Our Pet Fish

At the Wilson Carnival, Theo won a fish! Well, he didn’t really win a fish, but he tried so hard - twice! - to win a fish that a girl who did win a fish and felt sorry for him gave him her fish. (Later I learned that was a very smart move on her part, but for the moment, we were so excited to have a new fish!) We got that fish home, aptly named “Goldie” by Theo, and for the first couple of nights, put him in a big wide water pitcher. He seemed happy enough and the kids fed him a little pinch of the goldfish food he had come with each morning. Friends assured me that having a filtered tank was a must given the level of muck and yuck and goldfish produce, and they were right! So the kids and I took off to Petco one day and got a little tiny tank. We also bought more goldfish food; and a little net for catching the fish; and gravel for the bottom; and a rock decoration thingy with fake plants attached. And by the time we had gotten out of there, we had spent way more money than seems reasonable on a two-inch fish. But, sigh. Such is life.

No sooner did we get Goldie into his (her? Coco was convinced Goldie was a girl) tank than Goldie died. Okay, it took about a day, during which Goldie was acting very strange and basically just sitting on the bottom of the tank. The day she died, we found her sucked up against the filter, not moving. I had noticed that her skin looked fuzzy the day before. It seemed odd for her skin to be fuzzy and I knew she was going south, but I hoped for the best anyway. It did not end well. Rather than replace her before the kids could notice, J and I opted to embrace the teachable moment. Coco was excited about burying or flushing her and was not one bit phased. The lesson for her was to be compassionate and sympathetic toward Theo, who was crestfallen. Theo wept and cried and even worried that perhaps Goldie had died because he had given her/him too much food. What?! Never mind, I just let that go in the moment and hugged him. He would burst into tears at random moments and literally sob for a few seconds. It was at once touching, endearing, and so so sad to see him so upset.

Following Goldie’s watery burial down the toilet, I replaced all the water in the tank and left it to filter for a few days before Coco and I went to get more fish last weekend. Can I just take a moment to say that the people who work in Petco are ridiculously knowledgeable and passionate about fish? We decided against a betta (they just sit there) and also against another goldfish (they get humongous and produce way too much yuck) and we got a couple of guppies instead! Guppies are darling little fish who swim about actively and are brightly colored and don’t get any larger than an inch or two. Theo named his guppy Seashell and Coco named hers Violet. Guppies don’t produce a ton of gunk, which makes them easy to care for, and best of all, they eat goldfish food. At that point, we had a big container of goldfish food of which we had only used a pinch or two. Perfect!

Except that Seashell and Violet died too! They went to same way Goldie did. It took about two days, starting first with fuzzy skin, then acting weird and hanging out at the bottom of the tank. Then we found them both sucked up against the filter intake this morning. Theo and Coco were a little bummed out, but then went about their usual games. “I guess we can just get a dog now!” chirped Theo as he ran off to the basement to play camping. But I was ticked off. What a ripoff! I rifled through the car console and house looking for the receipt for the tank and all the accoutrements, but I never found it. I put the tank with the dead fish down in the utility sink and decided that this time we’ll bury them after school in the backyard.

I honestly don’t know what to do. Should I buy more guppies and ask the Petco people what’s wrong with the tank set up? Or just go back in there, receipt be damned, and get my money back and forget the idea of having a pet for now? Or should we just fill the tank with water, but not have any fish? During the days between Goldie and the guppies, I noticed that it’s actually pretty cute and decorative all on its own.

I consoled Theo when he was distraught over Goldie by telling him all about my own Goldie. When I was in kindergarten, I also won a goldfish (or maybe was given one) at the Wilson carnival! My Goldie also only lived for two or three days. I remember feeding Goldie and then using a spoon to stir her round and round and round in her fish bowl! Watching her spin around in the whirlpool I created never got old. I can only imagine how miserable life was for my Goldie. Honestly, it was probably a relief for her when she passed on.

There was just one last thing I was curious about - how had Theo managed “to pet” his own Goldie? I overheard him telling Coco about Goldie’s slippery skin and how he missed petting her. Oh dear! But, in the end, considering Seashell and Violet went the same way, I think we can rest assured it was not Theo’s fault.

Have you had fish die on you? Any secrets or insights to share? Please let me know in the comments below.


  1. How sweet and heartbreaking! I wish I had some advice but I have a long history of fish deaths, myself.

    I won a goldfish at a carnival when I was about four, and it kicked of YEARS of fish drama in my family. First was the trip to get a tank and all the accessories, and then of course the fish died almost immediately after. My mother tried to avoid the trauma at first and replaced it with a new goldfish, but the guilt ate away at her, and she told me the truth later that same day. I wept theatrically but my younger sister - ever the scheming one in the family - said that if my mom bought a fish for me - which she had, by her own admission - then it would only be fair for her to buy fish for my sisters, too. My mom was too emotionally exhausted to argue, I guess, because we all trekked back to the store and my two sisters picked out fish of their own - which were, of course, far prettier and more interesting than my goldfish, so I felt suddenly like I'd gotten the short end of the stick. Then the fish didn't get along - my sister's fish was aggressive and kept biting mine - so we had to get a separate tank. Then we squabbled over whose fish got to be in the "better tank," and so forth, and from there things moved into a kind of hazy state of flux of bitter feuds and tragic deaths.

    As each fish died over the years we would dutifully replace it, upgrading to bigger and better tanks, spending what felt like hours on some Saturdays cleaning the tanks out thoroughly, etc. Finally my mother said she was done with it, and all the fish would go into this tiny little man-made pond in our yard. She did a ton of work getting the pond water right for the fish, and we acclimated them to the water temperature slowly, etc, and finally we released them into the pond. The next morning my sisters and I ran excitedly out to see if the fish had enjoyed their first night outside and...they were all gone. The raccoons had gotten them. But they had all finally died in one fell swoop, all siblings equal once more, so no fish needed replacing to balance the scales. And so our fish journey ended.

    1. That is so insane about the pond. Your mom is quite the trooper to build a fish pond. I had no idea that raccoons eat fish. I guess it makes sense!!

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