Weep With the Fishes

On May 21, 2006 by Eden M. Kennedy

I think it’s pretty funny that a nice person commented after the carnival fish death heartbreak that whatever we do we should NOT go buy a big fish tank for Jackson and fill it full of new fish.

Because that’s exactly what we did!

Because when the second carnival fish shed its mortal coil and was found sideways at the bottom of its plastic carnival fish carrier Jackson was undone by grief.

“That. Was. My. (buh-buh-buh) FAVORITE ONE!” he sobbed into my shoulder. He wouldn’t let me flush Sarah (he’d named it Sarah) down the toilet, either. I had to let her (Sarah) lay all morning in the green fish net, handle balanced actoss the toilet seat, until we came back from his parent-teacher conference, during which I fielded a call from Jack, who had run home for something and was now requesting information on the flushability status of the dead fish in the green net with the handle balanced across the toilet seat.

Flushability status: negative.

When Jackson and I returned home, though, Jackson had no choice but to accept the situation. I had given him the day off of school in order to create adequate space and time for him to accept the situation. I thought it was really brave of him to take charge of Sarah’s burial at sea. It was really hard for him, so I said a few words.

“Sarah was a beautiful fish and we’ll miss her a lot,” I said. Then, perhaps stupidly, I stumbled on. “Remember in Nemo how Gill told Nemo that all drains lead to the sea?” And I explained how the toilet is also a drain, and that after the poo and pee get separated out (through a miracle of fecal engineering not seen since Roman times!) Sarah’s body would eventually go back to the ocean.

“And then will another fish eat her?” he asked, lip trembling.

“No,” I said, “they’ll just be sad for her and bury her in some sand.” Nice winging it, mom! Nice leading your innocent son to believe that fish have respect for death and wouldn’t dare prey on each other’s lifeless, nutrient-rich flesh.

But because we’re eternally optimistic, the next day Jackson came home from school and found this in his room:

Along with seven (7) new fish.

We no long include Jackson in the experience of fishy demise. After we “disappear” one we tell him that it was looking a little ill so we took it back to the pet store for them to put in a special tank until it gets better. Right now PetCo is “nursing” five (5) six (6) fish back to “health.”

We are LIARS.



48 Responses to “Weep With the Fishes”

  • I only found out a couple years ago that my childhood cat did not in fact go to live with a nice lady in NYC. (The urban version of a nice old lady with a farm.) I survived. Lesson? Make sure you wait until he’s about 33 to learn the truth and he’ll be fiiiiiiine.

  • Fish tanks are hard work. You did a great job setting that one up!

    No one ever accused you of being a morally upright being anyway.
    He’ll live.

  • What fun would this job be if we couldn’t lie at least a little for our own convenience (or enjoyment)! Alex thinks that when he flushes his poo, the “logs” go to the lumbermill.

    I wonder how much he’s going to hate me when he figures that one out.

  • hahaha! pet store hospital!! thats fantastic. i was thinking about getting my kid some fish for his birthday, but i wasnt sure how to deal with the fishy death thing. i am DEFINITLEY remembering that one.

  • Oh — that’s precious! I love your explanation for the “disappeared” fish!

  • a beta is a hard fish to kill…
    try one (and just one) of those.

    also, some live plants will start to create a good balance in the water, and give the fish something to nibble on if they aren’t fed one day… plus, they are very pretty.

    i learned this stuff a long time ago. had some goldfish that lived for many, many years with real plants… and have given betas to children confident that they would survive after having my own. one i had given to a child is now 2 years old, same fish.

  • It’s a good thing Jackson is not my father’s grandson. When my dad tried cleaning out my son Evan’s fish tank for the first time ever (my dad had given Evan the fish under protest from me because I loathe cleaning tanks), my dad accidentally allowed the fish to fall down the kitchen sink. Um…then he turned on the garbage disposal! Hello??!! Supposedly this put the fish out of its misery of suffocating to death. That was the theory. Anyway, Evan is only 2 so he didn’t have too much emotional attachment. Evan’s phrase for the day, “fish all gone.”

  • Just so you know, PetCo also provides daycare.

    We went out of town for a week and we had only lived here for about a month so I knew no one well enough to ask them to take care of Bertrand the Beta. We did a surreptitious flushing (to the sea!) on our way to the airport. When we got back in town the boy and I went to PetCo to “pick up Bertrand” since they had been taking care of him for us all week. We did have to go to the register and pay for the week of boarding, but it was worth it.

    I’ve never felt so clever and so dishonest in my life.

  • I have been through the fishtank thing and come out, on the other side of mass fish murder, to say CICHLIDS RULE. I have Blood Parrots and Silver Dollars. They look quite exotic, and they are a little more expensive but I tell you what, they are as tough as the guys on Yogabeans.

    I cannot keep guppies, mollies, goldfish or bettas alive (nor angelfish–I’ll spare you the details about the angelfish death camps I stocked) but I can keep my cichlids going on very little care. They eat once a day. I replace 25% of the water and the filter every six weeks. Have had them for over two years now, have even moved them from one home to another once, so I am pretty sure they will have a natural lifespan of up to 15 years (knocking on wood veneer).

    Since I switched to cichlids, the only fishicide I have experienced was a suicide. One of the Silver Dollars jumped out, through a very small gap, and became cat food. When I almost stepped on it–but thankfully looked first–I screamed and made my husband clean up the remains. My daughter was spared the sight and never quite got what happened, because there are two more in there who are much smarter (or less depressed?) and she had never counted them. Phew.

    Fish health has everything to do with water chemistry though. My city’s water is particularly bad for angelfish and goldfish, even when dechlorinated. It takes some trial and error (unfortunately for Jackson) to figure out what thrives best in your local water and what seems only to thrive in pet stores (where they can conveniently “bring out the dead” at night and no one ever knows. Except the fishes’ families!).

    One tip that has helped keep our tank much cleaner, since I cannot keep the algae eating population alive in my tanks either, is to almost never turn on the tank light. That just pumps up the algae content and the fish are fine with natural light; it’s the humans who like the glow.

    Another trick is to put some aquarium salt in the tank (available in pet stores–instructions on the box). It’s like vitamin C for fish, it helps prevent and heal viruses. Our local fish store uses it preventively. I used it early on for my cichlids because they had Ick from transition stress (symptoms: white spots and bumping against the tank decor to try to scratch themselves). Once they got well, I stopped adding salt and they have survived much neglect.

    Good luck! Be patient! It’s worth it when you finally get it right!

  • One of Bella’s goldfish died last week, and by the next day, the other wasn’t looking too great, so she and I took Carl, in a cup, and liberated him into the koi pond outside. Well, it’s several days later now, and he is doing great, so maybe that was just the ticket for him. He’s holding his own with the big guys. BUT. The day after we added Carl to the outdoor ecosystem, THE TWO GIANT KOI WERE BELLY-UP. Seriously. These great big fish that had survived years of neglect (according to the previous owners of this house), dead overnight.

    Frankly, I’m a little relieved we got Carl out of the house when we did. Of course, I can’t prove anything…

  • what a tangled web…
    (this coming from the woman who told her son that Bambi’s mother went shopping)

  • Love the hospital idea, and will definitely use it when we have kids. I still get mileage from when my dad changed the water in my goldfish bowl and accidentally put in hot water instead of cold. I can’t remmber the poor fish’s name but it was likely something clever like “goldie.” I do a great impression of the goldfish that still gets my dad laughing to the point of tears.

    I had a 35 gallon tank burst (yeah that was a bad scene), but no problems with swordfish and mollies and guppies.

  • If you haven’t already, you should definitely get a heater. I lost a lot of fish until I did.

  • His future therapy sessions are going to be hilarious.

  • I have found that A parent Only does the whole “circle of life” speech ONCE – then we revert to hiding dead carcasses and making up elaborate escape to the circus stories.

    Apparently our cat is newly married and living with his now expanding cat family….And Not dead.

  • When our oldest was around 4, we went to the local carnival and “won” 2 fish in that ping pong ball game. We picked up a little tank and set it up in his room. 20 minutes went by with no sound from him, so we went in to check and he ad the two fish layed out on his bed. We asked him what happened and he said he took them out so he could play with them. We told him that fish like the water and of course, I was immediately dispatched to the nearest pet store (which was literally 2 blocks away, as luck would have it) to replace said fish. Thank God all goldfish look alike to us humans.

  • man, I’m still glad that when our cat got hit by a car when I was three or four, my parents told me he was dead, and took me into the garage to see his one-eye-bulging-out kitty corpse. Snuffles = hit by car = dead. Got it. A little gruesome, but easier in the long run, I think. I guess fish are harder, since so many of them kick it so frequently.

  • Goddamnit, another one died this morning. When will it end?

  • I think replacing the fish was a great idea. Rebounds work.

  • I’m going to sound like a big fish nerd now, but I’m not allowed “real” pets in my apartment, so there ya go.

    In any case, I’m assuming, since the tank was a surprise, that it’s all “new” water, right? Well, ummm… fish don’t like new water. Especially the cute little colorful fish (like the one I see in the picture). Get yourself some giant danios (they’re not really that big, despite the name). Danios are good at cycling fish water and getting it ready for other, more fragile, fish to live in. There’s a fish store near my house that will even buy back danios after you keep them in a new tank for a month. I don’t know why the people at Pet Co didn’t tell you that. I guess they like repeat business. Bastards.

    But yes, Danios. I swear. It will help.

  • Seriously, you are a BRILLIANT evil genius. BRILLIANT. I am taking notes.

  • I grew up on a fram and played outside a lot, and I would frequently have to report to my mother that there was a “kitty sleeping in the middle of the road with its eyes open.”

  • I *love* liars. They are some of the sweetest and most creative people!

  • i tried the fish thing for about 2 years. i finally gave up and bought a frog :) the next morning my 3 year old woke me up and said froggie is gone mommmy. he told me he was under the couch. so after tearing the living room apart looking for the damn frog i found him NO where near the couch and then duct taped the lid of the tank down.4 months later froggies is still safe and sound and alive. he only need about 3-4 inches of water inthe tanks with one dry side and a rock and he eats 1-2 crickets a day. great easy to care for pet. and we actually have 1 goldfish in the tank with him..

  • Seriously? Accuse me of having a black heart of tar, but this is probably one of my favorite posts. As kids, my sisters and I got the whole “cirle of life” bit up close and personal when our cat had six kittens (yeah! kitties!) and five of them died (boo! dead kitties!). We named the surviving female kitten Noah and went on with our lives.

    Fish-wise: if you do get a beta fish, make sure it stays in a small enclosure of the tank – they are highly fierce and territorial.

  • I’m sorry, maybe it shouldn’t have cracked me up, but it did.
    We had a fish named Leonardo that basically killed itself… it was one of those fighting fish, and we didn’t make sure enough that it couldn’t see its own reflection in the glass… so the dumbshit beat itself to death trying to kick its own ass.
    I totally would have lied, but the girls both saw him floating before I did; and I just told them I needed “time to heal” before we got another fish. And then quietly disposed of the aquarium.
    God, I’m heartless.

  • My husband is a fish tank geek and there is so much bullshit you have to go through to keep fish it is shocking! Email me if you need ideas, advice, he is like an encyclopedia.
    Sweetpea….we just had a dead bird lesson at our house.

  • Oh yeah, I’ve heard the ole fish tank can be a tremendous pain in the ass until you get it regulated, whatever that means. But it provides for endless blog fodder, at least from what I’ve seen on other fish-tank-ownin’-moms’ sites! Good luck, girl!

  • My little Beta fish used to travel – via airplane! – from Virginia to Vermont and back for holidays. We’re talking 2 to 4 times a year! He lived 4 years.

    There is a cute story in a Chicken Soup book about a fish that dies and is replaced and two sisters, it is really cute.

  • My husband LOOOOVES his betta fish and gets very upset when one dies. We’ve had our current fish for more than a year and I dread the day when he starts ailing.

  • Good plan: You’ll also have to add how sometimes when a fish gets better he also gets BIGGER and sometimes CHANGES COLOR. And hopefully is ON SALE.

  • Brilliant, I say!

  • there’s also a fishtanks for dummies book which is pretty helpful.

    I don’t know about the lying — I was pretty traumatized when I learned that my blankie is still in a box in my parents’ basement despite the fact that I was somehow I tricked into believing I left in the mall, and then given a scratchy wool one as a replacement.

  • I am having a massive freakout now… could it be possible that Joey, my beautiful grey Persian who I loved so so very much, did not in fact go to live with another family who really loved Persians, but was put down?!?!

    And Booboo, my idiotically-named white-with-blue-eyes and therefore deaf cat from when I was tiny didn’t really go live in the mountains where there were fewer cars?! Have I been living a lie since I was eight?

  • I hope you treated the water before you put the fish in it. The chlorine in the water will kill real fast if you didn’t. Jusy sayin. Also goldfish like cold water, if it’s to warm…that will kill em too! I’ve had goldfish for years, and rarely does one die. They are low maintenance, but you have to know the basics.

  • When you’re ready to do the real “your pet died” talk, I recommend a book called The Dead Bird. It’s a short, matter of fact tale of a group of kids who find a dead bird in the woods.

    We’ve been thinking of having our cat put to sleep, and I don’t think I can pass her off on PetCo so we’ve been preparing :). I’m really dreading it, just because I don’t want to burst my kid’s bubble, but from what I’m reading, kid’s are a lot hardier than we give them credit for when it comes to this stuff.

    Good luck with the fish. We had to take our tank down out of sheer lack of time, but the kids loved it when it was up.

  • Sue, you’re lucky you didn’t step on it. In high school I had a beta (Jerry Lee Lewis) and several cats. One day I came home from school, entered my room and found the tank tipped over and the fish seemingly ingested by a rather smug-looking tabby. Before I started cleaning things up, I stepped toward the window to open it and


    right between my toes. I screamed bloody murder.

  • And then there is the opposite…when you are worried about telling your kid the morning after the dog died what happened, and you start to tell them, and you start crying, and they put their hand on your arm and say cheerfully, “It’s OK mommy. Now we can get a new dog!”

  • He named it Sarah.

  • P.S. I have had my betta, Bishop Desmond Tutu, for two years this month. Knock on wood.

  • that is amazing and I totally fucking agree with that. if I could have lied to my little brother anymore I would have.

  • Oh I wish i had thought of that “its off at the pet store till it gets better again” when we tried to do the fishtank thing

  • My nephew, a gentle child who loves unicorns and collects tumbled stones, has a beta who has survived three attempts on his life – all related to the child’s mother cleaning the beta’s tank.

    My nephew changed the fish’s name to David Blaine “because he’s so magic.”

  • As a fish person, I can hopefully help out a little.

    I’ve had what probably amounts to hundreds of tanks over the years, but there’s some pretty basic stuff that will help you out a lot.

    One, Petco sucks. Their fish tend to die anyway, no matter what you do, and their staff rarely know what they’re doing. Grab a phonebook and look for a small petstore, an aquarium, or something specializing in fish. Their people should be able to give good advice, and their fish will do better.

    Two, fish produce waste – usually nitrates and ammonia. In a fish tank, bacteria grow, and those bacteria love to eat fish wastes. The trouble is, when you just start an aquarium, there aren’t any bacteria, and the fish sort of effectively poison themselves because there’s nothing to get rid of the wastes.

    There are also a lot of things in tap water that are bad for fish – chlorine is designed to kill bacteria, of course it kills fish, and tap water has tons of it.

    So, first, just let the fish die – tell Jackson they went for a vacation for awhile, I imagine. Drain all the water from your tank, and refill with distilled. Then – and this is the important bit – let your tank just run with no fish in it for about a week. If you find a good fish store, you could ask them for some tank water or a rock or two that’s already been in a tank. They’ll understand what you want if they’re worth their salt – those things have good bacteria.

    You can also add products like NovaAqua and AmQuel, they’ll help a lot. Once you get fish, you might want to add some every day for a bit.

    The next step is to put in some fish. It’s important to pick the right kind of fish – some are really picky and like clean water, some don’t care much at all. Guppies, platies, danios, and a minnow called a white cloud are all good choices. You might not want to get too many, though – a good rule of thumb in an established tank is an inch of fish for every gallon of water. You should therefore be able to have about ten fish in your tank – it looks like a ten gallon to me, anyway.

    Since you’ll eventually have ten, start out with about three or four of the same kind. I personally love platies – they’re colorful and fun. Don’t feed too much, either. It’s better to have slightly hungry fish than dead fish. Only once or twice a day! I’d keep your aquarium at about 76-78 degrees. Probably less for goldfish.

    The other thing is, when they send your fish home in the little bags, let them float in the tank in their bags for at least half an hour. After half an hour, take a small cup or spoon and add a little bit of tank water every three or four minutes for another fifteen minutes or so, then let them go. This helps them get less stressed, so they won’t up and die. You wouldn’t like to suddenly go from Tahiti to Siberia, either, and that’s what temperature changes can be like.

    Then make sure you change the water a lot. At least once a week, take out about a third or so of your tank water and replace it with distilled or purified.

    And hopefully, your fish will thrive!

  • Me again. I SWEAR this is how the pet co.’s suck us in. A free goldfish, a low priced Chinese Fighting Fish (or Beta). Cheap cheap. Now please buy an aquarium and all the supplies. Buy lots of fish! And plants! Then slowly kill them all off making you continually visit the fish store for more. Or buy a second tank for more variety! A third! Try a seawater aquarium. Go ahead, try it! And when they die off in waves go ahead try again!!

    This from a woman who has three empty aquariums sitting in her basement :) My downfall was getting into guppies that reproduce so easily. I would get a great tank going, they would all die. Get more awesome tailed guppies, they would breed, have a few generations (those things are like rabbits! Now don’t get me going on my rabbit history please.) Then they would all die off for some unkown reason. Ok, going to end here.

    Have told husband that after the last fish tank tanked, the last rabbit was rehomed and one of the dwarf hamsters that are SUPPOSED to get along killed her sister (nasty sight) I am committed to just sticking with DOGS thank you very much.

    But I DO wish you luck with the new aquarium, welcome to the journey. (Just Say No to rodents ok? So not worth the hassle…)

    Amy, who has come out of the closet and shed her Natalie handle..

  • Yes…but you’re liars who mean well. That’s gotta be worth a few karma points.

  • 1. Don’t go to PetCo – their fish die. Look – even AT PetCo there’s dead fish in the tanks. Go to a creepy, dark, dank personally owned store and ask for help. They know their shit.

    2. Change the water in that tank, get the proper bottle of Stress Coat, get a real plant or two (good oxygen), a grow light, and a heater. Once a batch of fish die, there’s disease in the water and there’s a good chance they can all die from one shitty fish. So no more carnival fish fo shizzle.

    3. In the next batch of fish get a plecostamus. Really. So. Cool. And they keep the tank naturally clean. A handful of schooling fish (6 or 8 tiny tetras?) and a couple small fish and you have a nice tank family.

    4. Do not flush a fish unless you are convinced it’s dead. Do not scoop out a fish until you know it’s dead. Fish’s immune system is the slime coating on their outsides (hence the importance of the chemical balance in the water – and that Stress Coat stuff). When they get sick – even like a simple COLD they start losing their equilibrium and swivelling belly-up. That means GO BUY MEDICINE not imminent death. Again, local scary fish store, NOT Petco or PetSmart!

    5. Bonus: Get some frozen food – bloodworms or brine shrimp and watch the fish go crazy. And fun for Jackson, too.

    Hope this helps – fish tanks and fish are definitely a trial-and-error pet. Any other questions call me.

  • My brother just got a “carnival fish” last night, I don’t know if i should go get a new one before he comes home today or if i should just tell him about it dying.