It’s been a wild few weeks around here, let me tell you.
First, and most importantly, for all of those who have been desperate for an update on Squash Baby (there are dozens of you. Literally dozens!) I have sad news. Squash Baby is no longer with us.
I think my little sister must have realized that my bleeding-heart hippie ways would never allow me to get rid of Squash Baby, and she was right. Under my watch, Olive would probably have been packing a fossilized Squash Baby off to university with her in fifteen years. So one morning, Lizzie came down and announced that we would be having a farewell party. She went ALL. OUT. It was a strange and bewildering party, perfectly befitting of such an odd guest of honour.
Liz made party hats and streamers, while Olive made a cake out of her stacking cups and arranged her crocheted play food as hors d’oeuvres. We each said a few words about Squash Baby, Olive sang a sad, meandering song and then we silently walked her out to the compost. I still couldn’t bring myself to cut her up (as you should with something big like a squash to help it break down faster) so Squash Baby will likely be with us a while longer, staring bleakly up at me whenever I empty my compost bucket.
I thought the sad goodbyes were behind us when, last Sunday, my dad took Olive fishing with him. She was unbelievably excited because she got to wear a life jacket and go on a boat. I was also excited, but for entirely different reasons: A) I didn’t have to go, and B) I got 5 hours to myself. It was bliss!
Being the obnoxious vegetarian that I am, I have explained to Olive many times where meat comes from. Not to scare her, but just so that she’s aware, you know? So naturally, I had explained to her that she would be catching fish in order to eat them – she was totally unperturbed by this and declared fish “so yummy!”
But, when she got home she was a bit sunburnt, a bit filthy, and had obviously been crying. As he said goodbye, my dad leaned in and explained that Olive had gotten very upset when he cut the trout’s head off. Olive chimed in, between sobs, “I wanted to keep his head ON! I wanted to keep him as a pet!”
“But Olive, he was dead, sweetie” I replied (quite logically, I thought).
“I KNOW THAT,” she screamed angrily, “A DEAD PET.”
Obviously, right? Dead pets are the best pets. Everyone knows that!
We spent a great deal of time over the next week talking about the fish. The catching of the fish, the beheading of the fish. The sudden , tragic death of the fish. At random times she would become quiet and contemplative and ask me if I “renembered” when Pop-Pop cut the fish’s head off, and we would stop what we were doing, sit down and debrief the situation again.
First Squash Baby, then the fish beheading. I mean jesus christ, This is BIG STUFF in the life of a three-year-old!
Last week, we were wrapping up a visit to the science centre when, again, she brought up the fish. She began to get teary-eyed and repeated once more that she had wanted to keep it as a pet. Instead of reiterating that it would be impossible to keep a dead trout as a pet, I had a moment of genius.
“Olive, how about a LIVE fish as a pet?”
Her eyes lit up. “Alive? Really alive?”
“Yeah! I mean, it wouldn’t be as big, but we could get you a little fish and you could name it and keep it in your room, and it would be your job to feed it and take care of it – would you like that?”
She exploded with excitement and so, my giddiness almost matching hers, we headed to the pet store.
At this point, I’d like to remind you that I know fuck all about fish. I spent my childhood avoiding my father’s fishing trips at all costs and the only fish I ever owned personally was back in university, a little betta fish that my roommate and I named Pilsner. We kept him in a giant novelty brandy snifter and the whole thing was exactly as ill-advised at it sounds.
Olive and I rolled up to the pet store. We walked to the wall of aquariums and I told her with a wide, generous sweeping gesture of my hand that she could pick any fish she wanted! And then when I noticed that some of these teeny tiny little fish were thirty dollars each, I amended that to a slightly less generous any five-dollar-or-under fish she wanted!
She walked along the aquariums for several minutes, back and forth, back and forth. She ignored the cute goldfish and the white fish with flowy tails and even the adorable tiny little orange ones with black fins. She stopped in front of a container of black and white spotted fish and said excitedly, “This one!”
“Oh, cute!” I said, “I like the spots!”
“No, no Mummy,” she said impatiently, “THAT one” and pointed at a little black fish lurking along the side of the tank. He looked shifty-eyed and slightly morose.
“That one?” I asked, doubtfully, “Are you sure you don’t want something more…colourful?”
“That one.” she said firmly. And That One was $4.49, so That One it was.
A helpful employee bagged the fish up for us and I picked out some food while Olive held the bag in wonder, feeling the little fish swimming around and bumping against her hands. We stopped at Value Village to get a fish bowl, and as we drove home, Olive named him Fishy Black.
The next morning Fishy Black was looking…lethargic. Perpendicular is perhaps a better word.
And look, I was fully aware when we got this pet that making secret pet store runs to replace dead fish while Olive was in preschool would be my life as a fish mom. I was aware of this. But one day? He was going to die after only one day?! I expected to have at least a few weeks of bliss before I had to conduct this sort of subterfuge. Plus, and perhaps most problematically, Olive was not at preschool, she was right beside me wondering aloud why Fishy Black was floating up and down.
A few minutes of frantic googling later, I thought I’d found the problem. We’d just filled the fish bowl with tap water, which apparently needs to be treated before adding fish (no one told me this, and Pilsner never got such rock star treatment, yet still lived for almost a full year if I recall correctly). I thought Fishy Black was reacting to the chlorine in the tap water, so we rushed to the pet store – water sample in hand – and I tracked down an employee.
“What kind of fish did you say it was?” he asked
“It’s a Dalmation Molly,” I said, as Olive shrieked simultaneously, “HIS NAME IS FISHY BLACK”
“Oookay” said the employee, casting an alarmed look at Olive, “And what sort of tank do you have it in?”
“Uh..a fish bowl?” I replied
He immediately began to shake his head, “There’s your problem” he said sadly, “These fish need oxygen, the only fish that can survive in a fish bowl without an oxygen source is a betta.”
I had a moment of nostalgia – Pilsner! We could get Olive a Pilsner! The employee said we could bring Fishy Black and exchange him, and I happily agreed.
Olive was… not so happy.
“But Fishy Black is the best fish in the whole ocean!” she wailed. Jesus christ. Another loss! Another goodbye! I led her over to the wall of betta fish swimming around in their little containers – “Look how beautiful they are!” I cried, “Blue ones, white ones – ooh this one is a cool bluey-green with red fins!”
But Olive was looking one shelf lower, at the female bettas. Drab, dull colours. Muddy browns and muted blues, “This looks just like Fishy Black!” she declared, pointing to a murky, nondescript fish swimming lethargically.
We got the fish. Fish #2. We got fish #2 and water conditioner and a tiny treasure chest to appease my toddler still weeping over the untimely loss of Fishy Black.
Internet, meet Whistle. But, uh, don’t get attached to Whistle, OK?
Whistle was with us a mere 11 hours before she jumped out of her bowl sometime during the night, I discovered her in the middle of the floor the next morning. Apparently, Betta fish are prone to jumping? I guess? Which…what the actual fuck. How is this so hard? I’ve had a 200 lb dog and a ferocious toddler in my life and taken excellent care of them both. I have house plants and ran a flourishing gardening program for four years, and I’ve managed to keep myself in fantastic health (kidney condition notwithstanding) for 32 years now. How the fuck is keeping a fish alive beyond my capabilities?
I mean, in a way, Olive got what she wanted. A dead fish for a pet. And mark my words, she wanted to keep the dead fish pet, but even I have my limits. I’ll allow a spaghetti squash with a creepy face coloured on it, but a crunchy, fossilised fish is going too far.
So, we’re going to try once more. When Olive gets home from visiting her dad tomorrow, she will have a new fish. The water will be conditioned, I will add a plant to prevent fish suicide, and if this fish dies so help me god I am done. DONE, I tell you!
Please, feel free to leave name suggestions in the comments. I’m leaning toward Beyonce, personally, but I’ll read them all to Olive and see if any pique her interest. And thus (hopefully) will end the saga of Olive’s pets. May they rest in peace.