Over the winter holidays, we pet-sat a Betta fish named Diamond. The fish arrived at our home in less-than-ideal physical condition. We were ill prepared to remedy his situation. But over the next few weeks we were able improve his living conditions, and he began to thrive.
Our children were in awe of this magnificent Betta named Diamond and our son asked a lot of questions about how he lived in a tank. We used the experience to explore the topic of “ownership” and the responsibilities that go along with it.
The concept of ownership is a complex topic that society seems to gloss over when it comes to children and pets. At the time Diamond arrived at our house, we had two dogs and a cat so to tell my son that we don’t support “owning pets” felt a bit convoluted.
Explaining that Diamond was likely caught in the wild and then sold to a fish store who gave him a value and issued a coupon to redeem his life to a carnival that was then presented as a “prize” won by our nephew felt like the simplified version of how Diamond came to be living on our kitchen counter.
After the holidays, Diamond went back to his home in a brand-new tank. Our kids were devastated and missed him dearly. Our son, gleaning nothing from my interpretation of Diamond’s origin story, wanted to go to the same carnival where his cousin had won him so he could have a fish of his own.
Even with imagery of a fish being swept up away from his family (thanks to “Finding Nemo”) our son was adamant that he wanted fish of his own. I explained our values and ethics surrounding animals and that once we take an animal into our home, it becomes part of the family. I elaborated that only an animal that does not have a family of their own has a need to become dependent on people and that we do not interfere with nature for our own amusement, i.e., we only take in animals as rescues.
Admittedly, my logic was a bit high level for a four-year-old, but we got there. We decided that we would put it out into the universe that if any fish needed rescuing, we would answer the call. I was content with this solution as what are the odds that we would come across fish that needed rescuing?
Apparently, the odds of finding fish that needed rescue are pretty good because within a week we were made aware of several fish that needed rescuing. We answered the call and went to the pet store to procure all the necessary fish supplies. A hundred dollars later we were ready. Well almost. We had to wait two weeks for the tank to be properly cycled and then we were ready.
The air was thick with excitement the day we brough home our fourteen rescued fish. We had a few casualties along the way, but we’ve finally found our stride as fish caretakers, and they are living their best life in a twenty-gallon tank sitting on our kitchen counter.
A good question to ask now, why am I writing about my fish? The answer is simple, I need to clean the fish tank and I don’t want to so I’m writing about it. The reason however is more complicated.
One of the most common sources of unhappiness for me personally is when I have something in front of me that needs to be done and I don’t want to do it. I can split hairs between wanting and needing something and what really is important besides spending time with those you love anyways? If today was my last day on earth, would I be remiss if I didn’t change the water in my fish tank? I can come up with an endless parade of excuses when I don’t want to do something.
However, I’ve lived enough life to know that happiness cannot be found in inaction and avoiding my responsibilities, however mundane they may be, will always spark negative consequences if ignored.
My solution to my lazy thoughts is to reflect on what the task at hand means to me on a deeper level. Why is this task in front of me in the first place? If I can frame thoughts about my actions in a manner where I can apply my ethics, my perception shifts enough for me to move from lazy to productive.
Today, this writing is my reflection. The fish tank needs to be cleaned not because it is dirty but because I promised these fish and our children that we would give them the best life possible. I have spent several months learning how to correctly clean the tank, without harming the fish, so I am responsible. Even if I wished someone else would do it for me, my ethics would not allow for it unless I was completely confident that whoever the task was passed to had sufficient knowledge to do it as well or better than I. No one in our home meets this criterion but me. The fish are depending on me.
Now I’m done writing and off to clean the fish tank.