It all started out so innocently.
The wonderful charter school that my children attend held its Annual Fall Harvest Festival yesterday. This is a very fun family event that we participated in last year with great enthusiasm (read my blog “The $120 Cake” if you want the details). The event raises money for various school supplies and features games in every classroom as well as beautiful custom baskets designed by each class which are sold at a highly competitive silent auction in the library.
You purchase tickets at the door in the form of those little cardboard tear-apart coupons when you arrive, and a variable number of tickets allows you to play games in the classrooms or purchase pizza or other treats in the cafeteria. It is a remarkably well-planned and executed event that makes money for the school and at the same time lets the kids have some fun with their classmates and teachers in a more informal setting.
This year Desperate Hubby would be joining us for the first time at the festival, and the kids were looking forward to playing all the games. Each teacher had a basket of small toys or candy that they awarded for winning the games in their rooms, and Batman in particular was intent on collecting as much loot as he could.
We had just walked in the front door, our 84 tickets in hand, when I spied a child walking by carrying, of all things, a goldfish. Yep, a live goldfish, in a plastic bag expertly tied on top just like when you purchase them at Pet Smart. The kids didn’t see this at first, but as we headed down the hallway toward their respective classrooms we saw a few more children carting around the tiny orange creatures.
The bags of goldfish soon enough caught the dedicated attention of my pet-loving children, and there was nothing to be done but to immediately find the source of these remarkable prizes. We located the goldfish game on the other side of the school and it was easy to discern just where the fish were being awarded by the line that snaked out of the room and into the hallway, ending in a milling mass of parents, strollers, and children holding clear wet bags of fish.
We entered the room (where the line was not as long as I feared) and got in queue. You could purchase three tries at each go, and the children stood behind lines of tape on the floor at varying distances from a table with several fishbowls on it trying to toss little rubber fish into the bowls. A fish in the bowl won you, well, a fish to take home and put in a bowl.
I expected Batman to be a whiz at this game with his exceptional hand/eye coordination, but in their first three attempts it was Annabelle who actually won a fish. Which she promptly named “Goldie.” (Remember, these are the kids who name the succession of Betta fish (that we already have at home, thank you very much) either Bluey or Reddy, depending on their hue).
She was ecstatic of course, but Batman was devastated. He sobbed as quietly as he could as I steered him out in the hall, and he begged me to wait in the (now longer) line with him so he could try again. I sent Desperate Hubby off with Annabelle to find the face painting, and headed back inside with Batman to try again.
Alas, my poor son had no luck at all the second time around either, and we had to exit the fish room empty-handed. For the rest of the evening, though, as we navigated game room after game room and ate pizza at the folding tables in the lunchroom, we packed around the fish that his sister had won. At first Annabelle insisted on carrying it herself, and after she tired of that the fish was handed off to one family member after the other, with carefully monitored instructions as to the amount of motion allowed in the bag of water to avoid upsetting her new pet.
After two and half hours of great fun, an entire pizza in the lunchroom, pockets full of prizes and candy, one incident of accidental fish abandonment and subsequent rapid recovery by DH, and lastly the purchase of a beautiful marzipan cake from the cake decorating contest (I had not gotten it together to make a cake this year, and frankly I spent way too much time anyway trying to figure out how I would put the school logo (a new requirement this year) onto the pony cake, should I make one) we headed homeward.
When we got there the first order of business (even before cake eating) was to settle Goldie into his temporary home.
I sort of hoped thought that the fish might not even make it through his first night alive anyway, after all the jostling, and I thought the disposable tupperware dish was a fitting habitat for a fish that cost a quarter, but Annabelle disagreed. As for Batman, he had recovered enough from his disappointment at not WINNING a fish that he brought up the fact that I had promised him if we went to buy the new fish a bowl we could just BUY him his own fish (hey, I was trying to quiet him down), we all agreed that today we would visit WalMart and pick up both an additional bowl (to go right beside the one that already housed Bluey the Betta) and a fish for Batman.
This morning I got up pretty early because I wanted to write a story about the Red Tail Hawk that Grandpa Vernon had rescued yesterday. I was in my office happily typing away and working on my second cup of coffee. The kids and DH were having an animated discussion down the hallway in the living room, but with my office door mostly closed I couldn’t really hear the subject.
The first hint of trouble came when Annabelle came bursting in the door, excitement gleaming in her eyes, and asked where she might find a measuring tape. This could not be good. “For what, my love, do you need a measuring tape?” “Because Daddy said we could get an aquarium and whole bunch of fish! We’re trying to figure out where to put it!!”
For this I got up out of my chair. I only had to look at my husband and he knew how I felt about the aquarium idea. He had floated (sorry) the idea of getting an aquarium for our home several times, but there was not a perfect place in our cozy house for one, and besides that I was already pretty busy taking care of the dog and the rabbits that he had procured for the children in previous instances when I wasn’t paying attention.
There are times in a marriage and as a parent, though, when you realize that this might very well be a battle you may not win, and that it is better to acquiesce and have some control over the outcome than to haplessly go to yoga and return to find a fifteen gallon fish tank set up in the middle of the kitchen table (I decided this morning was one of those times when DH actually suggested in all seriousness the table as a possible spot for the aquarium).
I looked around the living room and found a spot that I thought might work, next to the corner cabinet where I kept my small collection of handmade glass plates and bowls. I took the tape and measured it. If I moved (to where, I wasn’t sure) the basket that held a collection of folded blankets with which to snuggle on chilly nights, and pushed the cabinet over as close to the bookshelf as it would go, I could just get a scant two feet of space.
“That will be perfect” said DH. “I’ll find just the right thing.”
I said I’d unload and move the corner cabinet when I got home from the gym and headed out.
I went to yoga and stretched and lunged, hung upside down and breathed deeply, trying to focus on something other than my imminent future spent cleaning a smelly fish tank. (By the way, a shout out here is required to Dalee, a fellow charter school mom and the instructor of the 10:15 Saturday yoga class at the local Y. If you, like me, have wanted to try yoga but have been too nervous or intimidated to seek out a place, go to her class. It was wonderful and inviting, and I didn’t ever feel one bit out-of-place.)
I returned home to find the fish aquarium assembly well on its way. DH had purchased a serviceable little metal stand for the aquarium that measured a full 30 inches from leg to leg. Unless I managed to either somehow shorten the couch or moved my red plates and bowls outside, I would have to find another spot.
I looked around, pacing in what I hoped was an angry fashion (I wasn’t actually mad, but sometimes you have to maintain the balance of power in a relationship). Finally, with a deep sigh, I walked over to the coat rack on the wall next to DH’s recliner where I hang my custom-made leather show chaps when I’m not using them and took them down. I threw them on the couch and said “Well, I guess I can find another place for these.” DH looked at me a little anxiously. “Do you want me to move the hooks for them?” he asked in a helpful tone.
I told him no, I’d just move around some other stuff and put shorter things that wouldn’t interfere with tank placement there and put my chaps somewhere else. I ended up relocating a trophy halter and some tiny chinks that Annabelle had outgrown and putting my chaps in a few other spots around the living room and in my office. I wouldn’t admit it to DH, but everything looked better in their new homes than the original anyway.
In the meantime, the kids and DH had been busy getting started on the assembly of the new fish residence. Batman had been sitting patiently with his (seven) new goldfish in a bag on his lap and he was eager to get them in the tank.
DH moved the table (which fit perfectly in the new location, by the way) and placed the tank on top. He carefully measured, cut and taped the ocean background over the back of the glass. Then he washed and arranged the rocks and Annabelle helped get the plants in.
The trio had purchased what seemed to me to be an awful lot of stuff for one simple aquarium.
Slowly, though, the tank came together. I had purposely removed myself from the proximity, making beds and getting laundry sorted, but toward the end I did help DH get the water into the tank (it takes a lot of big mixing bowls full of water to fill a fifteen gallon tank, even with two people working at it).
Just as we put the bags of fish (one bag with the seven goldfish; one bag with a really cool looking plecostimus) into the tank, our friends Shawny and Sierra arrived to spend the afternoon and night with us. We went ahead and netted Goldie out of his tupperware and released him in the tank, and the kids watched anxiously as the other fish swam in their bags and got acclimated to the water temperature.
After about fifteen minutes of listening to the kids ask “When can we turn the fish loose? When can we turn the fish loose?” I finally gave in an told them to go ahead. DH had explained to me that due to the nature of the tank water stabilization the goldfish were likely temporary anyway. We’d get cooler fish in a couple of weeks when everything was all established. He is smart about that stuff.
When it was all said and done, I had to admit that the tank looked really nice.
We did, after all, have just the perfect spot for it.
I didn’t ask for, and was provided with, no details, but I imagine it was a pretty expensive home to build for a 25¢ goldfish. I wondered if any other parents had been going through the same new-pet assimilation challenges we had this morning.
But not to worry.
I have a plan that will make everyone appreciate just how big a commitment the purchase of a single 25¢ paper ticket can be.
I’m going to have my own booth next year at the Harvest Festival. It’s going to be centrally located and I’ll find a game that even the youngest and most uncoordinated child can win.
I’m thinking of giving away kittens.