Saturday, February 04, 2012

The slow death of accountability

B has been talking about wanting his "own pet" for awhile now.

Apparently the two dogs, five cats, four horses, one pony, cows, calves, six goldfish in a stock tank and ten (plus) chickens that roam our land don't quite cut it.

They're not his.  L has a horse.  But, apparently, we all share joint ownership of the others, and he wants something of his own.

In light of this desire, the other day he started talking about how he'd like to have a fish.  I wasn't sure how I felt about this revelation, having flashbacks that took me to the repressed memories of flushing a couple of unfortunate beta fish on two separate occasions.

Obviously, fish and I have a shaky track record. 

And this was B.  Flushing fish would most likely NOT be taken in stride. 

However, after being offered a couple of fish, a tank, food, filters, cleaner, etc.- at a price you couldn't beat - from a friend, Steven and I decided that maybe B should have something of his "own". 

His excitement built as we rode into town to get the fish.

"I'm going to take SUCH good care of the fish!"

I tried to instill a sense of what fish ownership was like, drawing much on my own personal experience.  I kept emphasizing the fact that unlike dogs, cats, etc, fish had a much more precarious life span.  Without warning, almost, you can find them floating.... 

Still, he insisted, he was "going to take such good care of them!"

When arriving to pick up our new family members, I couldn't help by marvel at how dirty the tank and water seemed to be.  Of course, my only comparisons were the pristine conditions that I saw in the ads for aquariums online.   It might have just been my OCD kicking in, but it seemed that the conditions the fish were living in were hazy and foggy, at best.  My friend commented that they had been needing to clean the tank but hadn't.  I knew that I would have to figure out how to fix this situation at once.

The car ride home seemed to last forever. 

Being the one always needing to be armed with information, I had researched just enough on Google to know that changing the fish's water and changes in water temperature were hard on the fish.  Not wanting to stress the fish, and with the tank being a little low on water as it was, we just covered the top of the tank, sat it in a plastic trash bag and tensed up at every corner and bump.  The seat and Steven's legs were wet upon arrival at our house, but the fish?

The fish were fine.

After B talked to the fish and got acquainted it was time for the kids to go to bed.  After a few minutes, L came in and said that a loud noise had been heard coming from the tank.  Once I, myself, had heard it and knew that nothing was close to the tank or would have touched the tank and marveled at what the noise could possibly be.

I went into the bedroom, leaned against B's bed and in the darkness of the room, lit only by the light of the fish tank, I waited to see what was the cause of the noise.

This time, the noise never came.

I left the bedroom and went to the living room, where I promptly Googled anything and everything under the sun about fish ownership and care.  I made mental notes about what to do when I cleaned the tank and after all my research was even more anxious about the fish and the trauma they had surely received in transport to our house.

I went into B's bedroom and checked them.

Both still alive.

I returned to the living room and read some more.  I became increasingly alarmed that I had stirred up some settled residue on the bottom and in turn had made the ammonia levels in the water rise, paired with the decreased water due to splashing, and I was convinced that water conditions were now to a point that would be fatal to the fish.

I went and checked the fish again.

Both still alive.

I continued laying out my plan for the cleaning of the tank.  I drew tap water, housed it in old milk jugs that had been rinsed out (but not washed with soap- per Google) treated it with the supplied drops and carried it into B's room and without turning on the light, set it in the floor so as to allow it to have the whole night to reach the appropriate temperature.

You can never be too careful.

I read some more and went to bed, knowing that I wouldn't sleep for fear of the fish dying in the water we had inadvertently contaminated.

The next morning I woke as soon as Steven stirred. Knowing that the kids were still asleep, I instructed him to go make sure the fish were still alive.

All before 5 a.m.

Both still alive.


B wandered into my dark bedroom at 6 a.m. and laid by me in bed.

"Can I turn on my light and check on my fish?"

I told him he needed to wait for L to wake up since they had slept together and she was still asleep. However, as soon as she made her appearance they both bounded into the bedroom to see the fish.


After dropping the kids off at school I visited Dollar General to pick up some more fish supplies.

Although, with our purchase, we had received a net, two containers of food, algae tablets, clear water solution, and tap water regulator, my research on Google let me know that I was in need of much more.  Thanks to Google, I knew better than to use anything that had been ran through the dishwasher in fear of it having some residual soap on it (which is harmful to fish). I bought a bucket to house the fish and 1/3 if the original water (which keeps the fish from being shocked by the new water and helps keep existing ecosystems intact), and a 4 cup measuring scoop to transfer the water into the bucket.

I returned home and viewed the task at hand.  Although afraid of doing it wrong, I forged ahead.  It HAD to be cleaned.

I measured out and transferred what was as close to 1/3 of the water as possible.  (Google had told me not to do less.) I carefully caught the fish and put them in the bucket.

I went to the kitchen and began using only water and vinegar to clean the tank.  I scrubbed and rinsed, rinsed and scrubbed and took parts outside to let any remaining (untraceable) vinegar evaporate.

You can never be too careful.

I found what was the filter.  Although I will be the first to admit that I don't know anything about fish tanks or filters, I was pretty sure that I had found the reason that there seemed to be very little water passing through the pump.

Per my research on Google, and not wanting to disturb the valued ecosystem, I merely rinsed the filter with the dirty (that's right) dirty fish water.  Only after the fish had a couple of days to adjust to the majority of the water being changed could I actually change the filter (per Google).

Baby steps.  You can never be too careful.

After considerable washing and rinsing and time given for evaporation, I returned the clean tank to B's room.  I set his tank down and went to the bucket excited (and anxious) to show the fish their nice clean home.

Something looked different.

Very different.

Where there had previously been two fish, now there was only one!

I blinked a couple of times and looked again.

Only one.

In a panic I start looking around only to find, a couple of feet away from the bucket, the largest newest addition to our family lying on the floor.

Not moving.

In one fluid and quick movement I transferred the fish into the water in the bucket.

Although I was sure that it would "come around", the fish was a goner.

And we hadn't even owned it 14 hours.

Google didn't tell me to put a lid on the bucket.  Nor do I remember Google mentioning anything about goldfish being able to launch themselves over a six inch wall in only about 4 inches of water.  I immediately knew what the sound had been last night....the fish was trying to escape its own tank upon arrival at our house. 

I wonder if it had heard what had happened to my beta fish?

It was at this time that the record player in my head replayed L's words that she spoke to me before we left for school that very morning.  "Be careful, Momma.  Watch the fish."  I had rubbed her head and said, almost condescendingly, "I've raised you and your brother to the age of 6 and 8.  I think I can handle a couple of fish."

As these words echoed in my head, I grabbed my keys and did what any self-respecting, gold-fish killing mother would do.

I went to Wal-Mart to get not one, but TWO more fish.  (At the rate I was going, the other one would be dead by the time I got back home.)  And, no, I didn't stop there.  I picked up a pirate ship and a fake plant for good measure.

I returned home, gave time for the water temperature to adjust and added our two new family members to their tank.   Now, all I had left was to wait and break the news to B, and pray that nothing else died before he got home.


As the bus brakes squeaked in the driveway, I knew that my time had arrived.  I kept in mind that, reallysurely, he couldn't take it that bad since we had owned the fish a total of 14 hours prior to its death.  Out of that 14 hours - 10 hours B had spent sleeping and 2.5 hours B was at school, leaving only one and a half hours for him and the fish to have bonded.

As he came through the door I gently said, " of your fish died today   ....butIgotyoutwomore."

The last part I couldn't get out soon enough, wishing, almost, that the first part would be forgotten in its wake.

No such luck.

This was, after all, B.

He started crying and I hugged him and told him what had happened, apologizing profusely.  "B?  Do you forgive me?"

He nodded, squeezed my neck, and pulled back and looked into my eyes and said, "You should have been more careful."

I nodded.  He was right.   I confessed what had been running through my head all day.  "B, I had NO idea that a small fish could launch itself up over a six inch bucket wall.  I mean, who knew?"

To which he quietly responded..."I did.  You should've asked me.  He was a jumper....  He was (gulp) my fav-o-rite."

Nice.  I killed my son's favorite pet.  And he knew it so well to know that it could jump 6 inches.

Sure, he'd only had it (technically) 1.5 hours, but it was his FAV-O-RITE. And they'd (apparently) bonded.

I said, "I am so sorry, B.  So sorry.  Do you want to go see the others?"

He nodded, and then looked at me and said, "It will be hard because I don't know them like I knew the other one."

(Yeah.  The "other one".  The "fav-o-rite one".  It didn't have a name. Yet.)

I nodded and said I understood.

So, B was introduced to his two new pets.  He marveled that they seemed to get along nicely with the other lone survivor.

He went ahead and named them all, probably afraid that his mother would kill them before they, too, had been given proper names. And so, we warmly welcomed Nemo, Dorothy and Gil to our family and I was glad to see that his excitement had returned as he watched the three fish swim around.

As he sat there watching the fish, I started to leave his room.  Before I reached the door he  looked back over his shoulder and said, "You know, you should have just set the bucket by you while you were cleaning the tank."

Yes, B.  I should have.

Unfortunately, Google didn't tell me to. 


Manda said...


Manda said...

I'm am cracking.up. while re-reading this one...