My sister did a terrible thing.
She had just graduated from college. (That was not the terrible thing.)
She came to stay with us awhile. (That wasn’t it either.)
She taught us about printmaking and painting and other Useful Art Skills. (All good.)
Then one day, she bought the kids a pet. (That. That was it.)
My husband and I are not pet people, for so many reasons. There’s the shedding and the cleaning and the poop, the vet bills, the food bills, the litter. And animals smell like animals.
I am not sure which part of this is supposed to be appealing, but clearly I am lacking the section of the brain that appreciates whatever it is.
I understand that other people like pets. I affirm the importance of animals, you know, in the world. We just don’t want to raise any ourselves. We feel like being people-raisers is challenging enough at this juncture. We don’t need to complicate matters with things like fur and mortality.
Because I hate to be a downer, but: unless you get a sea turtle, you are going to outlive your pet.
And then you will have to Dispose Of The Body. I saw that on CSI one time—it involves an oriental rug and a swamp. We do not have an oriental rug. We don’t even have a swamp.
We settled Rainbow—a beautiful, multicolored betta—into a jar in the kids’ bathroom. Bettas are fighting fish, but ours is quite docile unless we accidentally set the Kleenex box nearby. The Kleenex is his mortal enemy.
“Fish Don’t Live Long,” we intoned. (Because you guys, fish don’t live that long.)
My kids can form an instant-but-everlasting attachment to a Trader Joe’s sticker. They love deeply, and somewhat indiscriminately. Yesterday we had tears for an hour over a broken Silly Bandz. I foresee discussion of the eventual demise of Rainbow going on for the rest of my life. I’m just trying to prepare them a little.
But it’s been months now, and Rainbow is still swimming around in there, as happy as a fish in a jar can be.
“You said fish didn’t live very long,” Sadie, who is five, pointed out the other day.
“And that is TRUE,” I told her. “Very, very true.”
“You know how sometimes Daddy eats fish? I was thinking, when Rainbow dies, maybe he could be a little snack for Daddy.”
“Oh no,” I said. “No no no. We do not eat pets.”
“But other people do?” (She was filing this in her brain under “things that are unusual about our family.” Already on that list: the vegetarian thing, the homeschool thing, the home birth thing… honestly, it’s a long list. I can see why she thought it might encompass pet eating.)
“No! Nobody eats pets, baby. Nobody.”
“None of the people on the earth.” I thought of small-scale farmers. I thought of backyard chickens. I thought of a fish called Wanda. I lied. “No one at all.”
Not that flushing the fish is going to make her any happier, but some things we have to face. Some things there is no avoiding, not really, not forever. Some things are sad.
“Are you sure?”
“I am sure.”
“Okay.” Her lip quivered. “But now I feel sad thinking about Daddy eating Rainbow.”
And you know what? I think we would all feel sad about that.