The Thing About Goldfish

The Thing About Goldfish

From A 5th Portion of Chicken Soup for the Soul

The Thing About Goldfish

There are many good things about having a goldfish for a pet. It teaches even a small child a little responsibility. You don’t have to walk it. It won’t mess up the house. It doesn’t shed. And one goldfish looks pretty much like another.

This last trait is very important, I found, in light of the one bad thing about goldfish—they have a relatively short life span.

There are twelve years and two sisters between my oldest daughter, Anna, and my youngest, Elliana. But the two of them have always been close. So I wasn’t surprised when it was Anna who solved the problem created by Elli’s fear of the dark.

We have four bedrooms in our house. When Elli graduated to a bed at age two and a half, we moved her in with her next oldest sister, Kayla. That left the two oldest girls with their own rooms, much to their delight. But Elli was afraid of the dark and Kayla couldn’t sleep with a light on. Anna knew she would have to come up with something if she wanted to keep her personal space.

The answer was a goldfish.

Anna bought Elli a bowl, a little plastic house for the fish to swim through, some colored gravel and a small light that kept the little aquarium illuminated. Elli kept the bowl on the nightstand next to her bed. That way, she had enough light to make her feel safe and a “friend” to murmur to quietly before she fell asleep. The light from the fish bowl was dim enough so that Kayla wasn’t bothered. And both of them liked having a pet.

Elli fed that fish like clockwork and reminded us to clean the bowl more often than we would have liked. She was always careful about adding the anti-chlorine drops to the fresh water, lest her fish die a toxic death. And she named her fish creatively. Some days the fish would be “Jaws,” other days, it would be “Swimmy.” A few times, Elli decided its name was “Patsy” or “Mabel,” or some other name that struck her fancy at a particular moment. The fish’s gender also varied according tomy daughter’s whim.

But goldfish don’t live very long. As a result, all of us became co-conspirators in the game of making sure that Elli always had a live goldfish in that bowl. Every night when I kissed her goodnight, I would check the fish. If I covered up my sleeping children in the middle of the night, I would check the fish. I found that Anna checked the fish, too, many times before she went to bed herself. If any of us noticed the fish looking a bit peaked around the gills, a quiet trip to the pet store was quickly scheduled. For fifty cents, we kept a little girl very happy. It was a small price to pay, to be sure, and Elli certainly never questioned her fish’s longevity.

Elli turned six years old two weeks before Anna left for college. I was having a separation problem of my own sending my oldest off. But I was more worried about how Elli would react.

In fact, Elliana became quiet and spent a lot of time in her room for the first days after Anna left. But assured that she could send her sister pictures and talk to her on the phone, Elli, like the rest of us, adjusted. Still, it did feel odd to have five of us around the dinner table where there had once been six. But Anna was happy at school, and her enjoyment of her new surroundings made the transition easier for all of us.

One evening as I was putting the two little ones to bed, Elli said to me, “Mommy, when this fish dies, will Anna come home and get me a new one?”

I don’t know why I was surprised. Children don’t really miss much, I guess. But I smiled at her and asked her how long she had known that her goldfish kept getting replaced every time one died.

Elli just shrugged. I asked her if it bothered her that the present goldfish wasn’t the same one her sister had bought for her almost four years before.

No, it didn’t bother her, Elli said. It never had. It had made Anna happy to play the game that way, so she just went along with it.

And so, I understood. The little love token from one sister to another and back again was swimming happily beside my daughter’s bed. The fish may not have been the original, but the message had never changed.

As I turned out the overhead light and watched the little aquarium glow softly, I thought to myself, “Now I know one more good thing about goldfish!”

Marsha Arons

THE FAMILY CIRCUS®                    By Bil Keane


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