The ping pong ball sailed through the air, making a perfect arc before falling back to earth and landing with a quiet plop into the small glass bowl about five feet away.
The crowd went wild; congratulating our four-year-old son for his perfect shot considering his small blonde head barely reached the counter of the carnival booth.
The attendant turned to me and asked, “Do you want the goldfish now or wait until you’re ready to leave the fair?”
Say what? Who said anything about a goldfish?! The prize in this booth is a goldfish?! Shouldn’t there be a sign or something?! A warning for parents to stay clear?! To run away?! Far, far away?! Of all the underhanded, sneaky, devious methods to…oh, wait. There IS a sign. Whoops. Sorry.
I turned my gaze from the much-too-happy-to-be-working-in-a-carnival-attendant to my husband and muttered, “He just won a goldfish.”
My husband - whose vision was distracted by a fellow carnival-goer who had eaten a few too many funnel cakes and stuffed her willowy 300-pound frame into a hot pink tube top and high heels - could only respond, “Eh?”
I nudged him hard in the ribs and repeated, “Your son. Just won a fish. We now have a goldfish.”
He dragged his gaze away from Angelina Jolie and looked at me in shock, “He did what?!”
I turned to our son and with as much enthusiasm as a mom can fake I said, “Way to go, kiddo…you won…uh…a fish.” I gulped and added in a strained voice, “Whoopee.”
He danced in excitement as the attendant fished his prize from the tank, dumped it in a clear bag and tied off the top. She handed it over the counter, and he reached up to grab it in his little hand. He turned to me, held it up like he’d just stumbled upon the crown jewels and smiled, “What do we do now, Mommy?”
We had no bowl, no food, nor whatever else a goldfish needs to survive longer than four hours. And it was 10 p.m. on a Friday night.
That was really bad math no matter which way we added it up.
I soon found myself standing in the pet aisle of our local department store, desperately wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into as I gazed upon a mile of shelving covered with more fish-related items than Jacques Cousteau ever needed on an expedition.
“How about this one, Mommy?” my son asked and pointed to an aquarium the size of a small Buick.
What? Did we get Paris Hilton’s fish by mistake? I don’t think so.
I reached over and picked up a more modest $10 glass case and said, “I think your fish would be more comfortable in this.”
My son wrinkled his brow and stuck out his tongue, “Too small.” OK, Goldilocks. I put it back and chose one a bit bigger and placed it in the shopping cart. Without asking his opinion this time. I’m not entirely stupid, you know.
Two hours later, after a struggle over what color of gravel to get, what type of fake plants to buy, the right type of food, chemicals to treat the water and a heated game of rock-paper-scissors over whether he could buy a little ceramic sign that said “No Fishing” or a plastic shark to put in the tank, we found ourselves back home and in the middle of Fish 101.
One would think that two college-educated, reasonably intelligent individuals could put together a small aquarium with relative ease.
“What’s this part for?” my husband asked, holding up a small piece of plastic tubing.
I frantically tore through the 36-PAGE INSTRUCTION BOOKLET (half of which was in either Korean or Swahili or Egyptian hieroglyphs) and answered, “Maybe it’s a beer bong for the fish?”
So we said a prayer and dumped him in the tank, hoping for the best. We turned off the light and quietly left the room. The hum of the aquarium’s filter drowned out the snoring of the sleeping little boy nearby.
I heard a little grrr and turned to find Chaser, Wonder Mutt of West Edwards Street, with her black nose pressed against the tank’s glass.
“No, he’s not sushi,” I remarked, grabbed her collar and marched her from the room, thinking it’ll be a miracle if that fish makes it to morning.