Fair fish


We should really know better than this.

Centuries of parenting-lore with more than an ounce of truth make it very clear that this is never a good idea.

But what can you do? The smell of cotton candy… The gleeful screams of kids on rides that look suspiciously unsafe… The carousel music that fills the air and makes you just want to march along to the beat… The enticing allure of ‘what if we win?!?’

And so you hand over your $3. And you accept back a basket of 16 ping pong balls. And then you toss. With all the focus that your drunk-college-self wished for during those beer pong days but, oddly, not as much of the skill, you toss.

A fish for every ball you sink. M sank one. One little ball into a bowl filled with green tissue. One little fish into a bag of water. And off we went.

little girl, daddy, goldfish

Our little nurturer bonded instantly. She kissed the bag, made fishy faces, and insisted on holding him in her lap all the way to the pet store.

Because, of course, we all know better. So who really prepares to bring a fish home from a morning trip to the county fair?

She carefully picked out the bowl, the rocks, the bowl decor, the fish food. She excitedly bounced while M showed her how to rinse the stones and set them in the water. She named him Flake (“because he eats flakes!”) and fed him his first meal in his new home.

girl and fishbowl

She was smitten.

Not even two hours later, before going to wake her from her nap, I took a quick peek at Flake. And, there he was, as so many fair fish that have gone before him, lying at on the rocks at the bottom of the bowl. I stared at him for as long as I could stomach, willing a gill or a fin to move. But nothing did.

Standing at this well-visited parenthood-crossroads, we chose the path well-traveled. The easy path. The path that led straight to the pet store, while she slept, for another orange and white fish. The new Flake was settled in and swimming about before I woke her up.


Because death is a complex concept. Sure, we could take the time to explain it to her. Tell her that Flake had died. We could even be brutally honest and tell her that Daddy took his small body and flushed it down the toilet. That is the honesty-is-the-best-policy answer. But what does that accomplish? A tough conversation and more than a few tears. And she’s three. We’ll have this conversation again because she won’t retain this kind of information for very long. She won’t understand the next time we are faced with death that it is the same as what happened to Flake.

We felt ok with our decision. As ok as two people can feel about such a thing. And then… it happened. About an hour later, Flake #2 joined his brother from another mother and rested on the rocks. And there we were, at that stupid crossroads again.

I distracted our girl, M rushed back to the pet store, and we both considered what to do. When he returned with a heartier, likelier to live longer, Beta fish, our decision was made for us. The lie of ‘well, Flake just changed colors and shape a bit while you slept! Yes, we know he was orange and white before but look how lovely he looks now all purple and red and with those beautiful, fancy fins!‘ was just too much.

And yet… death? It also still seemed like too much.

So we sat her in front of the bowl and, as she marveled at the red tails on this new, little guy, we explained that Flake had not been feeling well. Daddy took him to the pet store where they told him they should keep Flake there but that they had another fish, just perfect for us. She stared at the bowl and asked why Flake hadn’t been feeling well. But then she fell in love all over again.

beta fish

It’s been a week and Flake #3 is still with us. She feeds him every morning and every night and watches to make sure he eats. She is learning what it means to take care of a little, living being.

And, of course, so are we.


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