3 Days + 3 Fish = 0 Pets

What started out as a great idea for a gift for my daughter’s 8th birthday has turned into a disastrous lesson in death, fish care and lying.  And has made my father laugh really hard.

My last blog detailed the big decision to get a fish.  The first pet for our family.  And the FEAR I had that the fish would die.  Eventually.   But little did I know that the fish we got for Caroline, would die 10 HOURS AFTER WE GOT IT.  Oh, and the two replacement fish?  Take a wild guess.

On Sunday, Caroline’s birthday, we presented her with a two and a half-gallon fish tank with pretty blue rocks and a plant.  The water was treated and all ready with whatever you needed for a fish tank.

“Oh!” she yelled.  “A fish!  I’m getting a fish!  A pet of my own!  I knew this was going to be the BEST BIRTHDAY EVER!”

Caroline and Shimmer #1

Yes, we told her we were going to the pet store that afternoon so she could pick out the fish herself.   It was a huge outing for the whole family.  After watching the crowded goldfish tank, Caroline spotted the one.  The fish of her dreams.  She was so excited, she threw her arms around me, saying “thank you, mommy!”  She was growing up, getting her very own pet and ready for responsibility.  My eyes got watery.  Probably from the toxic smell of the ferrets nearby.

We took our new fish home, and she/he was promptly named “Shimmer”.  Shimmer seemed to like being perched on top of Caroline’s book shelf.  She had adoring fans that peered into her tank and tapped on the glass.  My husband and I looked at each other as if to say, see?  We got a fish. Life is good.

No, it isn’t.

Monday morning when I went into Caroline’s room, she was standing at the tank.

“Shimmer isn’t really moving, Mom.”

Shimmer was hanging out under the filter, nose down.  Clearly DOA.  My worst goldfish fears confirmed. The thing can’t even live ONE DAY? With barely a thought – the lying began.

“I think Shimmer is still adjusting to the tank and her new environment,” I say smoothly.  “She’ll be okay by the time you come home from school.”  Lie, lie, lie.

“I’m kind of worried,” Caroline says.

“She’ll be fine,” I reassure.

Caroline goes to school.  And Operation Shimmer #2 begins.  The idea?  Make sure the tank is working, the water isn’t contaminated and get a fish that looks EXACTLY like Shimmer for the swap.  Jamie takes the lifeless fish and a sample of the water back to the pet store.  Water?  Fine, says the store guy.  Must have been a bad fish.  So we get the Deuce.  Caroline comes home from school and sees the Deuce (Shimmer) and is happy. She feeds it, does homework and goes to dance class.  My parents stop over and check in on the fish.

“Hate to tell you this,” my dad says with a chuckle.  “But your fish isn’t doing so well.”

WHAT?

I run upstairs, and it is true.  The Deuce looks like a drunk, listlessly floating toward the filter. It’s still alive, but barely.  And later that night, after Caroline falls asleep, it dies.  Now I’m good and mad.  I didn’t know that it would be so darn difficult to keep a goldfish alive for at least a day.   Then I wonder, is there some kind of secret killer chemical in the air?  In my water?  Are we all going to grow a third eyeball and this is the first sign?

So Tuesday morning, yet another lie.  There is something wrong with the tank, I say, and daddy had to take it (along with Shimmer) to the pet store to fix it.  Caroline heads off to school.

The mastermind at the pet store tells us that the fish we had are too big for the tank.  Our lovely, two and a half-gallon tank is not big enough for one stinking goldfish.  Really? Again, we had multiple fish in a bowl when I was little – no filter, no water treatment and they survived (Alas, goldfish rearing, much like parenting, has become a lot more complicated in the last 20 years). Now we have to get a smaller goldfish and cross our fingers.  We came up with the genius story of “Shimmer was too big for the tank, so we took her back to the store and got a new, smaller one.”

Believe me, I’m not a fan of parental lying (as I’ve blogged about before), and yes, I guess I should have told the truth. I panicked.  Of course Caroline will have to deal with the death of a goldfish some day.  But COME ON, not 10 hours after she gets it.

We presented Caroline with “Shimmer” the third (or Trey).

“No,” she said wisely.  “This isn’t Shimmer.  Shimmer was a special name for my first special fish.  And since Shimmer is back at the pet store, I’ll call this one Goldy.”  Perhaps the curse of Shimmer is over.  We watched Goldy all day for signs of impending death and felt confident the third fish was the charm.

Wrong.

Wednesday morning, Caroline was standing at the tank yet again.  Goldy?  DEAD.  And stuck to the side of the filter.  No getting around this one.

“Caroline, I’m so sorry, but Goldy is dead.”

She starts to cry.  “Is it my fault?  Did I feed it too much?”

I reassure her that it is NOT her fault, that sometimes fish have a tough time getting used to a new tank.  Where did we go wrong?? Three fish in three days.  It makes you want to swear off pets forever.  We’re not even sure if we should GET another fish.  My father tells me we’re going to laugh at this some day.  Sigh.

A pet rock is looking pretty good right now.

How Long Do Goldfish Live?

Our family is growing. It’s been just enough time since the last baby for me to think about taking care of something else.

A fish.

Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated

And of course, it’s not my fish or the family fish, it will be my 8-year-old daughter’s fish.  A big birthday present.  But let’s be honest.  I’ll end up taking care of it.  I’ve dragged my feet on getting a family pet for precisely that point.  I didn’t want to clean up any more poop than I already had to.  But since the little one is pretty much potty trained, and the children are begging for a pet (or just something else to bug, because they’re bored with annoying each other), we’re going to give it a try.

It’s not that I didn’t have pets growing up.  Our family had a cat that climbed the screen doors in the summer, and dropped dead birds on the step.  We had dogs, one that walked the kitchen counters and ate entire loves of bread and one that curled up on laps and lived a long life.  My sisters had rabbits that lived outside in a cage and liked to take walks on cat leashes.  One sister had three mice.  Not at the same time, mind you, because they kept escaping from their cage and got lost in the basement.  (we did see one lurking about in its newly created life as a free mouse)  I even had a parakeet.  And when that one died, my parents let me get another one.  That second bird, HATED me, would never let me hold it without pecking my hand to pieces.

In between all of those pets, we had fish.  Fish we won at the fair, fish we bought on a whim from the pet section at Meijer.  I look at my mother now and say “What were you thinking?”  She sighs and says, “I don’t know.  I was crazy.”

Oh I’m crazy.  But not that crazy.  Yet.

So fish, it is.

My husband and I took a trip to the local pet store to pick out everything that the fish will need.  We thought it would be fun to let the birthday girl actually pick out the fish herself.  Apparently, things have changed since the last time I got a fish.  I’m thinking, bowl, food and we’re good to go.  Oh no.  The fish lady told us that goldfish need like a gallon of water for each inch of fish.  So my little bowl could only fit one fish and not any more because goldfish grow like 3 feet.  And I had to treat the water (aka buy more stuff) to make it safe.  Oh, and make sure I cleaned out the gravel a lot because goldfish are the dirtiest fish.  And I should probably get an aquarium.

Suckers that we are, we walked out of the pet store with a small aquarium, blue rocks, a fake plant, a tiny fish net and water treatment stuff.  A far cry from the simple round bowl and tap water that I used when I was a kid.  But, I guess we’re giving our new family member the best start we can.

Because really, my biggest fear?  The fish is going to die.  And I’m dreading the “your fish is dead” conversation.  Yes, I know, glass half full.  I’m already planning the funeral of a pet I haven’t even purchased yet (let’s all agree that the life of a goldfish is, well, short).  Some friends recently told me they secretly replace dead fish so the kids don’t realize how quickly they “turn over”, so to speak.  But these same friends have also had front yard fish memorial services to respectfully honor their finned friends who went to great aquarium in the sky.

I know I can’t shield the kids from everything (over protective mother alert).  Perhaps I’m over thinking just a little bit.

One thing I do know.  No one is getting a parakeet.