Historically, the most successful fish in my home have been Goldfish crackers. Actual goldfish, not so much. My older son did not exhibit any particular athletic talent as a very young child, except for his insane ability to chuck a ping pong ball with amazing accuracy into a tiny cup at any and every fair we attended, winning the coveted “fair fish.” The ultimate prize, who doesn’t remember as a child bringing home their newest pet in a knotted off bag?
For two dollars of tickets to win the fish, and the ensuing $50 of supplies, we’ve gone through this routine numerous times. Every time I get my hopes up, as I get happiness from the thrill my son gets from his new friend. All settled in it’s new bowl, it swims perkily around, defying it’s status as a feeder fish in the food chain. A name is given, a feeding schedule is adhered to, hours are spent gazing and talking to it. And then, one day, something goes horribly wrong.
The morning of my son’s first trip to Disneyland we discovered the first of our fair fish dead on the bathroom floor, the victim of his goodnight kiss to them. The next batch died within hours of each other, as if they were fans of “The Notebook.” Some slowly died, prolonging the agony of their child owner and his parents. No, son, fish are not supposed to swim upside down. One managed to die inside the decorative volcano, leading to an extraction process involving a chopstick, gloves and my husband humming Disney’s “Tiki Room” song as he worked away. There have been burials “at sea” (read: flush) and burials in the yard. After a county fair tadpole debacle last summer we finally threw in the towel along with our growing tiny body count.
And yet, it was my younger son’s sole fourth birthday wish that he get pet goldfish. Determined to do it right, I researched heavily online, made numerous trips to Petco and consulted with friends who’d worked in pet stores in high school. Hence William ended up with a ten gallon tank for two measly goldfish. But they’re alive and thriving so far for THREE WHOLE MONTHS. I do not lie when I say I checked the fish every night and morning the first few weeks while my son was asleep to make sure they were still alive. But, best of all, I haven’t had to pay out yet on the betting pool I put up on Facebook on when they’d bite it.
Then our babysitter called with a favor. She’d become the not so thrilled owner of a pet goldfish after attending a kid’s party. In it’s little bowl it was not thriving and she wanted to know if we could add it to our tank. Hesitantly I said yes, on the condition that she take it first to Petco to be checked out and deemed healthy. She did and it was. But when I first laid eyes on Dorothy the Goldfish, I knew this would not go well. Fish aren’t supposed to sit.
I was caught between wanting to save the fish but not wanting to sacrifice the ones I’d carefully cultivated and were such a huge source of joy for my son. She and I watched the fish as it reclined on the gravel, perking up only as we jiggled the bowl. She insisted that it just needed more room to swim, as visions of mass fish death danced through my head. Then it started to float sideways, never a good sign. Knowing deep down it wouldn’t recover from it’s feeder fish fate on the food chain, I just ignored it until she finally couldn’t take watching it anymore and decided to flush it and put it out of it’s slowly dying misery. At this point I came down with a bad case of inappropriate stress laughter and had to leave the room as she poured him into my son’s toilet. From the other room I heard her yelling “HE’S SWIMMING IN THE TOILET!” Crap.
Fleetingly, I thought of having her scoop the fish out and depositing him into our tank. But, really, did I want now a possibly dying fish who’d been soaking in toilet water in my prized tank. No, I did not. And so I became a goldfish assassin, giving her the command to go ahead and flush him. Fingers crossed, we hoped he’d make it out to sea like Nemo. Except that as a freshwater fish that would kill him. June Cleaver would have never commanded a pet death, yet another reason I’m not June.