Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Fish Story

Years ago, my younger son was invited to a birthday party. While that is not unusual, the party was. The party was held in a local pool clubhouse. The parents of the birthday boy hired animal trainers to arrive with various unusual animals that the children could learn about and even touch or hold. As cool as that sounds, that is not the unusual part either. What WAS unusual, is that each child was sent home with a goldfish in a small goldfish bowl, filled nearly to the top with water. Unaware of this, I pulled up to pick up my son just in time to see some poor dad, who somehow became in charge of this day's carpool. His face contorted and eyes rolled as 5 little boys climbed into his freshly cleaned SUV with their fish. Each boy proudly paused to show him their new pet and then subsequently climbed their way in to their spot with water splashing everywhere. I could tell that some of the dad's facial contortions were the only way he could keep from having a barrage of profanity spew out of his mouth. I tried to hide that I was laughing, but I think he knew I thought it was a funny sight. It wasn't until I tried to walk back out to the car with my son that I started to gain some empathy for that poor dad. Give ANY child a bowl full of water, with or without a fish, and they will NOT be able to walk with it without spilling. Just getting to the car, about 1/3 of the bowl was empty.

I was thinking “Well, that is a good thing, now it won't spill in the car.” In reality, I quickly realized I was wrong. My son, resistant to let his new pet go, tried to climb into the car with the bowl. “Hmmm... mostly on the floor mat. Well, it will give the french fry smell a run for it's money.”

My son finally allowed me to hold it so he could get buckled up, then it went back into his hands and rested on his lap. We live ½ mile away from the party location, so I was still thinking that we might be ok. The first bump out of the parking lot proved me wrong.

“Ahhh!” I hear from the back seat as my son now has fish bowl water on his lap.

I drove that ½ mile home, with 5 turns, in a way that a surgeon could have successfully performed brain surgery. I'm REALLY glad no one was following me! If the police spotted me they would have pulled me over thinking I was an overly cautious 98 year old lady. We FINALLY make it home. The fish gets named Goldie, and finds a spot on our countertop. We soon realize, that we have nothing to feed it. Off to the local pet supply store! Do we purchase fish food and leave? NoooooOOooo. We have to buy Goldie a new bowl, and some rocks, oh, and something to play with in her tank... huh? I give in, after all, the fish was free, right? Look at my son, he is so proud and happy. This is one of those times you give in, right? So we find Goldie a cool bowl, which is really ½ of a bowl. One side is flat so it can go up against the wall. Then my son picks out the rocks and a plastic plant and we head home. Once home, we set up Goldie in her new place and everyone seems happy.

The next morning we wake up and come downstairs, to find Goldie floating at the top of her bowl.

I'm thinking, “Crap! We just bought all of this stuff and now the thing is dead! I wonder if I can return any of it?”

My son sees his floating fish, and starts to cry. He is heartbroken. I am a bit amazed by his strong reaction to... well... it's JUST a FISH. A fish that we've had for less than 12 hours! I do the right thing and comfort him.

As I do, he pulls at my heart strings asking a series of questions between sobbing. “Why did he die? Did I do it? Did I feed him too much? Are you sure he's dead? I didn't even get a chance to take a picture of him.”

Well, that last question at least, I could make him feel better about. I immediately tell him not to worry about the photo, because I took a photo of him in his new bowl. My son felt some relief, but he had me wrapped around his finger again. You guessed it, off to the pet store again with both of my sons in tow. This time to purchase a replacement goldfish.

On the way there, I'm thinking “How much could this trip possibly cost? A dollar? Goldfish come as cheap as a dime or a quarter. I'll splurge and get him a 50 cent one.”

We look around and find a 20 something girl working there. I tell her that we would like a goldfish. With that, she turns into the Fish Police on me.

Her: “What are you going to do with it?”
Me: “Um, put it in a tank?” I'm a bit confused by the question.
Her: “What size tank?”
Me: Thinking first, “ It's a freakin' 50 cent fish! What's up with the interrogation?” then I say, politely “One of those ½ tanks that you sell.”
Her: “You know, fish need 1 gallon of water for every inch long they are. EXCEPT for goldfish. THEY need 4 gallons of water for every inch of fish. Your tank is WAY TOO small!”

It must have been the “Are you kidding me?” look on my face that made her decide to EXPLAIN to me why I REALLY needed a bigger tank.

Her: “If you put goldfish in too small of the tank, it's like torturing them. It is extremely painful and they go blind.”

I look at my son, whose eyes are now the size of saucers, thinking about the horrors that poor Goldie must have endured on our countertop overnight.

I don't respond for a moment, but I'm thinking “REALLY? REALLY LADY? You just HAD to go there?”

She interrupts the silence with: “But, you know, if you WANT to. It IS just a feeder fish. If it was ANY other fish, I wouldn't allow it.”

Why did I have to find the Fish Police in this store? It really doesn't matter at this point because I know that there is NO WAY my son is going to allow another goldfish to be tortured in that bowl. I also know that there is NO WAY I'm willingly purchasing a 5 gallon tank that costs $30.00 for a 50 cent fish. It is at that moment that I look to my right and see several shelves of bright fish in tiny little plastic cups. I ask the Fish Police if it would be O.K. to put one of those Beta fish in our ½ tank. She seems to approve and confirms that we don't need anything else for it, except Beta fish food. I ask if it can eat the brand new goldfish food that we just bought yesterday. She looks annoyed, so I grab the Beta fish food. My older son has been quiet this whole time, but pipes up as my younger son is picking out his bright red $8.00 fish.

“Is he getting one of those?” he asks tentatively. I read between the lines and know what he is really saying is “You're spending all of that money on him, and now he's getting to pick out a REALLY COOL fish and I didn't complain when he got that other fish and the new bowl, or when we came here to buy him replacement fish, but now he's picking out a REALLY COOL fish and I'm not getting ANYTHING!”

Guilt overcomes me and I immediately offer for him to pick one out too.

We are all happy, until the Fish Police reminds me that they are Beta fish. “Beta fish can't share a tank. They will kill each other.”

Geesh! Isn't she full of uplifting fish facts? So we head to the tank aisle, pick up another ½ tank and rocks. We somehow agree that Beta fish don't need something to “play” with, sparing me the cost of another plastic plant. Awesome.

We get home an set up the tanks. All is well until that night, when my younger son asks if he can see the photo I took of Goldie.

My reply, “Ummm... can I show you later?”

I make up some excuse as to why I can't get to it right then. The reason? I DIDN'T take a photo of Goldie, I just SAID I did to make him feel better! Thankfully, I'm a wiz with Photoshop. Back to the pet store for the third day in a row. This time with my camera in hand, and without my sons!

In an effort to make the final photo as believable as possible, I start examining the many tanks of goldfish to find Goldie's body double. “No, too many fish to get just one.” “No, too skinny.” “No, too fat.” “No, too orange.” “No, too many spots.”

Finally, I see one that I can make work with very little manipulation! Of course, these tanks are mere inches off of the floor. To take the photo, at the right angle, I am crouched down on the floor. It crosses my mind that dogs are allowed in this store. I wonder what the odds are that a dog had relieved it's self in this location, but then I try not to think about it. As I wait for the particular fish to separate itself from the other fish and then get a good angle of it, a confused employee walks up to me. I look up slowly, hoping it isn't the Fish Police from yesterday. I'm greeted with a smile. Nope. Not the Fish Police. I explain to her what I'm doing and am left alone. I'm glad, but convinced she will be talking to her 20 something friends later on about the “crazy mom who lied to her kid”. I get several shots of the body double and head home to continue the project. Once home, I take a photo of the tank. Luckily, the new Beta fish is cooperative and is hiding over in the corner. He is easily cropped out of the photo. I get to work on the cutting and pasting, adjust the color a bit, and done! I delete any photographic evidence of other fish and tanks, then call my son over to see the photo I took of Goldie.

He was very appreciative, but then said “I don't remember Goldie being that yellow.”

Dang! I was thinking that she looked a little too yellow too. I explain it away as being a result of my camera flash making her look different. He seems to buy it.

We were told that Beta fish are supposed to live around 3 years. At about 2 ½ years after we purchased the Beta fish, my younger son's fish started to look a bit sick. I prepare my son for the inevitable. He is sad, but is prepared to face the death of his fish. He asks if we can bury it in the yard. I agree that would be a nice thing to do for such a good fish. One morning, I came downstairs before my kids. As I look over towards the fish tanks, something catches my eye. One of the tanks is completely empty! My stomach is flipping as I start to piece together what happened. I call my husband, who woke up before me and went to go work out.

Him: “Hello?”
Me: “What happened to the fish?”
Him: “It was dead.”
Me: “What did you do with it?”
Him: “I flushed it.” I run to the toilet in hopes that it didn't go down. No such luck.
Me: “WHY????”
Him: “I didn't want him to have to see his dead fish. It would make him sad.”
Him: “Crap! I didn't know! NOW WHAT?”
ME: “You need to come home and tell him what happened.” Yeah, right, like I've been SO honest with the kid.
Him: “I know! I'll just get him another fish!”
Me: “You are NEVER going to find one that looks the same!” Unfortunately, I know this from the experience of trying to find a body double for Goldie.
Him: “Don't worry about it.”

Ah, if I had a dime for every time I've heard that! I hung up with my husband and put water back in the tank. I quietly hope that my son doesn't go over to tell his fish “good morning” today. A while later, my husband walks in from the gym with a plastic bag and a Beta fish in it. He gets points for remembering what kind and what color the fish was, but that is where the similarity ends. The fish is not nearly as bright red, has more black in it, has much smaller fins and is much smaller over all. However, I think it is sweet that my husband is concerned and wants to avoid crushing our son with the words “I flushed your fish.” Before I know what is happening, my husband starts speaking to our son.

“You know how your fish was really sick? Well, I have a friend who is a vet. I brought your fish to them today. They had to work on it a long time and had to strip away some of it's fins to save it, that's why it looks a little smaller. But, hopefully, the procedure will make it better.”

Our son seems appreciative, then says “Why does his body look so much smaller?”

We tell him it's an illusion because his fins are smaller. Darn kid, why was he born with such an eye for detail?

As we place the “recovered” fish in the tank, it crosses my mind that I will be putting food in that tank for at least another 3 years. I sigh and wonder if I should have just looked in the sewer clean out for the dead fish.

About 1 year later, our older son's fish started to show signs of being sick. I warn my husband, under penalty of something horrible (I'm not sure what that would be, but he knows I mean it), under NO CIRCUMSTANCES IS HE TO FLUSH THE FISH. He understands completely. The morning comes when the older fish is floating. We put it in a baggie with a little water and find a small box. Each one of us picks a side of the box to write something nice about the fish. It is a sweet and touching moment. My husband goes out to the yard with a shovel and he digs a hole for the burial as our older son holds the box. Our younger son goes to look for a headstone. I have my camera in hand and document the moment. Hugs all around. About 6 months later, my older son asks me why his brother's fish is living so long. I cave and tell him the truth. He can't believe his ears, but understands why we did what we did, and admits he would have been really upset if he didn't have the opportunity to bury his fish and say goodbye. I'm thankful he understands and he eases my guilt about the deception.
Over 1 year ago, the “recovered” fish started floating on it's side. I saw it as a sign of the end, again. Guest after guest has come to our house and whispered “I think your fish is dead.” Each time I walk over, tap the countertop or nudge the tank and the fish springs to back life. Along with my standard response, “Nah, he just does that.”

It has been a long time since we got the “recovered” fish. From my estimates, this fish should be in Guinness for the longest living Beta fish ever. I can't believe how many times the fish has fooled even me. I swear it's time to find another little box, and the fish wiggles a fin to let me know it's not time yet. My husband has walked by the tank and said “Dead or alive. Pick one.” Which makes me wonder, in a tongue-in-cheek way, if perhaps this fish is in some sort of “un-dead” state. It is so old, it shouldn't be alive. It eats, sometimes. It swims backwards, sometimes. It floats, sometimes. It acts normally, sometimes. The only (irrational) explanation I can come up with is that Goldie's spirit has entered the Beta fish's body and is trying to avenge her young torturous death. I'm going with that zombie fish idea for now, just because I find it amusing.

When it's time finally comes, I'm sure we will all be sad. I hope my husband refrains from flushing it, and please, someone, don't let me go back to the pet store.



  1. This made me laugh SO MUCH and reminded me of our own fish story; my husband loves them - I hate them - but agreed to a small bowl with two tiny fish, which HE had to feed and clean out.
    He went on conference, the fish had babies - 19 babies - I had to go and get a 4" tank to house them with the appropriate amount of water per fish then *I* fed them and *I* cleaned them and *I* put potions in their water when they looked ill and *I* got them the plants and the little castle and named each and every one - my husband, who had wanted the fish? He rolled his eyes when I held a funeral for each and every fish as it died and refused to let me buy more to replace them. I've never been so heartbroken - I watched those fish being born! Dadda-fish was my favourite. He mostly hid in the castle asleep and ate the lion's share of the food flakes. My kinda guy.

    Thank you for making me smile. RIP fishies!

  2. Thanks for taking the time to read this long post. I'm glad you enjoyed it and can relate! Yes, I too became in charge of feeding and cleaning. Dadda-fish... typical! Ha

  3. What a great recollection you compiled here. I loved it. So sad about Goldie and your other son's fish, but a very funny and heartfelt story that one day your other son will be able to read and see how his mom was trying to protect his heart. Great job mom.

  4. Trainingupmyboys -Thank you for the kind words. =)