The Carnival Goldfish Has A Case Of The Dropsies


As Jeff walked past the fish tank this morning he said, “Well, you finally did it. You have a dead fish.”

I cried, “No!” and raced over to see. One of the goldfish was perpendicular in the bowl.

I pulled it closer to look, and suddenly she began swimming. “No look! She’s still alive! Maybe I can still save her!”

I’ve been really busy the past couple of weeks. I’m not sure when I last cleaned out the water, but it was on my to do list in the next few days. The water wasn’t terribly murky… what hadn’t already evaporated. And I have been feeding them regularly. But I am pretty sure this is my fault, and I feel terrible. I think the water quality in the Ganges is better than what they have been swimming in.

I never wanted these fish. I never wanted any pets at all. My kids’ number one complaint is that I don’t want any pets. I feel like I have enough to do already, the last thing I need to do is add one more living thing depending on me for survival. I can’t even keep houseplants alive.

image This is what remains of my beloved Gardenia.

Their biggest gripe is that I had pets as a kid, so I am a hypocrite for not allowing them to have them. What they fail to realize is that I never took care of those pets. When I was little, we had a Pekingese named Daisy and a cat named Speedy. (Speedy below)


Notice how my outfit matches the pillow and blanket. I believe my mother sewed all three.

We had another cat that made the move with us from Huntington Beach. This was a grouchy male cat. After moving, my parents decided the cat needed to go. We were living in Machias at the time, which is in the serious boonies. We were about 3 miles outside of downtown Lake Stevens, and about 5 or 6 from Snohomish. There is a whole post worth of material about our two years in Machias that I will save for another day. They posted an ad, and a family from Everett came to get the cat. Two days later, the cat reappeared. We don’t know if the family decided they didn’t want the cat after all and dropped him at our house, or if he walked across the trestle and came home. We believe it was probably the latter. Regardless, this became that cat’s theme song:

(Click the link. You know you want to. It’s the Muppets for goodness’ sake.)

I texted my mother this morning to ask if she remembered the name of the cat, and she said she couldn’t. She asked my dad and sister. My sister said she thought his name was Tigger. I don’t remember ever having a cat named tigger, but it was striped, so I guess it’s possible. My dad said he wasn’t sure, but was very concerned that the cat had somehow reappeared again. Pretty sure he’s been dead for 20 years, but hey, you never know.

I liked our animals ok, but I have never been an animal person. My sister Colleen, on the other hand, was. And still is. Somehow she talked my parents into getting her another dog one Christmas.


His name was Buckwheat. Buckwheat had the most obnoxious bark of any dog I have ever heard. Every bark that came out of his mouth sounded like he was being run over and was yelping in pain. He also wasn’t the brightest of animals. The prevailing theory is that Buckwheat met his end at the bottom of the well in the back yard of our house one day while we were gone. RIP Buckwheat.

Not too long after Buckwheat went missing, Colleen called my parents from a picnic at Flowing Lake to say that there was an abandoned dog there who needed a home. I don’t know what she could have possibly said to convince my parents to bring this mangy mutt home, but they went and picked her and the dog up. A mix of Irish Setter and Lab, this poor dog looked like it had been through a war. He was skin and bones, couldn’t stop shaking and I’m pretty sure had mange. (Can dogs get mange?) We named him “Ribsy” after the Beverly Cleary book, because his ribs were sticking out so badly.

They took him to the vet, where he was diagnosed with all sorts of maladies, including distemper. My sister lovingly nursed him back to health and that dog lived a very long and happy life. He became my mom’s walking companion after we had all moved out. He was a very good dog.


Around 11 years old, I decided that the rabbit my mother had brought home was going to be my pet. I didn’t have a special fondness for rabbits, but I wanted to join 4H with my friends. Apparently you need a pet to participate in 4H. I went to my first meeting, and was excited to receive the notebook filled with blank pages to fill in all the information about my pet. I soon realized, though, that it’s not cool to be in 4H with a rabbit, especially since everyone else had horses. That phase of my life was very short. I asked my mom this morning if she remembered the rabbit’s name. Turns out there were a few rabbits over the years. She believes they were all named “Bunny.” The last one is currently buried on the hill behind my parents’ home. There is even a grave marker. It says “Bunny.”

My parents have had several cats over the years. Most of them were outdoor cats. There was a cat named Larissa, a black cat, that liked to roam the neighborhood and then a little while later a new litter of kittens would be born. One of those kittens my mom named Ralph. It wasn’t until my wedding day when she discovered several baby kittens in the garage, that she determined Ralph was actually more like a Ralphina.

Jeff and I decided to bring one of Ralph’s kittens home for a weekend to determine if we could, in fact, be pet owners. It seemed meant to be since it was born on our wedding day. Jeff has an allergy to pet dander, but really likes cats. That weekend, however, was a nightmare. He sneezed the whole time and that cat never shut up. I finally understood where the term “caterwauling” came from. Back it went.

For years Sydney begged us to get pets. One day Jeff came home with a beta fish for her. Within a week that fish was belly up. I asked her what happened, and, following a period of intense questioning, determined that she had attempted to pet the fish. Turns out that petting fish isn’t good for them. Who knew?

That was the end of the pet thing for a while. I have shut down the conversations as soon as they start. I don’t care if I’m the mean mom, and Zoe has to fill out every “about me” survey with “pets: none because my mom won’t let me because she’s the meanest mom in the whole world.” Doesn’t phase me one bit.

A little over a year and a half ago, My friend Roshonda and I took our kids to the last day of the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe. Vendors started giving stuff away- candy, popcorn, 3 ft long licorice ropes. The kids wandered over to one of the carnival games and I tried to move them away, but they had money and a sense of determination. It was the goldfish game. Several bowls were stacked in a tower, each containing a goldfish. They needed to get a ping pong ball into a bowl to win a fish. Roshonda’s daughter Malayah, 3 at the time, made her attempt- no fish won. We breathed a sigh of relief. Zoe and Parker took their turns- they didn’t win either. I began to walk away, then suddenly I heard the carnival barker telling the kids that they could have a fish anyway. Before I could shout “Noooo!” and get there to stop it, he had handed the three of them each a baggie filled with a fish. I shot daggers his direction, but he only smiled his toothless smile back at me.

Somehow in the confusion at the end of the day, Malayah’s fish, which was silver and she had named Angel, never got transferred from my stuff to hers. They left without the fish. Suddenly I had 3 goldfish in my possession. We were supposed to see them within the next few days, but in the busy-ness of back to school, it never happened. They came over for dinner, but conveniently “forgot” to get the fish.

I convinced myself that these were carnival goldfish, and they probably wouldn’t last two weeks. 21 months later, still alive.

My kids would give me a hard time about the fact that now that the pet barrier had been breeched, it should open the door to other pets. But I have been the only one to feed them, change their water, clean their bowl. I talk to them sometimes, because they stare at me and I feel like they are trying to tell me things. One of them will bonk it’s nose against the glass to get my attention. Nathan said, “why don’t you just let them die if you don’t want them?”

But I can’t. I didn’t want them, but that doesn’t mean I am a monster. They are now my responsibility, and I take that seriously. I don’t want the blood of these fish on my hands. (Especially considering one of them technically belongs to now 5 year old Malayah. Hint Hint Roshonda lol)

So this morning when I saw this:

image She’s just doing the backfloat, right?

I was devastated. I rushed to clean the tank, put fresh water in and fed them. The one who was ill spent half the morning floating on it’s back with a pathetic attempt to flop back over every once in a while.

Zoe and I said a prayer. I didn’t think she would make it past the morning. Parker asked if she died, if we would throw it in the trash. Zoe said we would flush her down the toilet, and I said, “Yes… back to the ocean,” knowing full well what the journey through the sewer system would mean for this fish. Not pretty.

I left for a couple hours to go to lunch with Jeff for his birthday. When I came back I almost fell over. This was the sight that greeted me:


Three upright, perky swimming fish.

I think I just saved a fish’s life today.









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