When Kelli was in the fourth grade, her teacher, Mrs. Moody, used nature and wildlife a lot in her lessons. They raised chickens, went on nature walks at Willoughby Farms near her school, and had lizards and other creatures in the classroom.
One of the biggest class projects involved raising tadpoles to put in the pond at Willoughby Farms. Apparently they were also available to take home, which I did not know about until I got the following phone call:
Kelli: "Hi mom, I just got home from school. Can I have a tadpole?"
Mom: "What? No! Eww, what are you going to do with it?"
Kelli: "Keep it until it turns into a frog. Then keep the frog."
Mom: "No, I am not having a tadpole in my house. It will turn into a frog overnight and I'll find it hopping around and it will scare me. I don't want reptiles in my house."
Kelli: "It's an AMPHIBIAN, Mom! Duh! Uh, I already brought one home. I named it Elvis. Can't we keep it? Please? I'll take care of it!"
She named it Elvis. How could I resist? So I found a fishbowl and we kept the tadpole. And we kept a close eye on the tadpole. I told her as soon as it starting showing froggy tendencies, it was outta here, and she agreed. We kept it for quite a while, and once it started growing legs, we turned it loose in the pond.
As soon as she said her goodbyes and let him go, she turned to me with that face and those eyes and said "can I get a fish?" What a surprise. I told her no, aquariums are too much work. She could have a fish in a bowl. She argued but eventually realized a fishbowl was better than nothing.
And so Larry joined our family.
She loved Larry. She talked to him, did her homework by him, even set his bowl on the floor of her room to watch TV with him. She brought him to the kitchen on the weekends she was at her dad's, so we wouldn't forget to feed Larry.
Larry was one hardy fish. I almost killed him once. I got the water too warm, and he started doing all kinds of acrobatics. It was cool until I realized he was belly rolling and his bug eyes were even more buggy. I remember running into the bathroom to get some cold water, all hysterical as if one of my children were bleeding. Part of me was saying "it's a FISH for the love of pete" and the other part of me knew how much Kelli loved All God's Creatures. Not to mention Kelli's hysteria was probably contagious. We got him stablized and all was well.
One sad day, we realized Larry was dying. I wanted to do the humane thing and end his misery, but she wouldn't let me. She had to go to her dad's that weekend, and called me several times to check on him. We had friends over for drinks on the deck during the weekend, so everytime someone would go inside, we'd check on Larry. We had a couple of scares, but then he'd move a little and show some recovery.
Sunday afternoon Larry gave up the fight. As Kelli was due home in about an hour, I didn't call her to tell her, but I told her when she got home. She was devastated. We put him in a ziploc bag and buried him under the tree in the front yard.
She finally got her aquarium for her birthday the following year, and over the years she had several other fish, but none as long-living or cool as Larry. BFF Heather even bought her one, which they named Consuela. I kept telling her fish were kind of disposable pets, they really didn't live a long time. I tried to gently suggest that she stop putting herself through misery when she'd lose another one. She would feel guilty, as if she hadn't loved them enough. She was just that sensitive.
Her final fish died about six months before she did. I asked her if she wanted more and she said no, she was going to give it a break. The aqaurium was taken apart and put under the table in her room. When we moved, I kept it. I couldn't get rid of it, it had so many memories.
About six months ago, Maddy starting asked for a fish. I kept putting her off, but honestly, I didn't know if I was ready. Silly, maybe, but it just was tied too closely with Kelli.
I finally decided that it wasn't fair to deny Maddy, and a few days later, my future SIL, Kristen, asked if she could buy Maddy a fish for her birthday. Perfect timing. We set up Kelli's old aquarium downstairs, and she took Maddy shopping last night. Three fish were purchased - two black and white Lyretails and one orange sailfin Molly named Penelope.
This morning, Maddy came flying upstairs insisting that Penelope had given birth. "She was fat and slow yesterday, and now she's skinny and swimming all over." We investigated and sure enough, there were several little bright orange specks in the water. I told Maddy that they probably wouldn't survive, as the parents have a tendency to eat the young. (Before you flame me for not rescuing them, I didn't have anywhere to put the little ones and I was already late for work). She said "that's okay, but if there are any left tonight can we keep them?"
If there is one left tonight, we will keep it, and name it Kelli. If there are two, we'll have Kelli and Larry. And if there are three, we've got an Elvis.
I just wonder if Kelli isn't somehow behind this sudden explosion in the fish population.