I always wanted a bird. Grew up with dogs. Never much liked cats. This morning, however, I settled for some fish.
Petra and I wandered into a fish store after a quick trip to the pediatrician. I’d thought about getting her a few fish, but hadn’t told her that was the plan. Just in case.
So we walked into the fish store. It smelled like fish. There were large tanks everywhere and I was immediately pleased with myself for not getting her 2-year-old expectations up about owning some fish.
I looked at the price lists posted on each tank and had total sticker shock. The fish in this store were like $30, $26.50, $85. Really cool fish, but c’mon. I’ll pay $25 for an Idaho fishing license. I’ll buy wild salmon for $11 bucks a pound once in a while.
But when I was a kid fish were, like, free.
A guy came over and I preemptively told him we were just browsing. We found a few fish that were $3 or $4 dollars and decided we wanted to take at least one fish home. So I found the guy again and asked, “do you have any goldfish?”
They kept the goldfish in a big tank near the back alley door. The guy actually said (in front of my daughter) “They’re just fish food,” as he scooped four little fish into a baggie.
48 cents. My daughter’s first pets.
She insisted I prop the bag up next to her car seat. She asked: “Can I be the mommy to the fish?”
We got home and I found a vase. It was not your standard fish bowl, but it was see-through and had a bit of a bulb at the bottom. We put a few rocks in and a little fake tree we had purchased at the fish store and then I started to pour the fish in.
Then the first of a pair of fish emergencies ensued.
Petra pours stuff all the time. Like in the bath. From one cup to another, again and again and again. She knows that some cups have greater volumes than others. Greater capacities to hold liquids.
I was a bit out of practice.
Apparently this hard core plastic bag from the fish store had a greater volume than the fishes’ new flower vase home. So as I’m pouring, the fish are still swimming around the bottom of the baggie and the water is quickly rushing to the top of the vase and pouring all over the kitchen floor.
So what do you do? The fish are now swimming around in wrinkles of plastic with just a finger of water. There is water all over the floor. The fish bowl is filled to capacity. No room for fish.
I almost panicked, but remained calm. I straightened out the fish bag as I simultaneously rushed the vase to the kitchen sink. Flashbacks to my childhood rushed through my mind. That’s why we always moved the fish near the kitchen sink. That’s why we had a net. My mom was some kind of genius.
I dumped off enough water from the vase, careful not to spill the rock garden out. And then dumped the fish in. They seemed pleased. Two found their way into the deeps. Two hung out at the top.
Petra sprinkled a little fish food in. We couldn’t tell if they went for it or not. We moved on to another activity.
Fast forward 6 hours or so. Wife comes home and notices the fish.
“You got fish.” She states. “I know you wanted fish. They don’t look so good.”
Two of them, the ones in the deeps, indeed, did not look so good. “Are you sure that’s an okay fish bowl?”
What could be wrong with our fish bowl, rescued from the recycling pile? It’s a container of water. But apparently not all containers are adequate fish habitat. They didn’t mention this at the fish store.
We put Petra to bed and when I emerged the fish were lifeless. Side floating, little fins drooping downward. Food pellets nestled in the crook of a fake leaf. The very beginning of a fish toilet shimmying on the bottom of the vase.
I flushed them. 48 cents down the drain.
I read once how to talk to your kids about dead fish. It was a great story, probably in the New Yorker, about how when we are born everything seems alive and growing up is a series of shocking disappointments that we are surrounded by lifeless inanimate objects. And then it all ends with a couple shovels and some dirt. At least that’s how I remember the article.
I am thinking now about what kind of conversation we are going to have about the fish. In fourth or fifth grade, when my parents told me that my childhood dog had died I sobbed and shuffled around the house for weeks. I had grown up with Igloo.
But these fish, that came home in a plastic bag, we hardly had a chance to know. I think I’ll invest in a bowl with better air circulation and try again.