On the way to drop my 17-year old at his part-time job, in one of those conversations where the parent feels a real connection with the kid (i.e. in the absence of the usual grunts and guttural sounds barely indicating positive or negative answers to any question posed by the parental management team) a list of endless activities were being recited when tucked in between school work and sleep was an odd errand. “I need to buy a fish.” Okay, I did not think this child was still in biology…oh I get it…Halloween. Hmm, this nice kid of mine must be planning some horrible prank in which one of his lesser peers will be forced to likely swallow the fish whole.(!!) Or worse…just the skeletal remains of the creature. Or some other poor classmate find it in their lunch at school, or perhaps this fish was destined for greatness as some unsuspecting teacher might find it at the bottom of their morning cup of coffee…(icky just the thought).
Since the 17-year old feels like chatting as I drive this kid to the gym I remind him that I do not want any more pets at my house beyond his brothers and sisters. Broad grin from this kid, “no Mom, I need it as a pet but not at home.” Sure. This child has a complete other life he keeps secret as with eight siblings he dare not say anything that he does not want made public as three of his siblings attend the same high school. A fish-pet, but not for enjoyment at our house…what is the point? “Well…is there something you want to tell me?” I ask this boy in the hopes that the confused look on my face will help to elicit more information. “Is this pet a replacement for some evil ritual killing I knew nothing about?” Posing this question has its risks should the young man decide to let me know more than I really need to know about his personal life. “No mom, I just need to have a fish.” Great… “need” whatever could one NEED a fish for?
Okay, I ask what kind of fish is required. All of a sudden too many questions…this lad of mine answers with “I just need a fish…oh and maybe a fishbowl”-Well I am now completely relieved because purchasing a fish and bowl seems almost normal. No ritual sacrifices, no plans to intimidate peers, no evidence that it will be used to torture the siblings…then again this fish will not be “living at home.”
Where do you plan to keep the fish? Thinking to myself that the boy only has his room (which is ruled out if the fish is not for home), his gym bag and occasionally borrows our car. The answer “in my locker”-what complete with water bowl and food I ask? I thought the school had rules about that. Answer back “they won’t know.” I thought you shared a locker with some girl. “I do.” Nice – the lovely couple is going to raise a fish in a high school locker. (??) What happens when it smells because you did not change it or feed it and then the vice-principal calls me…again? “I will get another Japanese Fighting Fish and it can dine on the rotting fish.” No…really? What is the point in that I query the now-quiet-teenager for even more info. “Well, we are not allowed to fight at the school so fish fights in my locker are an alternative attraction…and the girl I share the locker with is “up” for it.”-
Next I launch into a rant about how unfair it is to keep a fish in a locker period. Never mind organizing fish fights for peer entertainment or to raise oneself socially in school. It is UNFAIR to the fish. We are now at the gym, the 17-year-old is back to totally ignoring me…as he steps out of my car I ask “why?” this kid answers “You don’t get it Mom…it’s because fish don’t matter!”
As I pull out of the parking lot I am much more disturbed than I was when set out to take this child on his errands. How did I raise someone who honestly believes…”fish don’t matter”! In an attempt to get an honest night’s sleep I put it down to something I cannot ever change…inherited insensitivity from the father’s genes. Memo to self…make sure the other children value life…even if it belongs to a humble fish.
The Garden Goat