Life lesson

English: An image of a Common goldfish
English: An image of a Common goldfish (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are now pet-free family again. The second of our goldfish has recently swum off and passed onto that great pond in the sky. My husband and I didn’t want fish in the first place. My husband and I didn’t want any pet at all. The reason we ended up with two pets in the first place is down to my nephew. He, being a typical teenage boy, thought it was hilarious to get my daughters to ask us for a pet. “Go and ask your Mum and Dad for a dog,” he whispered to them at a family gathering. He obviously isn’t very good at whispering because I heard him. “I heard that,” I remonstrated with him. However, he didn’t care, he just found it even more funny – teenage boys, who’d have them?

The girls came ran across to us, all big smiles and giggles. “Can we have a dog?” they chimed in unison. “No,” my husband and I replied, also in perfect unison. “Why not?” Are you going to walk it, feed it, and pick up its poo?” “Yuck, no!” “Well, neither are we.” “What about a cat?” my nephew shouted, “or a rabbit or a guinea pig…” “That’s quite enough of that,” I shouted back but it was too late. The idea of having a pet had taken hold and my girls were not about to be shaken off so lightly.

We spent the next fifteen minutes discussing the kind of pet they could have. They didn’t want a dog or a cat or a rabbit or a guinea pig. In fact, they didn’t want a mammal, bird, reptile or amphibian. They wanted fish. Goldfish to be precise – one each. Now, this didn’t seem so bad. Two goldfish I could cope with. They didn’t need walking or grooming, and cleaning out and feeding seemed pretty straight forward. So goldfish we got – Rosie and Spooky Spoon (one of my daughters has had an obsession with this character since she was about three. I’m not sure why. If you don’t know who Spooky Spoon is try an internet search. I can guarantee you will also have no idea why she likes this character so much).

Rosie and Spooky settled in well and my daughters’ interest in them lasted all of about half a day. Then it was left to me to feed and clean the damn things so it was a very good job we didn’t get a dog. Then, a couple of months ago, Rosie became ill.

Rosie the goldfish was perfectly fine and healthy until I cleaned out her tank. Shortly afterwards I noticed she was not her normal fishy self. Instead of doing lap after lap Mo Farrah style around her tank, she was huddled at the bottom of it. I fed her later on that day and she totally ignored her food. Rosie was no better the next day or the next, and I started to feel guilty. After all, she was OK before I had cleaned her tank. By the fourth day she was floating around the top of the tank, and I thought she’d died. I peered nervously into the bowl and saw, to my surprise and relief that her gills were still moving. Rosie was still taking in oxygen, and I admired her tenacity and desire for life.

This was the day my daughter realised the severity of the situation. “Will she die?” she asked, and what could I say? I thought it best to be honest with her, and told her I thought Rosie probably would die but I couldn’t be sure. There was a chance she might recover. She started to sob as if her heart would break into many, many small pieces. I held her close and felt her wet, salty tears on my face. I felt totally helpless. How could I explain to a five year old the finality of death? How could I answer her many questions? I cried myself. For my daughter’s loss of innocence as from today death was no longer an abstract concept for her; it was a reality. I also cried for Rosie.

The following days saw no improvement in Rosie’s condition. I began to wish she would hurry-up and get on with it. I didn’t like to think of her suffering, and my daughter was beginning to harbour hopes that her fish would recover. And then, to my surprise, Rosie did recover. She started feeding again and swimming around and around her tank. Once again, I admired her lust for life. She may only be tiny but Rosie was a fighter. My daughter was delighted with her fish’s recovery and fixed me with a five-year old stare that said, “Yeah, what do you know Mum?”

Rosie’s miracle recovery lasted a fortnight. Then she became ill again and slipped off to fishy heaven. I dried my daughter’s tears again and told her that Rosie had been happy with us and had a great life swimming around her bowl (pretty pathetic, I know, but what else could I say?). My daughter was confused about what would happen to Rosie now she had died. “Can we just keep her in the bowl?” she asked. I explained to her kindly and best I could about bodies decomposing. She didn’t want to bury her in the garden as she might stand on her when playing outside. In the end we settled on ‘Daddy taking her back to the shop as they have a special place for dead fishes.’ As you can see, we were clutching at straws by this point.

My daughter didn’t want another fish and we were glad. So many people had said, “just get her another one” but I didn’t agree. I mean, what sort of life lesson does that teach a child? – everything is easily replaceable; even life. So we were left with just one fish.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, Spooky Spoon became ill. It too hung onto, wrestled with and fought for its life with a passion I could only admire. When Spooky died I braced myself for having the same conversation, tears and sadness with my other daughter. However, twins they may be but they are unlike in every way. When I told her that her fish had died, she looked sad for a moment then went back to watching television. I’m not sure if I should be glad or saddened by this.



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