RIP Little Fish

How could one become so attached to an animal the size of a small paper clip? Ask a kid. A kid who will tell you he just had the worst day ever.

We had just returned from a weekend trip, and my son found his fish at the bottom of the bowl. This is the third fish we’ve lost, but he was just as sad as if it were the first. He recently lost a pet hermit crab, Hermie, that we used to let race across our playroom floor. No tears. After a quick backyard funeral, my son wanted to know when he could get another one.

But these fish that he could never hold had a special place in his heart, a certain distinction: that of first pet. At the end of kindergarten, his teacher gave him two fish that had been used for science lessons in his classroom. Mosquitofish. Nothing fancy, and teeny-tiny. They were babies when we got them. Our family has enjoyed watching them chase each other and seeing their family grow. My son taught us everything he learned at school about them.

Fernick and Sammy, that’s what he named them. Turns out they would be parents the first year we had them, and we had to keep a watchful eye. No eggs, live birth, and these fish eat their very young. Our son told us the mommy fish often die after giving birth. He knew signs to look for when she was about to have the babies. Finally, one day I saw a tail hanging out of her. We scooped her into a waiting bowl of water and watched as she gave birth to three pinhead-size fish that looked like specks of dirt falling to the bottom of the bowl. A wiggle and shake and they took off swimming, all eyes.

Soon, just like our son had said, Fernick was dying. And it wasn’t quick. He took it hard.

Months later, a pregnant fish died before giving birth. He didn’t say much about it. I thought maybe we had that initial pet dying thing over with. But when he saw this time that it was Sammy, the dad, at the bottom of the bowl, his heart broke again. I tried to tell him it was one of the other fish. It had lived two years. That’s amazing for bait. But he loved them. He raised them into adults and saw them have babies. He’d had them nearly the entire span of his school career, an eternity to an eight-year-old. Why tears over two of the fish and not even Hermie? It made sense to his heart.

I guess your first pet is special no matter what it is. And size just doesn’t matter.

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