Thursday, September 06, 2007

Betty the Beta

In honor of a friend, who recently acquired a new Beta family member, I've been inspired to share the Betty the Beta story.

To paint the picture in our house at the time: It was 2004 and we had just pulled up roots and moved from Texas to Florida. We had been here about 2 months. The boxes were finally unpacked and the empty ones collapsed and put away. 3 year-old Anna was in her two day a week preschool but 20-month old Sarah was having a difficult time adjusting to the move still. Completely on a whim while at the Pet Store (a great place to kill time when you know nobody and your kids are driving you crazy) I decided to bring home a fish. Not that I had any knowledge about fish, not that I actually had a huge affinity for fish, not that we really needed another pet (fish aren't great companions for dogs you know), but just because. I was thinking of a cute little goldfish in a round bowl a la Stanley on Playhouse Disney's Dennis. The Pet Shop lady told me goldfish are dirty fish and need their bowls cleaned all the time if they aren't in a filtered tank. She talked me into the Beta "who only needs to have his bowl cleaned once a week. Some people even keep them in a glass vase under a plant". Famous last words, right?

My husband definitely thought I had lost my mind. I told him it was because the girls were begging to have one. This was probably true but I think he was more right in his assessment of my reasons than I was.

Have you ever realized that the cheap $2 fish is really not just $2? There's the bowl, the food, the net, the special water, the bowl decorations, the special rock for the bottom, aquarium salt, etc, etc, etc.... about $25 later (it might have been more) we had what we thought we needed. Anna named him Betty and since she was only 3 we didn't belabor the point that Betty is a girl's name and the fish was actually a boy.

Thus began the crazy routine of making sure his habitat was clean and satisfactory. He needed his tank cleaned twice a week without fail. He needed special distilled water which I had to remember to pick up from the grocery store. We fed him his special Beta food and watched him make his beautiful bubble nests. I chased him around his bowl to get him out and into another container so I could clean his tank, fake plants, and rocks, then put him back in and hope I hadn't stressed him out too badly. I'd heard that they'll accidentally commit suicide by jumping out of their bowls so I was always paranoid he'd flip out and Bella the Whippet would be on him like a flash, licking her chops before I could even blink. Anna and Sarah would be right at my elbow every time Betty needed attention, eager to help and watching my every move.

Shortly after we got him he started to have this weird white stuff hanging off of his body. I jumped on the internet ( and quickly became a Beta Fish Nurse. We were committed to this little guy now. Sarah and Anna jumped out of bed every morning and had to say Hello to Betty first thing. They loved him. I couldn't let him just get flushed (of course it was past the warranty time frame). I had to run down to the specialized fish store . This all came to light on Saturday morning, of course, and after some frantic phone calls around town I finally found this place open and with someone who sounded like they knew what they were talking about . So I drove an hour, round-trip, to get fungus medicine which had to go in his bowl every third day. I hovered and watched over that silly critter until he got better. Every time I passed by his bowl I had to look to see if he showed even the smallest amount of improvement. My life was being taken over by a fish. I felt totally responsible for his little fishy life because I was the one who brought him home.

I've had this problem my whole life. Last weekend we were at the beach and I let Anna and Sarah bring home a real live Sand Dollar. I've felt guilty from the minute we got home because I know that it meant they have died from our hands. No matter that they are no different than a perch we might catch and eat. I couldn't eat the crawfish I caught with my grandfather when I was 13. I could never hunt. The movie Bambi upset me every time. I'll even fork over a fortune in medical care for our crazy dog that regularly strews trash around my living room floor if left out of her crate when we've left the house. Guilt can be a horrible thing . I'm sure I need therapy.

After a while the fungus cleared up and Betty was happily making bubbles at the top of his bowl again. Here is the part where I shake my head and take all responsibility. It was another Saturday morning. Anna and Sarah in their toddler and preschooler ways were up way too early for a Saturday morning. We got them settled with a little video and some toys and slipped back into bed for a few more minutes of a light snooze. After a little bit we heard some rustling noises in the kitchen and a lot of whispering. We came in to investigate only to find poor Betty in a plastic cup of extremely cold, straight from the fridge, regular water. I can only imagine why his poor fins were shaggy when two small people were trying to wrangle him out of his bowl. I swear he looked at me and squeaked "help me!". The girls grinned at me, unaware that I was horrified, and said "Mommy, we're helping you clean Betty's bowl!". I got him back into warm, distilled, slightly salty water as fast as I could but he swam kind of sideways the rest of the day, barely moving, and by the next morning was belly up. I was completely devastated.

Hoping to instill a lesson in the hearts of our children, we thought that rather than flush him, we'd have a "funeral". Anna decided that was a fantastic idea and went to work to make a little decorated box to be his "coffin". She had way too much enthusiasm. I honestly think they couldn't make the connection between what they had done that morning and the death of our fish. We had a little ceremony in the back garden and said goodbye to Betty. Mike made me promise NOT to buy any more fish to replace him. His opinion is that any more fish in our family need their own filtered tank that only needs the rare water change.