On Bettas and Beauty
One afternoon my husband took my son, Jasper, shopping. They wanted to give me some quiet time in the house. Jasper came home with a clear glass cookie jar and a small plastic container, like the ones you get at the deli counter for potato salad.
“Mommy, I got a Siamese Fighting Fish, and it only cost me eight dollars!”
“What’s wrong with this picture?” I thought.
Jasper had received a lesson in economics. He bought a rather plain Betta at Petco and got a real deal. He also saved money by buying the fish jar at Walmart. And he intended to use his own tumbled rocks on the bottom of the jar for decoration, at no cost at all.
So what’s wrong with that? Why didn’t I feel happy for him? He had no connection to the fish, only the cost. “Do you have a name for the fish?”
“No, but I’ll call him something Siamese. He comes from Siam.” “Sweetheart there is no Siam any more. I think your fish was probably born in New Jersey.”
“Well it doesn’t really matter. He comes with a 30-day guarantee, so if he dies, I can just get another one.”
I made a little gasp and realized this pet would never be loved. I named him Jersey Boy, and asked Jasper what kind of environment he wanted to create for the fish to live in.
“Just the rocks. It doesn’t really matter to him. He’s just a fish.”
This wasn’t the way I was hoping my child would feel about a new pet. And I made a tough decision – Jersey Boy needed to be returned. There was no bond.
Normally my empathy would lie with the fish and I’d want to rescue him from his life of misery and give him a new home. But I felt this fish had to be sacrificed in order for Jasper to learn.
We brought Jersey Boy back to Petco. I waited in the aisle while Jasper made the return. I felt so sorry for the fish I just couldn’t watch. Jasper put his eight dollars back in his pocket.
“Ok, sweetheart, let’s try this again. You don’t have to buy one if none of them are any good.” I held very little hope for the quality of fish in Petco.
We wandered over to the Betta Gallery and starting picking up the little plastic deli containers, trying to see what they held. They were so small, and only half-filled with water, so the Bettas were floating sideways, fins in, because there was no room to fan out. I tried not to think about it too much. This trip was for Jasper, not me, and Jasper didn’t know any better.
Jasper must’ve lifted 20 containers and put them back down with a shake of his head. “Nothing here, Mom. You were right.”
As we started to leave the store he found another display of Bettas - these shelves slightly higher, with a little more light. Immediately, his eyes went to one fish. Deep red and electric blue, full-finned and full of fight. This Betta wanted out.
“This is it, Mommy, this is the one!” Jasper’s eyes lit up as he lifted the container for me to see.
“Do you have a name for him?” “I don’t know. His fins are so big and so soft, like big velvet fans. Look at the creases in this one – he has ruffles…”
“Then Ruffles it is. And you can call him Ruff.”
Jasper held Ruffles close to his chest, never letting go, even when he fumbled to get 14 dollar-coins (he’d saved them from Easter) out of his pocket.
“It was worth the money, Mommy, I love him so much. Now I want to get really cool stuff for his tank!”
We got in the car and went to another fish store, this time a mom-and-pop shop, where the people were passionate about their fish. The owner was eager to educate us about how to change the water and preserve the pH of the tank, how to condition the water to help Ruffle’s skin, how to choose food that would make him healthy, and how to create an environment that Ruffles would enjoy. He told us when Bettas are happy, their colors are brighter and they blow little bubbles to make bubble-nests.
“Look at this coral fan! Ruff will love hiding behind this. And this branch! No, no that one might rip his fin. How about some grass? I bet he’ll love to peek at us from behind this grass. Every fish has to have grass, Mom. Yes, we can definitely make all this fit....”
And so it went. We won't be returning to Petco. We set up an account with mom-and-pop. Over time, I hope Jasper will learn about aeration, filtration and light. And I hope someday there will be more fish and real tanks instead of cookie jars.
But for now, at least Ruffles has a happy home. And Jasper has learned the difference between economics and love.
Living things must be chosen with the heart. And yes, we’ve got the bubble-nest to prove it.