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.

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Five-Year-Old Fails Polygraph Test

It started as a simple conversation at dinner. We usually go around the table, and each person talks about their day.  The 2-year-old always wants to go first, refuses to take questions, but just enjoys everyone looking at her.  (“I’m not DONE YET!” is a familiar screech.)

The 7-year-old talked fondly of the science experiment in her desk, a mealworm named Squirmy who was getting ready to turn into a beetle.  Then it got to 5-year-old Josh, who regaled us with stories of Star Wars reenactments on the playground and a secret reader in class.

After a few questions, I wrapped up with:

“Did you buy your milk ok today?”

Did you buy chocolate milk?

Every once in a while, Josh likes to buy milk at the school cafeteria to go with his lunch from home.  Fine, I say.  A break from the juice box.  But the rule is, you buy white milk.  Not chocolate.  Because that’s dessert in a carton.  And I already packed dessert.  And we don’t usually drink chocolate milk.

“Yep, I bought milk,” he said with a weird look on his face.

I know that look.  I’m not a poker player and I know that look.

“You did?” I probed.

“Yep.”  He said.  Super weird look now.

The mother’s intuition alarm bell started clanging.

“White milk?”

Silence.

“Um, yes white milk.”

“You had chocolate milk,” I say.

Silence.

“No I DIDN’T!” He insisted.

Which meant he did.  All I did was look at him and he caved.

“Well, I maybe had chocolate milk,” he confessed.

Then it hit me.  He lied.  WHY? I had that sick feeling of if-he’s-lying-about-milk-then-what-ELSE-is-he-lying-about?  Why lie about milk?!  What does it mean??  WHAT HAVE I DONE!  So I did what any rational (neurotic) parent would do.  First, I lectured the liar about telling the truth, trust issues and chocolate milk nutrition facts.  Then ran straight to the computer to Google “kids and lying”.

First, I found many message boards with parents wondering why their 17-year-old lied about skipping school, stealing $300 and drinking beer.  Shaky with thoughts of my 5-year old landing behind bars from a life of lying and stealing, I stumbled upon this article from the Wall Street Journal.  I was surprised to find out that lying at age 5 doesn’t really mean much – but it’s actually a good sign. Researchers say  “The fact that their children tell lies is a sign that they have reached a new developmental milestone.”

Milestone!  Sounds impressive.  In fact, the study says kids with better cognitive abilities actually lie more.  Because when you lie, you’ve gotta keep your story straight while knowing the truth.  And that makes your brain fire up in high functioning ways.   Hmm.  I don’t think I’ll be touting my son’s newly found fibbing skills any time soon.  And certainly I’ll have to repeatedly stress that lying is not tolerated in our house.

Oh, and he still can’t buy chocolate milk.

Parents’ Pants Are Frequently On Fire

I consider myself to be a very honest person.  With the exception of using a bad fake id that made me 25 years old and a brunette when I was 19, I’ve had a pretty good track record.

It’s only now, as the mother of three, that my pants seem to go up in flames on a consistent basis.  It’s a terrible realization, when you’re supposed to set the example of truthfulness and transparency for the family.  I mean, the children are our future, right?  But oh, the damage I may be inflicting on future generations by brazenly leaning on the parental lie.

The parental lie doesn’t really count, you see.  It’s really just a vague answer to end a line of questioning that could continue uncomfortable, complicated and exhausting conversation.  And I find myself using it more and more.  How much do you sacrifice the truth to spare your child?

In the beginning, when our babies are babies, we’re eager to tell them the straight facts about EVERYTHING.

“Look that’s a red ball!”

“Throwing food makes mommy sad.”

“We want to make wee wees in the potty!” (Can you tell I’m still in the trenches of potty training? I’ll be rich when I stop buying diapers)

But there comes a time when you start fudging your answer, just a little bit.

“What happened to that bird?  Oh, he’s just sleeping…. look! There’s a balloon!”

And we start dodging questions.

“Whats the drink in the big silver shaker daddy brings out every Friday at dinner time?”

“Why do we have skin?”

Or a prime recent example.  My son Josh found an Almond Joy wrapper on the counter.

“Who ate that candy?” he asked.

“What? I’m doing dishes,” I say loudly, not looking back at the counter.

“Did you eat it, mom?  BEFORE DINNER?!” he asked incredulously.

“Not sure who did,” I said.  Because if I had told him I ate it, he’d want to know why-did-YOU-get-to-eat-candy-I-didn’t-get-any-candy-can’t-I-have-a-piece-of-candy-now-what-about-tomorrow?

But a little candy wrapper interrogation is nothing next to the series of questions about subjects that no parent really wants to answer.  Birth and Santa Claus.

“How did baby Catherine get here?” asked my daughter.

“She was in my belly,” I said brightly and vaguely.

“No, I mean HOW DID SHE GET OUT?”

Silence.

“She just did.”

“Oh.”

I know, I know.  A total cop-out!  And yes, I’m sure I’ll take it on the chin from experts and parents who think I should have done an etch-a-sketch rendering of a placenta.  But in that moment, I wasn’t prepared.  So, then do you get your story straight, circle back around a few days later while your child is playing with Little People and say, “You know that question you had about birth…”    Don’t get me wrong, my kids aren’t totally sheltered.  They know about death, we talk about religion and I even had to explain politics. (Eee gads!)

I stumbled upon a story in the UK from a few years ago that says parents tell about 3,000 “white lies” to their kids.  I’d say that’s in the ballpark.  And the biggest one?  It’s involving that guy in the red suit, with the white beard who I’m hoping will bring me a new Cuisinart this December.

Even though my nose seems to grow at an alarming rate from time to time, I know I’ll have to come clean once they get a little older.  And make sure I balance that need for them to know exactly what is what, with my need to protect them a little longer from the harsh and complicated realities of the world.  Like the whole Santa Claus thing.

But they’ll have to wait until they are 21 to find out about the drink in daddy’s shaker.