Empowerment through Language...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Every House Would Benefit from a Fish Tank...

A few weeks ago, I pulled into my driveway on a Friday, the earliest touch of spring in the Northeast, and I knew that I was not going to have to gear up for a school visit for months. Now it was time to take care of all the other stuff.

Re-entry is a delicate process. A friend who saw me asked if it was like transitioning fish from one tank to another. I thought for a moment and exclaimed, "Yes, it is exactly like that." The way I have to gauge my movement from my home, as I reconnect there, and then out into the community.

My first fish experience was with a guppy bowl when I was in 3rd grade. I won it in a ping pong toss game at the St. Therese Catholic Church and School bazarre. I left my little orange box of guppy food with the teeny weeny hole on the shelf next to the prized fish, a pair. I was quite proud of my accomplishment as well as my first pet.

My sister and brother were 3 and 2 years old, an inquisitive couple of active toddlers. They saw me feed my pets at some point in those first few days. Then I came home from school one afternoon to find my guppy bowl a goopy mud with the two beleagued fish somewhere in the mix. The little box was completely empty. I was distraut.

I admired the tanks of friends in college who were into fish. One friend had a pet store where she maintained a salt tank that was mesmerizing.

In the early 90s, I adopting a couple of goldfish at the urging of my friend's son who was approximately 10 and there were too many pets in the family. After awhile, one of the two did not survive but the other lived nearly 9 more years. This was the fish who taught me that they are much more aware than I had considered. It would see me from its bowl on the refrigerator down the hall as I opened my bedroom door. The fish would dance from one side of his bowl to another, recognizing me and that it was breakfast time.

I have maintained a series of Bettas in that same bowl ever since the demise of the goldfish. I rescue them from those small plastic dishes at the big chain pet stores. I can't stand the thought of how many wind up in the dumpster. I bring one home and keep it on a small shelf in my kitchen, not far from my stove. Sort of like a kitchen angel. I have recently been told they have a lifespan on average of 2 years. Then I bury them at the foot of the clematis in my yard that honors my brother Alex and the cycle renews itself. This time I have a blue veiltail. He is quite handsome.

I set up my first fish tank about 5 years ago, a starter tank, just 7 gallons, lots of rocks balanced and little caves, some greens. I have an affinity for Tetras. I felt like a kid as I introduced the fish slowly over a month, watching their habits, counting them daily to see if they all survived. This habitat is in the dining area of my kitchen and the first thing I see when I enter from the back door.

This winter I inherited a tank that belonged to a dear friend's husband who passed away on the solstice. I had admired this tank when I visited their home and being offered the 30-gallon tank was a thrill. Moving it in January was a challenge but somehow I succeeded, losing only one of the original population and one of my additions. I have doubled the census and everyone is getting along well, particularly when I introduced three vacuum cleaners about a month ago. I love algae eaters.

When I bring new fish home and place their transfer bag into the tank to start the acclimation process, I consider being taken from one environment to another with no choice. The implications are vast.

Then I add some of the tank water into the bag to allow the fish to adjust even more. Within an hour, the new fish slip into the shoals and find their region, their hiding places, determine the hierarchy.

It takes me time to shift from thinking of the needs of the different schools, classes, teachers. This time of year I also switch back to teaching adults. I find a different rhythm. This year I also have a new book to promote. And I am writing. The deadlines I am facing are like the bigger or more active fish in the aquarium, pressing me to move through the water quickly. Sometimes, I just need one of the little caves, a frond of the plastic plants to snuggle into and maintain a low profile.

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