My sons have teased me about whether I got the right kids when I left the hospital after giving birth. The teasing results from the fact that they dearly love dogs and cats and I can tolerate them but there is no way I can get silly or lovey-dovey with them.
My teenaged daughter and I had all we could do to keep our home reasonably clean in spite of having five little boys running around. They wanted us to allow their dogs inside the house but we didn't want to clean up behind animals, too, so their requests fell on deaf ears. We had a nice warm barn that made a suitable home for the cows as well as the boys' smaller pets. They could spend all the time they wanted with their animals as long as it was done somewhere other than inside the house.
My mother, their doting grandma, did respond to her grandsons' pleas. She said I should let them have an aquarium and some tropical fish. "You never really have to clean up behind fish," she reassured me. It took me a few minutes to realize she was talking about something she had already put into motion. She had what she called a small aquarium for them out in her car. The boys made a beeline outdoors to see their prize.
We helped lug a huge glass box into the living room. The boys followed with a shopping bag filled with what she considered necessities for their new pets. Grandma wanted the fish to have a pretty environment. There were brightly colored pebbles and marbles among an assortment of other accessories, some sort of seaweed-like green plants, a pump and filter and , just for fun, a miniature castle for the new pets to swim in and around.
She had snails whose job it was to munch away on any scum and help keep the water clean. Then, of course, there were the fish themselves. Grandma brought a variety of them which included black speckled fish, some white ones with see-through wing-like appendages, some almost too tiny to see but which were expected to multiply quickly and a few more familiar looking varieties. The boys were thrilled. Daughter Ann and I remained skeptical. Our only experience with fish was a goldfish she won at a bazaar years earlier and which entertained her for about 3 days before it was found floating belly-up in its bowl. It was not a traumatic time for our little daughter because evidently Ann and Goldie had not bonded. Ann's comment when she saw it was, "I guess we might as well flush him back to the ocean."
Now we hauled buckets of water to the living room to fill the new aquarium and put the plastic water-filled bags holding the fish into it. The bags floated there until we thought the fish had become acclimated to the fresh water and could be freed. The first thing the guys wanted to do was feed them. We carefully rationed out the amounts having been warned about overfeeding. It was fun to see the fish race one another to the surface to snag a flake of food. But that is where the fun ended for me.
Those snails didn't do their job very well. In no time the water was cloudy and ugly and needed to be changed. Grandma's statement, "You don't really have to clean up behind fish," rankled in the back of my mind. What a chore it proved to be to net the evasive little fish. We housed them in an enamel basin while we emptied gallons and gallons of smelly water. We flushed the pebbles and scrubbed the outside of the castle before refilling the tank. We allowed the water to come to room temperature and hours later returned the fish to their domain.
I considered cutting down on the time needed by warming the water a bit but remembered my sister telling about her week caring for a friend's fish. She wanted to be sure everything was perfect when her friend returned so she cleaned the tank, boiled the water and when it cooled, put the fish into it. She did not realize she had boiled the oxygen out of the water. It wasn't long before the nice clean tank had a school of fish doing the back float.
We lived with the fish for several months until the day I came up from the basement where I had been doing laundry and heard what sounded like water splashing in the living room. The boys were nowhere in sight but the fish tank had a hole about half way up and water was spouting out in a large arc. I ran to the bathroom to get the diaper pail to catch as much of it as I could. The guilty parties returned to admit, "We were playing flying cars and one of them bumped it."
The fish were rescued and taken to town to live with my friend Rosy's fish. I don't remember ever claiming them back.