How to buy a fish for your child and then explain why it’s gone

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When my daughter was 3, she decided that she wanted a pet fish.  “How sweet!” we thought.  Yes, a pet fish would be great.

My husband and I went to Wal-Mart and selected a one gallon fish tank made of acrylic.  It came with a pum, filter, gravels and fish food.  Perfect.

The fish took a little more time to select.  It was to be our little girl’s first pet – it had to be special.  The .20 goldfish just would not do for the princess, so we chose a lovely red beta.  A red male.  The biggest one they had.   At $4.97 plus tax, wild salmon is cheaper by the pound, but it didn’t matter.

We set the tank up and let the pump circulate for a few hours, letting the water temperture reach room temprature.  In went the fish.  He seemed indifferent to the new diggs, but hey, a little fishy brain can probably only process so much information.

My mother brought our daughter home that afternoon and we were delighted to surprise her with her new pet.  She was absolutely thrilled!  A parental success, if only a small one.  We take our accolades where we can.

She declared the fish as “Big Red”.  How smart is that?  A little Einstein we’re raising!  And then her little dimpled hands went immediately into the tank to pet the fish.

Poor Red.  Those next few days found him outside the tank as often as in it.  Realy, though, what good is a pet if you can’t, well, pet it?

Big Red lasted about two weeks.  We woke up one morning and he was floating on top of the water, lifeless floatsom.

Our daughter demanded to know what was wrong with Big Red.  We believe in being straight up with her.  So we told her “He’s asleep.”  OH!  Parental FAIL.

I went back to Wal-Mart to replace the fish as quickly as I could.  They had one red beta that was considerably smaller than the dead fish we were harboring, but I bought it, switched out the two and hoped it would work.

Our daughter immediately noticed the size difference.  I mean, like, INSTANTLY.  She didn’t even give us the chance to gloat at our deception.  “Oh, well he lost weight…he hasn’t been eating much.”  Another lie. Sigh.

The next thing I see is a whole jar of fish food choking the surface of the tank.  She was going to make sure it ate.

That Red lived with us, not very happily I’ll bet, for a few weeks.  Then, belly up, “sleeping”.

We replaced the red fish two more times and then just couldn’t do it any more.  It was getting expensive and just silly.

One morning, as my daughter bounded into the living room, where the fish had been kept, she wailed, “Where’s Big Red?!”  The fish, tank and all…gone.

It was time to have a heart to heart with her.

“The lease was up on the fish.  We had to take him back.”

She had no idea what a lease was (at least I think she didn’t) but she shrugged, said “Okay” and that was that.

So, folks, the moral of the story:  If you buy a pet fish for your kids, DO get the .20 goldfish because it WILL die and you WILL feel obligated to replace it.


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