Monday, February 7, 2011

A fish called "Melmo".


My husband and my son took a very special trip to the petstore after school this afternoon. It was decided that the little man is old enough to pick out a pet.

Obviously, there were severe limitations on his choice. While the baby bunnies were adorable, lagomorphs are simply a bit too high-maintenance. Ditto for psittacines (who are also too noisy). No, baby boy was allowed to pick out a betta splendens. He picked out a spunky little male with a pink body and purple fins, and named him "Melmo" (how he says "Elmo").

Now, we're not some of those sadistic parents who let their kid impulsively get a pet which they are far too young to care for. (Working at a petstore in the past, I've seen too many pets neglected and discarded by parents as punishment when, predictably, very young children couldn't provide consistent care for the animal.) No, Melmo is going to be living in a very nice planted 52-gallon corner tank that Mommy and Daddy haven't had any fish in for a while. (Lucky Melmo! A betta with 52 gallons to himself!)

Of course, I've been keeping fish long enough to know that, even in the best of situations, they can sometimes pass away without warning. (Fun fact: Fish store employees use the term "failure-to-thrive" to mean "We have no idea why your fish died.") Even if a fish lives a long and healthy life, longevity is very relative in the aquatic world. (Though in our early days of marriage, hubby and I had Vincent van Betta, who lived with us for about 3 1/2 years.)

I just know that I'm going to be keeping a closer eye on Melmo than I have any other fish in my career as an aquarist. And, while I know it's deceptive, should any harm befall Melmo, at least while my son is still so young, I will be finding Melmo the II before there's time for him to notice the difference. (Not that I would continue this practice to the extent that one customer of mine did. She came in the store in a panic trying to find a perfect match to her daughter's betta, who had died while the daughter was at school. In college.) Or, as my husband already postulated, "Do you think the baby would notice if Melmo changes colors?"

Other mommies who have been through the pet ringer with your kids, I wanna know how you do it. What do you do when the fish swims upside-down, or Fluffy the hamster doesn't wake up? Tell the truth, or try to find a 24-hour petstore? And at what age do you think a kid is old enough to learn about the Rainbow Bridge? It may seem silly to some, but as an animal-lover married to an animal-lover, raising an animal-lover together, these are the things I worry about.

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