We got a fish, and it died. (Part I)

Actually, we got three fish, and only one of the them died. But seeing as he lived in my house for approximately 72 hours before he was floating, lifeless, upside down at the top of the tank -- I'd say the other two's prospects don't look so good.

I've never been able to make a fish live. I had roughly a dozen when I was a child. One, after the other, after the other. My favorite baseball player at the time was Nolan Ryan, after whom I named all of my soon-to-be deceased aquatic companions -- Nolan Ryan, Nolan Ryan Jr., Nolan Ryan III, etc. Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead all the way up to Nolan Ryan XII, when my mom got sick of flushing fish bodies down the toilet and made me quit. I tried again in college, but those fish didn't stand a chance -- I'm certain the persistent haze of cigarette smoke in my apartment gave them lung cancer before they could die of any normal fish causes.

Nevertheless, it was time my daughter had a pet at dad's house. She has a dog at her mom's house, but I'll never compete with that. Beg, plead, and pine as I may, my girlfriend has vetoed the acquisition of four-legged creatures until I'm mature enough to handle the responsibility. (Seriously.) Plus (and I'll be in trouble later for telling you this), she enforces a strict "no vermin" policy, which excludes just about anything else you could imagine keeping in your house (even rabbits -- for the love of Pete, who doesn't like rabbits?).

So it was either a fish, or a house plant. Or maybe one of those electronic pets that need to "eat" and "poop" or they die -- although, I could never keep those alive either, and at least fish are interesting to watch. Kind of. For a minute.

This required a trip to the pet store. Holy crap, those places so gross. The smell, the socially awkward, animal-loving high school students carrying large tubs of gerbil feed -- the cages crammed with dozens of "vermin," all trying to look cute while they attack any competition that threatens their place at the front of the glass. It's half zoo, half underground society for trafficking furry animal contraband. If we weren't at a Large Chain Pet Store, I'd assume large, angry men were using sweaty wads of cash to place bets on dog fights in the back.

And there we were, picking out the newest editions to our family. Edan was pumped. I, on the other hand, approached the entire affair with a sense of impending doom. These fish, I thought, will die.

I thought I'd relieve some of the guilt I was bound to feel later -- when my child would inevitably discover her former pet's lifeless corpse bobbing at the top of the fish tank -- so I took an "open parenting" approach:

"Edan, I want you to know, before we get any fish, that they don't always live for very long. In fact, they might die. I know that might make you sad, and I just don't want you to be surprised if that happens. You know, if they die."

If you could've seen the look of despair on my daughter's face in that moment, you would've reported me to CPS. I felt awful, and quickly retracted my position, telling her that "lots of times, fish live. So it'll probably be fine!"

And then, with surprisingly little negotiation, there we were, holding three new fish in little plastic baggies, a tank/filter/pump combo, some food, and this weird powder that's supposed to "neutralize the ph balance" of the water in the tank (as if that would make any difference in the survival rate of our new goldfish). I have never received as much attention from other parents as I did while we waited in line to buy our 60 freakin' dollars worth of underwater companionship, and Edan bounced about, joyfully naming her new pets.

This, from the same moms that shoot me wary sideways glances at the playground, sure that the little girl calling me "daddy" is just a front for the child smuggling operation I run out of the trunk of my car. But today, we all had an understanding. They'd bought pets for their children, and they knew those pets might die at any time -- they took pity on me. Pity on the dad who didn't know what he was getting himself into.

But for the moment, all was well. Edan walked out of the pet store elated, and I was hero of the hour. We were going home with Pokey, Spokey and Sally, the three newest members of family.

But could I keep them alive? Tune in next week.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.