Since my daughter (E) turned 4, she has been begging us to get a pet, her very first!
We live in an apartment, so our options are limited. I finally found a clearance sale at a pet store and came home with a bowl, rocks, food, and a betta fish for a grand total of: $17.95.
And now, since E often gets “too tired to feed him,” I think we made the right choice.
There were a variety of beautiful, fluffy, colorful fish at the store, but as the sales associate tried to sell one to us, E got that 4-year-old grumpy pout on her face and said, “NO. I want Tebby.” We all turned our heads in unison toward the little plastic bowl she was pointing to. In it was something resembling a fish. Its fins weren’t very long or vibrant. One of its eyes was half-closed, and he had an unusual “bumpy” complexion around his fishy snout. He was almost half the price of the other fish too. Yes! “Sold!” Bargain acquired! “We’ll take him,” I said.
“Um, are you sure?” the saleswoman asked, showing E another neon pink betta and cooing about how he looked like a My-Little-Pony fish.
E spoke up angrily as she grabbed “Tebby” off the shelf: “I. Want. Tebby!”
“You need to say ‘please,’” I chimed in, laughing nervously.
Instead, E responded with an impatient “Let’s go,” and headed straight to checkout, with Tebby in her arms, sloshing around in his little bowl.
It was cold out, so we made sure to keep the heat on for Tebby in the car. We stopped at a rest area halfway home just to check on him.
I fussed over him like I was a new mother. I made a special lid for his bowl, so he couldn’t jump out. I did my research on bettas, like any new mom would brush up on the basics of childcare. I bombarded my husband, Mark, with questions like, “Do you think he’s cold?” “What if he’s hungry?” “Should we leave a light on for him tonight?” Mark looked up disinterested from his phone but, kindly, didn’t acknowledge that I had (obviously) lost my mind.
And, somehow, over the next few weeks, this tiny little “bargain pet,” became a member of our family. E was a little disappointed at first that she couldn’t take Tebby out for walks or snuggle with him at nighttime. She stared at him a lot the first day he was home, wondering about how she could interact with him. But shortly after, I came into the living room to find her cooing at him, with her arms wrapped around his bowl, forehead pressed against the glass, telling him that it was OK that he had to live in water for the rest of his life, that they could still be friends. Four weeks later, and I still find that she’s left him new toys next to his bowl each day, and he seems to love exploring these little “treasures” she’s stacked there for him. He’s even grown a bit, has gotten more vibrant, and looks a little more ‘fishy.’
I’ve continued to seek out more betta information and found out that they like to fight for exercise. I told Mark, “They suggest getting a mirror, so that they can ‘spar’ with their reflection.” Mark said that wouldn’t be necessary. He and Tebby have been having evening “tournaments.” Mark gets in front of his bowl in a fighting stance and says in his best Mark Wahlberg voice, “Hey Tebby. You lookin’ at me? You must be lookin’ at me, ‘cause I don’t see anyone else ‘heah.’” Then he starts throwing punches and getting in Tebby’s face. As far as I can tell (from a flailing tail and puffy fins), Tebby seems to LOVE this.
Of course, I’m the one who cleans the bowl, and feeds him (when everyone else forgets). I talk baby talk to him and smush my face against the glass. So, I think we’ve settled into our pet-care roles just swimmingly! For more pics of Tebby and our family adventures, you can follow us on Instagram at: @TebbyAndDot.
And, just in case there are any other fellow fish-owners out there, or if you’re considering it, I’m including a list of fishy questions your toddler will most likely ask — the kind of questions that you’ll be too embarrassed to ask the pet-store associate. I’ve already Googled them for you to save you some time (and embarrassment, in case the FBI ever confiscates your computer and finds out that you were researching “fish farts”):
Q: Do fish sleep?
A: Yes! Fish don’t have eyelids, so you won’t see them with eyes closed, snuggling in their plant (or hitting snooze for the 5th time after a night of wine and Netflix), but they do get very still in the water and rest in their plant or rocks for short periods of time, typically when the room is quiet and dark.1
Q: How do fish “breathe”?
A: They take in oxygen from the water, through their gills.2
Q: Do fish fart?
A: Unfortunately, no. Tebby is on an all-protein diet, so if he could, I’m sure he would. As a writer for the San Diego Reader so eloquently wrote, “Fish don’t get gassy when they digest, so you won’t see any guppies tooting around the tank.” Air doesn’t get into their guts and, if it did, the fish would probably float!3
Q: Where do fish poop from?
A: I don’t feel knowledgeable enough about fish anatomy to answer this, so I’m going to let someone named “Rain Drop” from the betta-fish forum handle this one: “The ‘betta butt’ is located in between their ventral fins, which is just before their bottom fin. Yes [the poop] will fall off if [the betta] is in regular health.”4
Q: Do (betta) fish bite?
A: I can’t speak for all feisty fish, but I’ve discovered that betta fish can bite. However, it’s comparable to being gently poked with a pencil eraser. They don’t have teeth, and won’t cause injury.4