Two in There!

the porcelain express
September 18, 2009, 9:12 am
Filed under: misc, parenting


One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish, old fish, new fish, dead fish. Crap.

Oh, Marlin, why must you complicate things so? I’m so not ready to explain the intricacies of life and death to my two-year-old. One of all parenting literature’s major failings is a simple ‘line’ I can feed an inquisitive toddler with regards to what happens to beloved pets when they decide to make an early exit. This is the second time now I’ll have had to deal with a dead fish, and last time we handled it, well, rather badly.

We’re fortunate enough to have a lovely pond in our garden; a thriving ecosystem, and a veritable hub of  hippity-hoppity thingummies. Absolutely brimming with tadpoles, newts, frogs, fish and other mystery beasts Dave claims to have seen (from the descriptions we appear to have some sort of miniature ‘nessie’).  It’s been a hugely fun and dare I say educational thing for Heidi to enjoy on a daily basis, and absolutely key to my love for it, is that through the miracles of biology, it’s self-sustaining. I have to do absolutely nothing to keep it going, and if some tiny creature pops it’s clogs, the pond takes care of it.

“Mummy, why is that fishy not swimming?”

“What fishy, darling?”

“That one, he’s not moving anymore.”

I eye the sorry titian blob floating, unresponsive, among a clump of pondweed. What do I say?

“Oh, he’s just having a rest sweetheart, he’s been swimming so much he just needs to have a wee sleep.”

She accepts this, and I am satisfied my quick and dirty lie has quelled any further difficult questions. Rod for own back.  Over the course of the following week, sticking to my own mantra of “the pond will take care of it”, though not speedy enough for my liking, we greet the sleepy fish on our visits to the pond, I, swift to find something far more exciting to distract Heidi’s attention, as our floating friend grows ever more translucent due to the ravenous tadpoles feeding on his belly scales. Nature is grim.  I ask Dave to fish it out, but life gets in the way and it fails to happen promptly. It takes a visitor to the house to point out the dead fish, within earshot of H who, with a face like thunder, walks in to tell me that her fish is “not alive anymore”. Great. I try to explain that it just got a bit sick and so it had died. This of course opened huge can of worms for all ensuing ails, fishy, or not.

Fast forward a few months, and Heidi has been the proud recipient of a 17 litre mermaid fish tank from her Gran, so we can get her first pet. Dave rolls his eyes, and states from the outset, “she can have a fish, but I’m not responsible for it’s life.” The accountability is on me, but I don’t really mind, getting a pet is exciting! I imagined letting H pick out her very own fish, and foresaw it entertaining her for a short period of time, always good in my books.

The acquisition of the pet fish was a rather different reality. When I was a girl you could win one at a fair; fish activists have long since put a stop to such cruelty. Fish have rights, and I’m all for it. Though, I’ll be the first to admit that as a heavily pregnant mother, my attitude towards such things have softened from my dreadlock-sporting, sandal-wearing vegan days. I’m still a strict veggie, but I no longer harbour the desire, or angsty-vegan tendency to tell the staff at pets-at-home that they’re running an operation in animal brutality. I’m not advocating a return to the disposable nature of  fairground prize, but I didn’t envisage that I’d need an enhanced disclosure to buy some fish. After a grand inquisition from a rather accusatory member of staff, a form and a signature(!), we were finally allowed some fish. Two fantails, and we didn’t even get to pick them. Still, we had our pets and we could get out of there and enjoy them. We went through all the rigmarole of floating the bags, introducing the tank water, and eventually fishing them out into our water, careful not to mix any of theirs with ours. Everything by the book? Tick.

One week on, as I made a cup of tea last night, I glanced across the dining room  to do my usual visual register; orange blob? Check. Spotty orange blob? Ummm. Dory is present, but I see no sign of Marlin. This merits closer inspection, I get down on my hands and knees (not an easy task!) and my suspicions are confirmed. Marlin appears to be stuck on the mermaid’s hand, but his fins aren’t moving and his eyes look like two tiny, unglazed raisins. I give the statue a poke, dislodging him, and accidentally sending him into the current of the pump, which pulls the poor creature, undignified, around and around the tank. He’s no longer brilliant orange, he’s pasty, beige, looking more like a limp nude pop-sock caught in a spin cycle. Even sadder, I think this may very well be his crowning moment, given we barely had him 7 days.  I look around for a net, unable to find one, I fetch the ironing jug and fish the sorry lump out of the tank, and hitch him a ride on the porcelain express. I hope he doesn’t block the drains….

So, this morning, I will partake in the ultimate in mild parenting deception, and do the old fishity switcheroo. I’m in search of one mottled fantail to complete duo, before Heidi notices anything amiss.

Must say I’m dreading facing the people at pets-at-home, fearing I may be black-listed as a fish killer and sent on my way, while they hastily make up posters with my likeness and distribute them to all aquarium retailers in the Lothians. Maybe a wee stop by the joke shop for some dark glasses and a fake moustache first…


1 Comment so far
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Oh dear. I didn’t know whether to laugh at the fantastic telling of the tale or feel a little sad for your daughter.

One thing I can’t help but mention – Pets at Home aren’t so great for fish. My mum had a fantastic collection years ago. Introduced a PaH fish and within 2 weeks the whole bunch had died. Try a smaller independant pet shop if you’ve got one local. 🙂

Comment by Jem

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