Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


November 9, 2012

Learning to be a better fish parent

— — This past weekend I engaged in one of the most grimy and disgusting of my household chores: the monthly ritual of cleaning out the fish tank.

I suppose the fault of why this task is so big is partially my own as I opted for the bigger 10-gallon tank rather than one of the smaller ones. I guess I am much too sympathetic to the plight of a tiny $5 fish than necessary.

My betta fish was retrieved from the very back of the dark store shelf, probably doubting he would ever see the light of day again. It was a bit traumatic, to tell the truth, pushing aside all the dead-looking fish floating up at the top of their plastic tubs to find a spry, active and, most importantly, live fish to bring home with me. Alpha Blue was definitely the spunkiest of those back-of-the-shelf fish. I didn’t know this was because he had more attitude than all the other fish combined.

After pulling him from the abyss that is the very back row of all the tiny, container-kept fish on the shelf, I didn’t want to just drop him into another tiny bowl to live out the rest of his fishy existence. When selecting the fish tank I wanted, I didn’t want to go with one of the tiny traditional fishbowl models nor one of the fancier, more modern vases intended to give your fish a classy home. I felt like it would be something akin to torture to plop him from one little plastic tub into another, slightly larger glass container. Instead, I opted for the big tank with working light that was obviously the exact opposite of the small plastic tub with an air hole the fish was currently residing in.

Like any home, I had to make the fish tank more than just your average tank with water. I got the colored rocks and crafting jewels to reflect the light from the top of the tank. I also purchased a wide variety of plants — one of which even glows in the dark — so my fish would know he never again had to swim in a tiny bowl in the very back of the dark, dank shelf. I did everything I could to be a good fish parent, getting the best food and making sure the water was just the right temperature before introducing the fish to his new abode.

However, my little blue betta fish was not appreciative of his swanky new pad when I brought him home. In fact, after I placed him in his tank he puffed out his gills at me to show he was ferocious and then promptly fluttered down to hide in one of the plants until I went away.

Now, I find myself having to clean all of these rocks and plants and the giant tank every month. And, like the very first time I put him in the tank, every time I return him to his home after it is thoroughly cleaned, he puffs out his gills and then hides. Despite the fact that my hard scrubbing is not appreciated by its intended audience, I still am glad to see the lack of slimy buildup on the sides of the tank after every cleaning.

Since I am the only one responsible for the care and keeping of my fish, I have a newfound appreciation for what my parents put up with when I was little. When I was about 2 or 3 years old, I received two goldfish as my very first personal pets.

However, Goldie and Stripe proved to be less your average goldfish and more part piranha. They ate just about every fish you put in the tank with them and — rather than living only a year or two like my parents probably expected — they went on to live rather long lives.

I don’t know if it was consuming their tank-mates that allowed them abnormal longevity, but Stripe died at 6 years old while we were on vacation. Goldie, in what I guess she assumed was the proper mourning for her long-time companion, had consumed part of Stripe by the time we arrived home. Goldie lived to the ripe old age of 8, but was never the same after Stripe died. As creepy as my childhood fish seem in retrospect, they did teach me a bit about responsibility and the grieving process.

Though I was never a big help cleaning out the fish tank as a child, I do realize how hard it was for my parents to scrub out the gunk and grime left behind by two fish in a similarly sized tank. I suppose my fish scoffing at my attempts to clean his residence are also somewhat akin to how my mother felt when we dirtied up a perfectly clean floor, table or counter as kids.

Though he is never happy with my efforts to give him a clean living environment and only really seems interested in me when I have a pinch of fish food in my hands, I still enjoy having my fish. It’s nice to check on him when I come home from being out or to just watch him flutter about when he thinks I’m not paying attention.

I may not be the perfect fish parent, but I do what I can to give this little fish a life he would never have gotten. And sometimes, when he doesn’t think I am looking, Alpha Blue cuddles up with one of his plants and makes me feel like he might be thankful for me after all.

Kate Coil is a reporter with the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at

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