Children can learn a lot from pets; in fact we all can if we stop and think about it. Most of the lessons seem simple, but perhaps they are actually profound.
The very first pet I ever part-owned was a goldfish, won at a carnival, and proudly carried home in a plastic bag. I was very, very excited about having a pet. After we got home Goldie was temporarily housed in a bucket until we could get to a pet store to secure an appropriate glass globe bowl for him. Once safely installed in his bowl, Goldie was overfed and under-cared-for to a dramatic extent. It's a testament to the toughness of goldfish that he lived for what seems to me like a long time (most likely several months), rather than a mere matter of hours. So what exactly can I thank Goldie, and the string of pet goldfish who followed, for?
- There's stuff around us that we can't see. Somehow Goldie's bowl if left uncleaned would start to grow green algae. It was a great mystery to me how algae could appear apparently from nowhere. My parents' explanation that algae could come out of thin air seemed like magic, yet it taught me that there are great mysteries all around us and we can't always believe our eyes.
- It takes energy to maintain a steady state. Goldie's bowl did not stay clean without effort on the part of my parents. I'm ashamed to say that when I was a child the way we cleaned out a goldfish bowl was as follows: on a weekly basis goldfish and water were tipped into our dishwashing bowl; the bowl was cleaned out with a cloth or sponge; fresh tapwater was put into Goldie's bowl; Goldie was caught in a jar or mug and emptied back into his nice, clean bowl. You'd have thought he'd be happy at that point.
- Living things need clean water that is not polluted with chemicals. Abrupt change leads to shock. Since we'd paid no attention to getting rid of the chlorine in tap water or to getting the water up to room temperature Goldie was rather shocked on return to his bowl.
- Alcohol makes you go kind of crazy. If Goldie's shock on return to his bowl looked like it was too much for him, the usual remedy was to add a few drops of brandy to his water. I kid you not! At that point he would zoom around his bowl at hyperspeed and either recover, or deteriorate quickly and be destined for flushing down the toilet.
- We feel better if we take deliberate action, no matter if it is inappropriate and futile, rather than watching something go wrong while we fail to act. I'm sure that the brandy did not help Goldie one bit, but I hated to stand and watch him wobble around the bowl in his "nice, fresh, water" and felt that I should be doing something to help. Pleading with my parents caused them to bring out the brandy. At that point I felt I'd done my best to help him (or subsequent goldfish) whatever the outcome.
Thank you Goldie for some very important lessons and I'm sorry that I did not take better care of you :-(