We have not always had much luck with pet fish, and by that I mean, our fish don’t live more than a few weeks. This didn’t worry me too much, because it seems like a rite-of-passage in childhood. You beg for a fish, get it, and then it dies. Flushing ceremonies for pet fish who have “moved on” is the stuff that many ’80s sitcom episodes were made of.

But fish care seems to have gotten infinitely more complicated in the last few decades. Where I once had a goldfish in a clear, drum-shaped fish bowl, and maybe some rocks and a plastic tree, now fish need self-filtering tanks with LED lights, and their water has to be tested and treated and left to acclimate before anything lives in it. No wonder my goldfish never made it.

Several years ago, when my youngest was too little to remember, my older sons begged for an aquarium. Actually, they were all begging for a dog, so we got them an aquarium instead. We filled the tank with a handful of the most beautiful fish I had ever seen. These were not the goldfish of my youth. They were exotic and colorful.

The fish that was mine, a bright pink beta, was promptly named Puffy Fluffy (a SpongeBob reference) by the children. I loved Puffy Fluffy. She was feisty and bold as her colorful, fluorescent fins rippled through the clear water. She was mesmerizing as she moved through soft plants that swayed in the currents. And she was inspiring in the way she seemed to boss around the other fish, despite her small size.

But Puffy Fluffy was eaten alive, piece by piece, by a fish we later won at the state fair, a fish we’d eventually rename “Sharky,” because, honestly, he might have been a shark. One by one, Sharky picked off all our colorful fish and then promptly died alone in the enormous tank that I had the sole pleasure of cleaning. After that experience, I said we’d never have fish again. A few months later, we got our beloved dog, Sparky.

Lindell, our youngest, however, doesn’t remember Puffy Fluffy and her friends Mike the Molly, What’s It To Ya, and Patrick Star. He doesn’t remember the tragedy of Sharky and how Ford, then 11, ran out of the room and said “a massacre” had happened in the tank overnight. Nor, I presume, does Lindell remember the smell of the rocks when I’d clean them.

And Lindell loves animals. He is a bit of an animal rescuer. So when he started pressing us hard for either a rabbit or a turtle, we caved and offered him a fish. He does, after all, take great care of Sparky.

In a weird twist of the usual cliché, our son had proven himself with the dog, so he had earned himself a fish.

A year-and-a-half ago, I took Lindell to the pet store to pick out his fish. It was just the two of us, and maybe that’s why I went overboard on supplies and then bought a second fish. When Lindell’s brothers were little and begging for fish, it was a family affair. We all went to the pet store. What other option did anyone have? But now that Lindell’s brothers are teenagers, they can, and usually do, stay home. Sometimes they are working or out with friends, but often, they just aren’t interested — especially when it comes to fish. Been there, done that.

I understand Lindell’s feelings, because I was also the baby of three. And so in my desperation to make the day exciting and memorable for Lindell, I bought two beta fish, a fancy divided tank for them, lots of tank decorations, plants and rocks, and, of course, an LED light.

When we got home and set it up, the older boys groaned, “Fish again? You know what happens to fish, right?”

I named my beta Skittles because she was a vibrant purple. Lindell, who is colorblind, did not realize that the beta he had selected was probably the ugliest, dullest beta ever to have existed. He had no color at all. In fact, he looked kind of sick. Lindell named him Finn.

Much to everyone’s surprise, six months later both fish were still kicking. Then one day Skittles died of a condition called Dropsy. Because Dropsy is contagious, we figured Finn, in all his lackluster glory, would soon follow.

And yet, Finn, the fish only a colorblind child could find beautiful, lived another year past Skittles. We found him floating at the top of the tank last week, and though Lindell was sad, he knew Finn had had a good run. Indeed, he’d had a better run than any fish we’d ever owned.

We were finally done with the fish phase. The older boys rejoiced.

And the next day, Lindell woke up and said, “So, about that turtle I’ve been wanting …”


Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: