My eldest child has been pestering me for years to get her a pet. For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, the addition of fifty-three pounds of deranged dog fur to our home did not satisfy her longings. Much as she loves the incorrigible Buddy Baudelaire, she wanted her own personal pet, not a shared family friend.
She tried to sell me on the idea of hamsters, but I am firmly anti-rodent. I had – and loved! – a pair of hamsters when I was in elementary school, but my fondness for the wee creatures has ebbed over time. I blame the year I spent living abroad, during which time I unwillingly shared my apartment with several rats. I stumbled across a picture the other day of my ten-year-old self with a hamster perched contentedly on my head and I was immediately racked with involuntary shudders at the very thought.
Grudgingly accepting my anti-rodent bias as unwavering, she moved on to lobbying for a bunny. If we hadn’t gotten the dog, I would have considered the rabbit request, but now it’s out of the question. Nothing says “childhood trauma ahead” like combining a rabbit and a dog with a highly reactive prey instinct.
So we compromised on fish. I wrapped a package of goldfish crackers for Christmas morning and she was delighted. I was quite proud of myself, too, for nailing the perfect gift. I hadn’t done any research into fish beyond a vague knowledge that some of them glowed under black light (which seemed cool), but how complicated could it be?
Apparently, quite a bit more complicated than I imagined.
I pictured zipping to the pet store the day after Christmas and coming home with several new fish, but it turns out it’s not that easy. We left the pet store with a tank, some plants, and a bewildering set of instructions for things like water conditioning and heater installation that had to take place before we could actually buy the fish.
Then the first heater didn’t work. Or maybe it did. It was never entirely clear if the fault lay with the heater or the thermometer but after forty-eight hours, two heaters, much frustration, and about five different thermometers, we decided to roll the dice and buy a single fish. If it survived its introduction to the tank, we’d go back for more. May the odds be ever in your favor, brave fish.
Also, no one warned me that fish are expensive pets. I don’t mean the fish themselves. We ended up with three gourami and an algae fish and they weren’t too pricey. And I expected to buy a tank. But the fact that my “change filter light” blinked on within two weeks took me by surprise. Plus you have to buy water conditioner. And apparently one should use a syphon to help change out the water, which needs to be done every two weeks, but only 25% of the water so you don’t shock the poor dears and kill them.
Have I mentioned that I am secretly convinced that my house smells like fish? This is probably ridiculous. Then again, those fish food flakes are pretty gross, so my paranoia may be justified.
Thinking back to my childhood, I suddenly recall a very short-lived adventure in fish ownership that lasted approximately one week and ended in a 100% casualty rate. Suddenly, our current aquatic endeavor feels fraught with peril. My deep fear is that I will accidentally kill the beloved fish while my daughter is at her dad’s house. I have multiple alarms set on my phone now, reminding me to feed them and switch their tank lights on and off. Stay alive, little fish. Just keep swimming!