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.

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.

Shoes, Star Wars and the Third Child

My 7-year-old daughter stared at me in disbelief.

“You got Kitty light up shoes?” Caroline was incredulous as she watched her two-year old sister jump up and down, setting off lights on the sides of her Disney Princess shoes.

Shoes for the 3rd child

“You said we could NEVER have light up shoes!” Now the tone was a bit angrier.  “Why did SHE get light up shoes?!”

You know the shoes I’m talking about.  Sneakers that light up every time you walk on them.  You can see them in a dark movie theater, they always come with some annoying cartoon character plastered on them and usually cost double.

When Caroline was old enough to see how cool light up shoes were, I put my non-lit up foot down. Nope.  No one needs his or her feet to light up with every step.  When Josh came along, it was his dream to have Thomas the train shoes or Toy Story or whatever light up shoes.  There was begging.  I held firm, because of course, I had set a stupid parent rule in my head.  No swearing, hitting or light up shoes.

But here comes the third child.  She picked out Princess shoes at the store.  Ok, I say.  Princess sneakers are fine.  She put them on.

“Oh!” Kitty squealed. “My shoeses lighted up!!”

Sigh.  I was in trouble.  Trouble if I took them off her feet.  And trouble if I came home with them.

After years of law and order, I caved under the pressure of the third child.  By number three I’ve realized:

1. Parental patience is thin

2. Parental perfection is unrealistic

3. The third will cry if not included

When my first was born, she played with educational toys, only watched Sesame Street and didn’t eat candy.  I was determined to do this parent thing right.  Then came number two.  Things were a little more lax, but they didn’t know who Sponge Bob was, rarely ate at McDonald’s and had no idea how to play video games.

The third one came, and it all went to hell.  Frazzled from meeting the needs of three children at different ages, my standards have dropped. Significantly.  In turn, I have a two-year old who can play “Pac Man”, sings songs from “High School Musical” and wants an American Girl Doll.  She manipulates tiny Legos and has taken an unnatural interest in “Star Wars.” She recently dazzled a crowd at the hair salon singing Darth Vader’s theme song with a lollipop hanging out of her mouth.   She snuck up on her sister the other day and said, breathing heavily in sister’s ear, “Luke, I am your daddy.”

I find myself just watching her and shaking my head.  Like, whose child is this? And when is her mother going to do something?  One person who takes great glee in this, is my mother.

“That’s what happens,” she said recently.  “The third becomes a lot smarter a lot quicker.”

She ought to know.  I was the third child.  Boy, am I in trouble.

A Year of Living Dangerously

Two years ago, my older sister gave us all the same gift at Christmas.  It was a white binder filled with a collection of interesting recipes she had discovered over the past year.  It was titled “The Year of Cooking Dangerously” – culled from what she called a year of  “free time, fresh produce, Top Chef marathons and most important, a reconnection to my family, friends and the art of simple living.” The pages detailed roasted winter vegetables, soups, cookies, and even a brine for turkey.  But along with the recipes were the stories of the meals.  A weekend with friends, a potluck Thanksgiving, a woman who made the best sugar cookies.

My sister’s life that year was one big transition.  She was downsized out of her job as a magazine editor, so she sold her swanky city townhouse and moved up to a mountain town in Colorado with her husband and baby.    She had to navigate a new life of “what now?” and “there’s a moose in my backyard” and “why doesn’t this town have a Target?” (can you imagine? Life without Target?!)

No, I didn't climb Mt. Everest.

So, the “Year of Cooking Dangerously” binder really translated to a “Year of Living Dangerously”.  Being pushed out of your comfort zone and making it up as you go along.  Since then, I’ve equated new situations to “living dangerously”.  And 2011 was really my year of living dangerously.  I didn’t sky dive, climb Everest, find a new religion or shave my head.  (Those things actually may have been easier.  Except the hair thing.  I would look terrible bald)  I left my old job, wanting still to be a TV journalist, but on a schedule that made me and my family happy.

Those first months of not knowing what came next were strange.    Slightly scary, even.  I felt like I was hopping around on one foot. But the freedom fired off parts of my brain that had cobwebs and made me think in different ways.

I met interesting people, connected with old friends and worked on new TV projects I never would have if I didn’t take the leap.  I started writing this blog.  I took up piano again – what used to be a chore as a child, the practice, the “do I have to play the piano?” is now such a treat.  Music really does something for the soul.  I started horseback riding again.  Fell off horse.  Broke pinky.  Stopped horseback riding.  (there’s a reason why it’s called living dangerously)  Celebrated my 10th anniversary, saw my daughter ride a two-wheeler for the first time, taught my son to read, potty trained the toddler and danced at my sister’s wedding. Wow.  What a great year!  Especially the potty training part.

But “Living Dangerously” is not easy.  It’s not always fun.  It can be confusing, frustrating and make you question yourself.  But I’m closer to my gut – I listen to it and trust it.  And I know happiness is just as important as a job title.

My sister is now the editor of another magazine and works on projects from her home where she’s free to corral two children, find new recipes and chase the occasional bear out of her garage.  (like a bad episode of Northern Exposure).  I’m still trying to enjoy the now, instead of the “where am I going to be in 10 years?”  So as I look back at 2011, thank you for walking along with me in my Year of Living Dangerously.  Maybe you’ve had a few moments of living dangerously yourself – congratulations!

And may 2012 be the best yet!

‘Tis The Season For Santa Threats

It’s the most wonderful time of year, alright. Family parties, holiday lights, togetherness, big cups of egg nog (spiked).  But giddy parents everywhere know it’s now officially fair to drop Santa’s name as a threat for good behavior.

Will parents get a lump of coal for using the Santa threat?

There’s no incentive quite like playing the Santa card.

All year-long, my homemade threats never seem to be enough to deter bad behavior. I’ve warned I would take toys trains away, blow up the Barbie Dream House and ban the kids forever from the swimming pool.  Sometimes they work. Sometimes not. Probably because I rarely make good on the consequence. (Parental memo to self: you’ll never be able to enforce the swimming pool one)

But every year, I look forward to this warning. It’s a sure thing.

“Santa’s watching.”

That’s all I have to say. It stops the kids dead in their tracks. No more fighting, beds get made, homework is done and behavior becomes instantly magical. Because the thought of jolly ‘ol St. Nick by-passing their home shatters any visions of American Girl Dolls and Lightning McQueen cars dancing in their heads.

It has worked a few years for 7-year-old Caroline and 5-year-old Josh. But this year I’ve hit the jackpot. Now the two-year-old even gets it. I told her the other day when she was refusing, well, to do anything, “You know Catherine, Santa sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake.”

She looked at me skeptically.

“Where is he?” she yelled.

Great point.

“Somewhere,” I said. “And he’s watching. Santa wants you to be a good girl.”

It worked. She sheepishly did what I asked her to do. And then looked over her shoulder for good measure, just in case Santa decided to pop out from the closet.

“Cruel!” the critics may yell. “Using a child’s magical belief in a benevolent man who brings gifts is just mean!”

Hmmm. Maybe. But I prefer to think of it as an effective incentive. It does come with a warning: you can’t abuse the Santa threat. You must choose the situation wisely or it can lose its power. Because you’ll NEVER follow through with a there-will-be-no-presents-under-the-tree threat.

I know my kids won’t believe in the joy and mystery of Santa Claus forever. We are not looking forward to the day when they discover that Santa gets a little help from Mom and Dad.

But until then, there’s nothing wrong with a little he’s-gonna-find-out-who’s-naughty-and-nice-so-you-better-not-hit-your-sister-again-or-Santa-won’t-bring-you-any-presents reminder.

Married… And Still Dating

I thought I was done with dating when I married my husband Jamie.  No more awkward getting-to-know-you conversations, no more exhausting/witty banter, no more wondering if they’ll call.

Married... and still dating. Other people.

Wrong.

We’re still dating. Only we’re dating other couples.  Will they like us?  Do we all have chemistry?  Are the women just friends and the men have nothing to say to each other?  Do we have similar tastes in TV shows, food, child rearing?  Do they use swear words? (Um, we sometimes do)  Let’s be honest.  Once you finally get a weekend night available (dodging work obligations, family obligations and various Detroit sporting events), and drop ten bucks an hour on a sitter, flat-iron your hair (just me?) – the date better be good.  Unlike our single selves, we can’t just meet people out for dollar pitchers of beer on a Wednesday night (oh the days of $1 pitchers) to see how it goes.  We’re no longer a hook up couple with endless time. Wait. That makes us sound like we’re swingers.  We’re not.

We’re looking for a relationship.  And finding another couple that matches interests, kids and humor can be like finding that one in a million soul mate all over again.  But we don’t just open up to anyone – we’ve been burned before.  Showed a little leg, made the first move – but they just weren’t that into us. (cue flashback)

It was a wedding.  We were at table 23, the catch-all table of random friends, relatives and others you don’t know where to put, so you throw the extras at one table.  We sat down next to a couple who seemed to be our same age.  Ripe with a gin and tonic, we started talking.  You know, the usual how-do-you-know-the-couple, to what-do-you-do-for-a-living questions.  Then we progressed to talking about other weddings, fun trips, hilarious movies.  It was like they answered our Pina Colada song singles ad.  The other woman and I even took a trip to the bathroom together, the ultimate in female friend bonding.

At the end of the night, I impulsively (because I’m usually not that kind of girl) thrust my business card with personal number into the other woman’s hand.

“Call us!” I said brightly.  “We had so much fun with you guys! It would be great to hang out again!”

“That would be fun!” she gushed.  With that they turned, and walked out.

For days, Jamie and I were hopeful that we would get a second date.  I mean, we were funny!  We were witty!  We danced the Electric Slide together!

Nothing.  Scarred from putting ourselves out there, we vowed never to pursue another couple so brazenly.  I know, I know – nothing ventured, nothing gained.  So yes, we did heal.  We got back out there.

We have ended up making great couples friends in our neighborhood and from school.  We have a lot of fun, but it has taken a slow, dating dance to make sure it’s going to last.  Back in the dating days, looking for  Mr./Mrs. Right was about good looks, a steady job and someone who didn’t embarrass himself on the dance floor. (or two out of three)  Now we’re into good wine, swapping kid stories, a wild Kid Rock concert once every 3 years and getting home by midnight.  (Ok, 11:30 p.m.)

So, if you like Pina Coladas… and getting caught in the rain…. like Detroit sports… and watch The Barefoot Contessa…

We’re available.