For many years, my husband, kids, and I lived happily as a pet-free family. Now we have a fish.
For some couples, the road to a family starts with a pet. Maybe someone came to the relationship with a cat, or they jointly decided to get a dog. Or a bird.
Not my husband and me. We went straight to having a child, and whenever someone suggested we get a dog, I'd look at them like they were crazy. Who in their right mind decides to get a pet at the exact same time they have a baby or toddler?
By the time our second child came along, we were still pet-free—which suited me just fine. And even as they grew, my kids didn't seem to care all that much. My oldest would occasionally, somewhat longingly, say things like, "I wish we could have a dog," or "Why can't we have a cat?" and my answers allowed me to be both sympathetic and unwavering. "I know sweetie, but our landlord doesn't allow dogs," and "Because Daddy's allergic."
But recently something changed. My 9-year-old decided that he really, really wanted a fish, and his pleas didn't stop. So one Sunday, off we went to the neighborhood pet store, where after much discussion (no, we're not getting a saltwater tank. No, we're not getting a tank at all. What kind of fish can live in a bowl?) we finally came home with one beautiful red Betta fish.
Bettas are considered a popular, easy "starter" fish—and that's exactly what I (if not my kids) had in mind when we set off to buy a fishy friend. According to the sales guy who helped us, we could get by with one male, in a medium-sized bowl, and not have to fuss with a filter or cleaning a huge tank. Plus, apparently Bettas can live for several years. With any luck, we wouldn't be dealing with a ceremonial toilet-flushing any time soon. (Although, as I soon learned via Facebook, some of my friends didn't have such lengthy relationships with their Bettas.)
We named our new family member on the way home: Sparky Alpha Red Finn—or Finn, for short. (Hey, show dogs have crazy names, why not a fish?) Finn's full "show" name represents everything we all threw out as an option, and the one thing we finally all agreed upon. Among the long list of benefits a pet can bring to a family: learning to compromise.
While I admit I wasn't super-thrilled about the idea of a pet fish at first, it's been heartwarming to see how much my kids love taking care of Finn—clamoring over who gets to drop his twice-daily pinches of fish food in the bowl; changing the water on schedule—and I find myself greeting him with genuine enthusiasm now, and admiring his lovely fanned fins and the cute way he darts about in his bowl.
I've even started researching tanks...
Erika Janes is the digital director of Parents.com. Her childhood pet was a cat who was not named Hot Dog, as she suggested.