Last Friday, my 10-year-old son called me at work on my cell phone. This is a very rare occurrence, if not a first. Experience has taught me that daytimes calls from or about my son are never good news.
With great excitement he told me, “I got a fish!” Well, I thought, that is good news – I think. “Great!” I replied. “Where?” I knew the class picnic at the park was not until this week. Where would he have caught a fish?
“At school,” he answered. At school? Since when do you catch fish at school? How do you catch a fish at school?
“It’s a goldfish. His name is Fidget.” Oh. This was not going to be a request to filet and fry a fish for dinner. This was going to be a request to go buy a goldfish bowl.
Why do schools give out goldfish to students? They do a great job of teaching a many things, not only academic but social and emotional. But I’d rather pick my own time to teach caring for a pet, and the inevitable death that will come someday – sooner rather than later in the case of goldfish.
My older son brought home a goldfish when he was about five or six. I went to the pet store and got a plastic bowl that came with some decorative plastic stones and other accessories. The fish died within a week. I think I was more upset than Zach, though I’m not sure if it was having a living thing die in our care, or not getting my money’s worth for my pet store purchases.
I read a bit about fish that were easy to take care of, and bought a betta. It died within a week. I decided no more fish until we had the space and money for a proper aquarium. I kept the decorative plastic stones (which Al was sure were diamonds when he was little), but gave away the rest of the fish stuff.
Fidget at least came in the bottom half of a two liter bottle, rather than in a plastic bag. His small home had gravel on the bottom, and a plant floating in the water. He seemed very energetic, which is why his name is Fidget. At least he did before I got home. He seemed to spend the evening sleeping.
I was happy he had a “bowl” already. But my husband said it was too small, and I needed to get something larger. I wondered how many days he would live, no matter what bowl he lived in. But when I took another look, I saw that he really didn’t have much room to swim around. He could turn around in the bottle, but that was about it.
I looked at a used aquarium at Goodwill. Good price, but too big, and it would need all kinds of stuff to go with it. I looked at bowls and aquarium sets at the pet store. Finally I went to Wal-Mart, and looked at what they had available. In the fish supply aisle, I encountered one of the other 4th grade teachers at my son’s school. “Why does the school give out goldfish?” I asked.
It turns out the students were told that if their parents didn’t want them to get a goldfish, they just had to let the school know. (Now who was supposed to let the parents know that? Maybe there was some paper in my son’s take-home folder that I skimmed too quickly.) She also told me that she knows students who still have their fish from a year ago. But that sometimes the fish die within 48 hours – probably already sick when the child brings it home.
Well, Fidget has survived well over 48 hours by now. He is now happily (I hope) situated in the smallest aquarium Wal-Mart had for sale (at $10.49, only a few dollars more than the glass goldfish bowl). It has an under-gravel filter plate, an air pump, and a light. We bought new gravel (since even a 1-gallon tank is a good deal larger than the bottom of a 2-liter bottle), but transferred over the plant with him. And he has those sparkly plastic “diamonds” that Al treasured seven or eight years ago.
He doesn’t look so big in this tank. And I think it’s not just that he’s smaller in comparison to the tank, but that this tank has flat walls. The curved surface of the 2-liter bottle made him look a lot bigger than he really is. (You know, like those fun house mirrors that make you look either tall and skinny or short and fat – or both at the same time.)
Al still worries every time Fidget isn’t moving around. (I assure him that if Fidget dies, we’ll be able to tell the difference between being asleep and being dead.) He worries because Fidget hasn’t eaten his flake of food today. I tell him Fidget probably just isn’t that hungry – and he’s a small fish and it’s a big flake of food.
I don’t worry exactly – but I check on him first thing in the morning and when I get home from work. I know how to tell if Kyra is feeling well (she was limping last week and felt quite out of sorts after being sedated at the vet’s so he could check her leg for a possible torn ligament – after a few days on painkillers she’s dashing about with as much enthusiasm as ever). But I have no idea how to tell if a goldfish is feeling well.
I suspect, though, if Fidget has any complaints right now, it about that other fish that he can see but somehow can’t get to.