the fish

Finn got a fish for his fifth birthday. Like all fish gifted to children, this was not his top choice. Fish is the participation medal of the pet kingdom. Fish is the pet you give your child because it requires only slightly more attention than, say, a pet extension cord or a pet scented candle.

Finn was initially disappointed at the rows of goldfish in the fish store. But then everything changed: We came across a Pharaoh-like bright blue fish – a Fighting Fish!! Finn’s excitement regenerated like a molten Terminator. Bettas had to be kept isolated because they would actually fight other fish! (So you can pack goldfish into tanks so thickly it looks like a shaken snow globe but these fish can’t be in the same fish room together without whupping each other? Animals, man. I don’t get them.)

Finn named his fish Bluey. On the way home he amended that to Bluey Louie Fish-Grennan, which was then shortened to Louie Grennan and then to just Louie. Louie was Finn’s fish and they grew up together.

Then, a couple of months ago, we went to Israel for a week. Our dog was taken care of, but what of Louie? Our sweet friends, Lisa and Gil, offered to look after him. They promised Finn they would take amazing care of him.

Louie, of course, died immediately.

That threw our friends into a panic because they did everything right and then boom, Louie’s dead. In an even greater panic, they went out and bought an identical Louie who they called Louie 2. They must have apologized a thousand times. (And yes, I have since learned about dissolving fish food and automatic feeding machines so don’t @ me, people.)

Finn took the news of the demise well. We explained Louie was old for a betta and that he’d had a good life. These were somewhat meaningless platitudes because how would I possibly know if the fish had a good life? But if you are a fish with basically zero brain cells and humans are feeding you and cleaning your tank for you, that’s gotta be a pretty great life, right? Also, Louie had a plastic yellow submarine in his tank.

The upshot of all this is that we have another fish: Louie 2. And at first I wasn’t sure how I felt about fish part two, what with the years ahead of feeding and tank-cleaning.

But I realize there seems to be something fundamentally good about having a fish in your house.

Not because it entertains you. And not because it shows you any affection (it doesn’t, trust me). It’s good because every time Finn walks in his bedroom, he knows that there is something in there that is completely and totally reliant on him.

Yesterday, as I was cleaning Louie’s tank, it got me thinking about that kind of reliance.

If Louis 2 is anything like me, he’s thinking that he has it all under control. He swims around, he’s got his yellow submarine and his little Nemo figurine and his blue tree and his colorful stones, and every night he strolls up to the surface and he grabs some food that we’ve dropped into the tank.

And slowly, day by day, his tank gets cloudy and murky, and it’s harder to see, but whatever, right? His food is still coming.

But then, last week, Finn and I both forgot to feed Louie for a couple of days. (It’s okay, fish advocates: fish can survive that.) When we did feed him, two days later, Louie raced for the surface and grabbed that food hungrily.

Then, a few days after that, I had to capture Louie in a net to get him out so I could clean his tank. He tried to evade me, but when I finally got him back into that clean tank, he swam like crazy. He had gotten lethargic in that cloudy tank.

Now, Louie 2 was probably thinking nothing at all, with his tiny brain. But this is what I imagined him thinking:

I imagined a moment of realization for Louie 2 when the food wasn’t coming. I imagined him realizing, for the first time, that he was completely and utterly reliant on something greater. I imagined the resistance and fear he felt when I scooped him out to clean his tank, only to come back to something better.

Louie 2, after all, can’t feed himself and he can’t purify his own environment. He has absolutely no chance, no matter how hard he works at it. Which seems obvious to us.

Yet here I am, the highly evolved, well-educated father and husband, believing I can do all this myself.

I can’t. I know this, because of the times I have been without work. I know this because of the times I have sunk into a dark place. 

In those times I resist help all the more fiercely. Like Louie 2, I run from that net that is swooping around, trying to save me. I got this, I tell myself.

I isolate myself and fight off anyone who tries to get close. And still the provision isn’t coming, and still my environment is getting murkier, and so I isolate myself further.

But that was the Old Me.

The New Me has a different perspective. The New Me knows that I do much better when I rely on something greater. And I do much better when I open up to my friends about the darkness I am in.

It is a lesson I have to learn again and again. But it’s worth it. Because I can’t do this alone.

Okay, it’s time to get back to the important issue here: Childhood pets. Which leads us to….

The Top Five Parakeets I Had Growing Up.

1.) Quiet Parakeet.

I named my first parakeet Joey because that’s what I thought baby parakeets were called: joeys. (It turns out that’s what baby kangaroos are called but I didn’t figure that out until later.) I spent a full week trying to teach it to talk. I repeated my name to Joey over and over, for hours at a time. Then my sister came in and told me parakeets can’t talk, that I was confusing them with parrots. Then Joey died.

2.) Parakeet Twins.

I count these two as one parakeet. I thought it would be a good idea to get two and name them Joey 1 and Joey 2 because this was still before I knew that it was baby kangaroos that were called joeys, not baby parakeets. Joey 2 always stared at himself in the little yellow parakeet mirror. (It didn’t look like a great relationship.)

3.) Uncooperative Parakeet.

I called this parakeet Joey 3. If parakeets weren’t able to talk, I was pretty sure it could learn to sit on my finger. So I put my finger inside the cage and held very still. Then I realized it might hurt if its claws dug into my finger, so I found this fake rubber finger I got for Halloween that looked like a monster finger. I don’t know why I had a monster finger – what kind of costume is that? A single finger? Joey 3 never sat on it though. Maybe it was afraid of the monster finger.

4.) Free Range Parakeet.

The next parakeet I also named Joey 3, because I lost count and forgot I already had a Joey 3. I decided this parakeet would just live in my room, not his cage, so I took him out of the cage and let him fly around my room. He flew out my window. When I went to bed that night I realized he had also pooped on my bed, which made me miss him a little less.

5.) The Dozen Escaped Parakeets.

One April Fools day, I was maybe eleven, somebody, as a prank, let out about a dozen parakeets inside the Vassar College student center. I grew up basically on Vassar campus. My friend Chris and I spent the day chasing them and managed to capture three of them. I didn’t get to keep them, but now I know I can capture parakeets in a large open area.

The moral here is get your kids low maintenance pets. That’s pretty much all I got.

By | 2018-06-06T12:14:40-04:00 June 6th, 2018|15 Comments


  1. Heather Barnett June 6, 2018 at 12:15 pm - Reply

    Fish are a peaceful lot. I’m sure Louie 2 will bring a lot of happiness. Thank you for your insights every week.

    • Conor June 6, 2018 at 12:37 pm - Reply

      When you have a big old dog, fish ARE remarkably peaceful. I have to lean into that more. Thanks Heather!

  2. Liz June 6, 2018 at 1:56 pm - Reply

    Pet scented candle.

    • Conor June 6, 2018 at 2:15 pm - Reply

      I want one already. Just not our pet.

  3. Amy June 6, 2018 at 5:19 pm - Reply

    If I could get a pet scented candle that had that Frito-like smell of a sleeping puppy, I would be totally on board!

    • Conor June 6, 2018 at 11:38 pm - Reply

      I cannot eat enough Fritos. I’ve tried but I’ve never hit my limit.

  4. dorian June 6, 2018 at 5:24 pm - Reply

    I killed my neighbor’s coy in their backyard pond ($$$$) while they were on vacation. Who knew they ate so little? I can totally relate to the trama Gil and Lisa felt!

    • Conor June 6, 2018 at 11:38 pm - Reply

      They need to just control their eating! That’s on the coy!

  5. Mark June 6, 2018 at 10:29 pm - Reply

    Now I can tell Laura that she’s nicknamed after Finn’s blue fighting fish. Which is oddly appropriate.

    • Conor June 6, 2018 at 11:39 pm - Reply

      She needs to dress up like a blue Cleopatra.

  6. jerilynn June 7, 2018 at 10:31 am - Reply

    We had two fish Harry and Ron. They lived in a National Geographic tank with a periscope to look at the fish in their natural habitat. The beauty of goldfish, is they are “fungible”. More than once I called my husband at work to say he would need to pick up a new fish on his way home. Our son, Sam, just thought Ron kept growing or Harry had changed color a little over night…… Later in life we shared this sad truth with our children, about one of our weak parenting moments not wanting to deal with talking about the death of a pet.

    • Conor June 18, 2018 at 9:06 am - Reply

      Death of a pet is the WORST. (Relatively speaking, I know.) Dreading those moments. I know it’s a learning opportunity but would really love to avoid that discussion forever and ever….

  7. Crystal June 17, 2018 at 8:23 am - Reply

    My parents always said “no” to pets so when I became a parent, I said yes. This let to a farm of small creatures and a tadpole tank. It took years for natural to whittle that down and when the last chicken passed, my youngest (main farmer, critter lover) said, “I don’t want to be a farmer anymore!” It was the disappointment but also, we had to hire a person to stay in our home to take care of the lizard, fish, cats, dogs, ducks, quail, chickens and bunnies. (Dear God how did it come to this?) our vacations were always 2-3 weeks (cha-ching) it was a lot of fun but labor intensive.

    • Conor June 18, 2018 at 9:06 am - Reply

      I’ve always been jealous of chicken people. They seem like the best kind of people. I just don’t know if I have the backbone to raise chickens – even the fish I get weary of feeding.

  8. Crystal June 17, 2018 at 8:26 am - Reply

    My parents always said “no” to pets so when I became a parent, I said “yes”. This led to a farm of small creatures and a tadpole tank. It took years for nature to whittle that down and when the last chicken passed, my youngest (main farmer, critter lover) said, “I don’t want to be a farmer anymore!” It was the disappointment but also, we had to hire a person to stay in our home to take care of the lizard, fish, cats, dogs, ducks, quail, chickens and bunnies. (Dear God how did it come to this?) our vacations were always 2-3 weeks (cha-ching) it was a lot of fun but labor intensive.

Leave A Comment

When Lucy was born, I had some kind of notion…