A Fish Called Wanda

Posted: October 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Kate's Friends, Miss Kate, Pets, Shopping | 5 Comments »

At a dinner party my sister hosted once, one of her guests left the table to use the bathroom and his boyfriend leaned over and whispered, “I’m sorry that Roger’s not been himself. He’s been a total wreck ever since Brenda died.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” my sis responded. “I didn’t know… Who—if I may ask—was Brenda?”

“Our cat,” the man said solemnly.

This just slayed my sister and me. Not that her friends’ beloved pet had croaked, but their cat’s name. I mean, really. How many cats out there are named Brenda?

Last week we had a playdate with a boy from Kate’s class. He, as it turns out, has two cats (neither of whom are named Brenda), two rats (who were surprisingly loveable), several fish, and a yard full of carnivorous plants.

His mother read in this here blog about our attempts at buying a fish for Kate. Our failed attempts. And as a self-described “fishaholic,” she kindly offered to give me a crash course. Call it Fish 101.

A bargain-hunter after my own heart, Fish Mama emailed me links to used tanks on Craig’s List. She offered to escort us to a pet store to pick out some finned friends when our tank was up and running. And in the meantime, she invited us to hang out at her house to meet their menagerie of pets and meat-eating plants.

Needless to say, it was incredibly thoughtful and helpful. I’d put my incompetence on display, and she was throwing me a lifeline. One that might get us closer to making good on Kate’s birthday present, instead of having to sell her on the benefits of a pet rock or imaginary puppy.

Besides, this mom and I had been meaning to get together for over a year now. Ever since I sent her a crazy-lady email following her visit to Kate’s school when she talked to the kids about her job sending robots to space for NASA. Yes, it was the most impossibly cool “What Mommy Does for Work” classroom presentation ever. One which NO MORTAL COULD EVER FRICKIN’ HOPE TO FOLLOW.

And yet, even though I lashed out at her that she’d set the bar stratospherically high (no pun intended) for the rest of us, she was genteel and friendly, even suggesting we get together some time.

Anyway, if you’d seen how overwhelmed and utterly inept Mark and I were in our recent efforts to buy Kate a fish, you might’ve thought to yourself, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to buy a kid a goldfish.”

But for us, apparently it does.

Although, as it turned out it didn’t work out that way. Because the day after our playdate—in which I was indoctrinated into the world of fish and filters and cleaning out tanks and led to believe how easy it all could be—the girls and I ducked into a bird store. A local little place that looks trapped in the 70′s, next door to our favorite ice cream shop. And there, tucked away on the back wall, Kate fell in love with a bluish, purplish fish—a betta. Just a single little dude swimming around in an old-school glass fishbowl.

I immediately tossed in the towel on the idea of an entire aquarium. And that Saturday, while I was out of town visiting a friend, Mark and the girls brought that little, inexpensive, low-maintenance bundle of love home.

For all its flowy beauty and apparent lack of brawn, it turns out the thing’s a pretty aggressive “Siamese fighting fish.” So much so that you can’t have more than one of them in a bowl at a time. I guess it turns into some sort of back-alley pit bull willing to fight to the death. Not very good at working and playing with others. Looking at the puny, femmy thing, it seems unbelievable—like calling an orchid a bully—though I have no intention of testing how amicable our new fishy friend really is.

Bettas are also one of those animals where the males get the all pretty colors and the females are more drab and dull. So the shopkeeper informed the girls that our new family member is a “he.” This fact meant little to Kate, who is resolute in her determination to believe that all the dolls, stuffed animals, inchworms, ladybugs, butterflies, and snails that she ever encounters and takes under her wing are girls. In Queen Kate’s world being a girl is the only option.

When I returned home late in the afternoon of Fish Acquisition Day, Kate raced to meet me at the door and yanked me by my armĀ  to our built-in hutch, the home of the new fishbowl. She stood in front of it, then jumped aside to do a Big Reveal (all HGTV-like) and to make the very special introduction. “Mama,” she said, her eyes shining with glee, “this is our new fish. Her name is… KAREN!”

Yes, Karen.

A week later, Mark brought a snail home from the pet store. And not because Karen was lonely (though I have fretted about that). No, Mark bought it because he’d read [Warning: The following content may not be suitable for all readers] snails EAT THE FISH’S POOP.

What, you may wonder, is the upside of that vile fact? You have to clean the fish bowl less often, of course. And we’re all about low maintenance here. (And yes, I’m currently in the R & D Phase of creating a strain of snails that you can stick in baby diapers. I know, I know—it’s GENIUS.)

After plunking the snail into the fishbowl to commune with Karen, Mark stood back and asked the girls, “What do you think we should name it?” And without a second’s thought Kate blurted out, “CARLOS!” As if she’d always known that she’d someday name a snail that.

Of COURSE his name would be Carlos. Duh.

So then, we’ve got Karen the male fighting fish, and Carlos the shit-eating snail. I take back anything I ever said about Brenda the cat.


5 Comments on “A Fish Called Wanda”

  1. 1 Matt C said at 10:46 pm on October 26th, 2011:


    In college, my roommate had a striped bass for a pet, in a very large tank. Very peaceful to just stare at, and people would come in to do just that. They would also come in when it was feeding time, which was very entertaining because to food was living minnows!
    As far as I can recall, the striped bass had no name…

  2. 2 tracey - justanothermommy said at 8:48 am on October 27th, 2011:

    :) Those names are just as good as any others I’ve heard. Tell her we need a good name for a puppy. Boy or girl, we haven’t found it yet. But we need a name. And we’re all absolutely incapable of coming up with ANYTHING.

  3. 3 Ruby Raecke said at 9:04 am on October 27th, 2011:

    We had a Betta named Chet which I named after my sister’s friend BRENDA’s pug named Chet. I thought that name was hilarious and it still makes me laugh even though Chet is long gone:)
    I love your stories, Bruno!

  4. 4 kristen said at 1:29 pm on October 27th, 2011:

    Matt: Sounds like drugs were involved. College kids staring at fish because they are “peaceful?” Drugs.

    Tracey: I love the idea of Kate doing professional naming. I will talk to her about a name for a dog and will get back to you–for a fee. Better yet, I’ll just have her agent call you.

    Ruby: I think I dated someone named Chet growing up in Rhode Island…

  5. 5 Guest Post: Mommy See, Mommy Do | Working Moms Break said at 6:46 am on May 24th, 2012:

    [...] Thankfully I sleep with an immensely brilliant being every night. My husband Mark that is, not our cat. (Okay, so we don’t even have a cat, but I couldn’t exactly pretend we sleep with our fish Karen.) [...]

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