As I’ve mentioned, thanks to our flawless parenting my son has issues with throwing stuff away. Even the simplest recycling becomes a major emotional issue. Fortunately, he’s a trooper even though dropping every (literal) scrap of paper into the bin is like tearing out a piece of his heart – he will do it…for us.
Did I mention he’s also a martyr?
But what does this have to do with a morbid fish? Well, almost two years ago he got a Betta fish. The Betta seemed perfect because of their hardiness – although when the fish started to get a bit green around the gills the wife sent me to Petco for a proper tank with a filter and a light to keep the water at the optimal temperature. As I was researching the best setup for a Betta fish I learned that they are so superhuman and ascetically minimalist that a Betta has been discovered living in a muddy hoof print in Thailand.
Petco and the manufacturers of fine fish tank products seemed to think that this was such an appealing idea that they spent a great deal of energy advertising this fact. My reaction was, just because a Betta can live in a muddy footprint doesn’t mean it should live in a muddy footprint.
So Bob McBluebritches got the fancy tank with the filter, the light, and a thermostat to carefully monitor his optimal temperature and thrived happily for the next few months. He wasn’t living in a muddy footprint, my son developed a system of flashing a light to inform Bob that it was feeding time, and we occasionally topped off his water as it evaporated.
What we didn’t do was clean the tank. After all, a Betta can survive in a muddy footprint and the water in his filtered tank was still essentially clear. What it seemed to lack, however, was oxygen.
Bob became dangerously lethargic. The wife, as she had before, became greatly concerned for Bob’s well being – not least because she was well aware of the impact it would have on our young man’s psyche. And her concern was well rewarded by his tragic reaction to Bob’s impending demise – late into the evening on a school night, no less.
Now, I don’t mean to equate the passage of a beloved family pet with the disposal of the occasional cardboard toilet paper tube, but I can’t help but think the separation anxiety shares some common roots. If we had worked with him, helped him to develop a healthy attitude toward letting things go, would it have eased his pain over Bob’s imminent demise? You have a healthy grieving period, and then you move on. Knowing our son, however, it was obvious that if things didn’t change, 30, 50, 70 years down the road he would still be carrying around a picture of Bob in a locket.
As a happy epilogue to this little story Dad came to the rescue. I spent the next morning thoroughly cleaning Bob’s tank and giving him fresh water – and slowly over the next few days Bob started feeling better and is now happily swimming around and having a light flashed in his eyes every time he gets fed. No Brady-bunch worthy substitute Betta fish purchase necessary.
And the new year’s resolution to recycle something every day – well, we’ll start that eventually.
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John Kubalak is a writer, teacher, volunteer coordinator, raconteur, and scalawag. He does not publish science fiction under the pseudonym Jonathan Black but he does publish a monograph on fatherhood, The Eclectic Dad. He has a son, a daughter, a beautiful wife (and a little dog too!) who are adorable, maddening, zany, and brilliant all at the same time.