We have a new addition to the family. Her name is Goldilocks. She is not blond nor does she have hair. In fact, she is not even a “she”–I know this because her plastic container was labeled “male.” But whatever. It’s a fish. On the food chain it’s one step up from a potato bug. And that’s only because it’s kind of pretty.
I bought my 5-year-old daughter, Ava, a fish for a number of reasons. For one, she’s an only child and desperate to care for something. Anything. We bought her the FurReal Go-Go Walking Pup for Christmas hoping that it would pass for a real dog. She can’t get Robo Dog to walk in a straight line because the remote control works about as well as Stevie Wonder driving a bus. Plus, who in their right mind would put white, long fur on a walking toy dog? It’s basically a mop with wheels. I don’t allow Ava to walk her dog outside. He’s quarantined to her 10×10 bedroom, which means he spent the first week repeatedly ramming his head against the wall and barking. Eventually the bark turned into a low, Chucky-doll moan. Subsequently, it scared the hell out of Ava and now the creature has been relocated to the closet. I want a half-dozen AA batteries and my $50 back.
Let’s face it. Fish are disposable, barely functioning and fantastically cheap, like the dollar toys sold at the Target entrance. But give Ava a pair of scraggly Sleeping Beauty socks and she thinks I’m the greatest mom in the world. That’s worth a buck to me. So I went to Walmart for our fish (because, ironically, we also needed fish sticks).
We opted for the $5 Beta over the 99-cent goldfish because rumor has it they can survive in mud puddles. When making our selection, it was clear to me that Ava’s quality control needed some fine-tuning. She grabbed the first Beta she saw. It had stringy fins and I’m quite certain something viral had been feasting on it, but the real problem was that it was floating on its side.
“I love her!” Ava exclaimed.
“It doesn’t look very healthy.”
“But I think she’s perfect just the way she is.” Damn you, Nemo.
Time to play the trump card.
“But it’s a boy fish.”
Ava quickly returned the fish to the shelf and asked me to find her a girl. I examined each and every fish before I found a magnificent red and silver Beta with completely developed fins. It was male, but I’m not proud.
“This seems to be the only girl fish I can find.”
We get home and my husband immediately asks, “What happens when it dies?”
“No, I mean how will you explain it to Ava?”
What do you mean? I grew up having goldfish as pets. I was even fond of one in particular who lived 6 whole months. His name was Spike. When he died, I tried really hard to care. I wanted to cry, to feel loss. But I didn’t. In fact, I only remembered to take his lifeless and decomposing body from the bowl when he started to smell. Dad dropped him down the garbage disposal. We rarely used it, so he figured it was a good way to see if it was still working.
So no, I hadn’t given Goldilocks’ inevitable death much thought.
For the first two days, Ava obsessed about him. I had to move him around the house so they could be together as she watched TV and ate lunch. She fed him first thing in the morning, scattering smelly fish flakes like confetti. But by Day 3 her interest had waned. It’s been 5 days and he’s still with us. Not thriving–his water is cloudy, he seems to have anorexic tendencies and spends an inordinate amount of time on the bottom of the bowl–but alive nonetheless.
I kind of like Goldilocks. I felt good about rescuing him from the 7th circle of hell: a shelf life at Walmart (an existence only child predators deserve). I talk to him every day, thinking that the carbon dioxide will help him to thrive (or is that plants?). I even convinced myself that Goldilocks has always wanted to live his life as a woman–a wish my child has granted. So while Goldilocks is living the fabulous life of a transgendered fish, made more complete with pink gravel and glass-bead accents, I am feeling more fulfilled by being able to give this to him. I hope he lives a full and meaningful life. And when his time comes, I won’t grind him up. I’ll give him the proper burial he deserves: a flush through the pearly, porcelain gate.