A fishy lockdown

Last night and the night before I wanted to take some time to write, but I ended up falling asleep while putting my daughter to bed each time.

For me, perhaps the most frustrating thing about Israel’s current (2nd) pandemic-related lockdown is the diminished amount of time and space that I am left with for myself, which I primarily use for writing, reading the news, and watching the occasional movie. Even under regular circumstances, most of my free time is at night when I am not working and not parenting.

My wife and I are lucky to still have our jobs during these lockdowns, rather than being furloughed, as so many Israelis have been. In fact, my wife has a very dear friend who works as a chef for a major Jerusalem hotel who is also a single mother; and her financial situation is challenging even under normal conditions. In this regard, we have humility enough to appreciate our blessings.

Still, these lockdowns are challenging for us emotionally, and, dare I say, more so for me because my more flexible work hours mean that I end up assuming the majority of parenting responsibilities for our child during such periods (one of the reasons that her English reading and writing abilities have improved over her Russian language skills).

Perhaps I would be less frustrated with this government directive, were it not for the politics of COVID-19 in Israel. Putting aside the “why” of the matter, it is simply a fact that rates of infection in our state are significantly higher in ultra-Orthodox and Arab neighborhoods. However, despite health professionals recommending that local measures be applied to those areas, the ultra-Orthodox political parties have strong-armed the government into shutting down all of society.

Still, I am trying to remain positive.

* * *

Yesterday, our daughter had a playground playdate with a friend who showed up in a cranky mood. The little boy was mourning over his inability to attend preschool during the lockdown. I tried explaining this to my daughter, and she was clearly befuddled. “Really? I like being with you and Mama’chka more than preschool!” From her perspective, you see, lockdowns are like extended vacations.

I must admit that it’s very affirming for me to hear that our child likes being at home with us. It would seem that we’re doing something right.

[In that vein, we’ve also noticed a shift in her daily discourse over the past half year. Whereas she used to constantly ask, “Do you love me?” (and she still does occasionally). She now much more often prefers to say, “I love you” and kiss us; and since we parents are also human beings, I am not too shy to admit that we like hearing this.]

* * *

One other party in our household has benefitted from the lockdown, and that is Goldie the goldfish.

In truth, we’re learning how to take care of Goldie as we go – taking fish seriously as pets is not so simple, it seems.

Several weeks ago, we decided to get an airstone and pump for Goldie, which provides better circulation and aerates the tank water. This is not an absolute necessity, but it is generally considered healthy for the fish, and increases the efficiency of the filter. All of this was new to us.

Then, at a later date, we decided to upgrade to a bigger aquarium because the smaller tank was leaking from the top. In doing so, we learned that the water level in the smaller tank had been too high – that it should have been a bit lower than the bottom of the filter. (We also received 3 free Buenos Aires tetra fish with our purchase)

During that pet shop visit, we picked up a large, plastic “rock” with “plants” on it. However, what we came to realize is that the hollow “rock” was accumulating dirty water beneath it (leaving us to wonder why hollow aquarium decorations are sold in the first place). The “rock” has since been replaced with a sunken ship of the British Empire with a solid bottom, and our daughter is has taken to using the “rock” for her Playmobil figures’ adventures (don’t worry – we washed it).

Now our current and continuing challenge has become determining just how much to feed the four fish, as tetra fish should be fed more often than goldfish. In our research, we’ve also learned that tetra fish and goldfish are not necessarily the best tank mates, and the tetras, which are tropical, are not likely do well in colder temperatures… so they may not survive the coming Jerusalem winter.

In any case, the important thing is that our daughter is very happy to have pet fish. She takes feeding them very seriously and is still trying to decide upon names for the three tetras. We’ve warned her, of course, that they may not be long for this world… but we’ll get some replacements for her if they don’t make it.

Being home every day during this lockdown is providing us with an opportunity to monitor the aquarium… so I suppose there have been some hidden benefits to the ongoing insanity…

Goldfish > Avocado

The avocado pit that I recently attempted to grow into a tree didn’t make it. We’ll give it another try next time we purchase an avocado – I still think our daughter would enjoy watching a little avocado sapling sprouting in a glass of water.

Since the avocado tree never actually began to grow, my child (and I) never had an opportunity to grow attached to it.

* * *

By coincidence, my daughter received a goldfish from her preschool on the final day of the school year, just over one week ago. We hadn’t expected this, and, as we don’t have a car, I was slightly miffed at having to schlep the little plastic container home, water splashing out through the air holes as it swung from side to side… but in the end, after a pizza stop and an extended playground date with a friend, we all arrived in tact.

As I carried the little fish around, I could feel it bumping its head against the sides of its small plastic prison, and I knew it wouldn’t last long in such cramped quarters.

I only recall having one goldfish in my childhood, and its life was very short-lived. I won it at my childhood synagogue during an annual Purim carnival and brought it home. It never occurred to me that caring for it would require any serious commitment, nor that the water in that tiny container without a filtration system would quickly become poisonous. Also, I don’t believe it much bothered me to flush the victim of my disinterest down the toilet.

For some reason, perhaps for the same reason that I wanted to grow an avocado sapling for my 5½-year-old, I immediately saw potential in her newly acquired goldfish. I would, of course, have appreciated it if the preschool had let us know in advance about this unexpected gift, but… well… there it was, bumping its little head around.

* * *

We arrived back home at 7:00 in the PM, and I immediately had to complete a PowerPoint presentation for work. Quickly, I checked online to see how late the local pet store would be open- 9:00 PM.

I hurried to complete my work, arrived at the mall by 8:30, and ordered myself an iced cappuccino before making my way to the pet store on the 2nd floor.

As my spoken Russian is stronger than my spoken Hebrew, I was pleased that the young salesperson had a familiar accent and peppered him with a dozen different questions, which he was more than happy to answer. That night, I came home with a small aquarium with a filtration system, a bag of black pebbles, two plastic plants, and a lot of information.

Back at home, I transferred the fish to the aquarium and started scouring the Internet for further goldfish-related nuggets. Unsurprisingly, entire websites have been dedicated to the raising of goldfish, and I found myself wondering what might have been if such resources had been available during my childhood.

Some tidbits:

  • Domesticated goldfish can potentially live for ten years or more
  • They have different personalities and can get bored
  • Their diet consists of fruits, vegetables, rice, shrimp, and other things
  • Goldfish have teeth at the back of their throats
  • Instead of a stomach, they have one long intestine
  • For every year of a goldfish’s life, it develops a ring on its scaly body
  • Goldfish can see more colors than human beings
  • Once they are used to their homes, they will nibble food out of your hand.
  • They can be taught tricks, can recognize their owners, and have memories that span more than three months

* * *

At first our daughter assigned the goldfish a series of five or six names (including our last name), but eventually she settled upon ‘Goldie’, just like Peppa Pig’s goldfish. She feeds Goldie every morning, and she sometimes suggests that I peel and cut up a grape, which she cheerfully drops into the tank.

As for me, after Goldie’s first week in our home, I changed the water and rinsed the aquarium filter… so I’m doing my part in trying to keep Goldie alive. I guess we’ll see – goldfish are very cheap to buy so if Goldie doesn’t make it for some reason, we’ve already discussed our intent to get another fish. If at first we don’t succeed, we’ll try and try again.