop during sunrise, or the profound sense of gratitude and pride when collapsing through the finish line of a marathon. These feelings make all of life’s trials and tribulations worthwhile.

The other one night a week, I feel anxious about the “what ifs” for my future child. I reflect on a particularly hard time in my life, the year after I finished college. In a period framed as a momentous kick-start to the rest of my life, I felt like a fish out of water. Most of my friends moved away when we graduated and I no longer had the comforting, built-in structure of college classes. I felt deeply alone and directionless. I envision myself then as a shiny gray fish flopping and thudding on a wood dock–floundering. Torso arcing towards the sky, I think, “If I can just… just get to the water…” Thump thump, as hard as I try to will my happiness into existence, I’m still inches away from the edge of the dock. I never want my daughter to feel this way.

Eventually, I had a turning point in my post-graduate lull. I took to reading ‘self-help’ books, journaling about my values, and I became a bit braver about pursuing my passions. I joined a running club and discovered community through volunteering with the Miracle League. By pushing myself to explore the world around me, little by little, I was making my way back towards the water. One day, about 8 months after graduating from college, I finally made a new friend! We bonded over Brené Brown and meditation, and we soon became very close. The next month, I became chair of a suicide prevention fundraiser, a cause important to me.

I was cultivating what Csikszentmihalyi calls flow – feeling inspired, unselfconscious, and in the moment. I picture myself then as a vibrant, royal blue and yellow fish gliding through the water swimming and smiling, exploring the coral, unafraid of the perils of the ocean.

While my time spent on the dock was certainly foundational for my development, can I spare my child going through the floundering and flailing stage? Can’t I instill her with the revelations I had without her having to experience the agony of thumping around outside of the water? Perhaps, if I do enough prenatal meditations, I can telepathically communicate to her the lessons I learned.

However, being a fish means wondering about the vast world and feeling emboldened to jump out of the water, even if that means ending up on the dock for a bit. There will be some floundering, but if she can lean into her values and honor her authentic spirit, she will make her way back to the sea.

As I write this, my little cuttlefish boop-boops against her fish tank. I can’t shelter her from the trials of growing up, but hopefully I can empower her to know she’ll be able to hop herself back into the water. At McMillan Education, I think we share a bit of this love that we feel for our own children with our students. We know how the struggles of growing up can manifest. While we can’t completely insulate our kids, we can provide them the tools to manage the challenges of adolescence and young adulthood. We encourage our students to wonder and voice their preferences in a school. We trust our students’ judgment, and we equip them to make choices that prioritize their well-being. Together, we can collaboratively find the right fit for our fish.

About The Author

Samantha McMillan New, OTR/L MOT