A re-post from last year:

My son, Cole, was mesmerized by fish as a child. So, to surprise him on his fifth birthday, I bought a one-gallon fish tank.  A few hours before his party, I sent my husband to fetch a resident for the tank, and he came back with, “Goldfish.”

That night, as Cole stared into the water that held his new friend, I tried to casually suggest a more creative name.

“How about Goldilocks?” I asked.

“Naaa… Just Goldfish,”  said Cole.

“Lots of fish are named Goldfish.  What about Mango?” I tried.

“Naw… I think ‘Goldfish’,” he responded.

“Finnegan?” I begged.

“Nope. Goldfish,” my five-year-old said resolutely.

So Goldfish it was.

A Boring but Suitable Name

I thought it was a boring name.  But then, it was probably a boring fish that was going to live a very boring life in a very small and boring tank.

How wrong I was.

A few months later, I heard, “Mom!  You’ve GOT to see this!” from Cole’s upstairs bedroom.  Buried behind a stack of dirty dishes, I called, “I’ll be up later!”  But my husband stepped into the hall and said, “No, honey, you should see this.”  Curious, I dropped the dishrag and took the stairs by twos.

The three kids were laying flat on their tummies, staring into the fish tank.  This was more attention than Goldfish had received in the prior three months combined!

“Mom, look!”  All three of them stared up at me in wonder.  “Goldfish had babies!!!”

“Babies?” I asked doubtfully.  “Are you sure they’re not just floaties?  His tank hasn’t been cleaned in a while.”

“Mom, Goldfish isn’t a he,” said wide-eyed Cole in a hushed, reverent tone.  “She’s a mom!”

The kids scootched as I skeptically laid down beside them to get on eye level with Cole’s fish tank.

“Oh my word!” I quickly exclaimed. “Those really are babies!!”  The kids giggled hysterically and started jumping around.  I had confirmed what they knew to be true.  We were hosting a mother goldfish and her new fry.

But how was this possible?  Goldfish had been living the single life for months.  The kids didn’t understand why this made her situation more incredible, but they loved the adventure of a mystery.

I vaguely remembered that some fish eat their babies, so to be safe, we put the three teensy, almost microscopic, fish in a vase on the counter in our master bathroom. This quickly became the most popular room in the house!  At any given hour, two or three of us were peering into the vase, studying our babies in detail.

Our Babies

We named each baby according to ‘personality’. The talk around the dinner table consisted of what we had seen the baby fish do today.  My husband said we needed to get the babies out of the bathroom soon, because they kept distracting him from shaving at 5 am.  He had been late to work three days in a row!

Our internet research baffled us further.  Goldfish eggs are laid by the mom, fertilized by the dad, and hatch within hours. We felt like Mary, after the angel’s visit, as we asked in amazement, “How can this be?”

News  of our magical fish and her offspring spread through the neighborhood.  The kids would usher guests up to the master bath, where they’d peer into the vase, entranced in wonder.  (We should have charged admission.)

Just as our fish fry were becoming famous, we had to leave for vacation.   We left our babies in the care of our sweet Aunt Joy, who sometimes would house-sit for us.  We gave her more instructions than we had given our first babysitter! We told her what to feed the babies, how to change their water, what to watch for, etc.

Vacation was nearly spoiled.  We spent the whole time wondering how our fishies were doing.  We almost felt gypped–like Aunt Joy was getting the better vacation. Upon our return, all five of us dashed to the bathroom at once.

But we stopped short, with eyes bulging and jaws dropping.


There, in the vase, were three fully grown goldfish. They were just as big as Goldfish, herself!

But they were floating upside down.

Complete pandemonium broke out, there in the master bathroom. There was crying and wonderment and confusion… Were these our babies? Had they grown this big in just a week? What was Aunt Joy feeding them? And how did they die?

We called Aunt Joy, and she was equally shocked to learn the demise of the fish in the vase. The babies, she told us dishearteningly, had all three died, just the day before. She had tried to soften the blow by purchasing three new goldfish. Unfortunately, this only compounded our shock (and later, our amusement!)

The kids and I were devastated. Ken was sad, but said it would be easier to get to work on time. We mentally filed the mystery of the baby goldfish under ‘X Files’ and went back to being a one-fish family.

But more was to come.

Another Surprise

Some months later, I poured the contents of Goldfish’s home in the plugged kitchen sink and began cleaning the tank. The doorbell rang, and while I was at the front door, I heard shout jubilantly from the kitchen, “MOM! We have MORE BABIES!”

I excused myself from the door, and again was skeptical. “Oh, Cole, that water was really nasty. It’s probably just algae floating around.” But Cole just shook his head no, and pointed with insistence at the sink.

Sure enough, three more teensy orange fish were swimming among the cloudy water and debris. I couldn’t believe it! Six months had now passed since Goldfish had taken residence in our one gallon tank. Did we have a magical fish? Should I call the local news station? Or at least a science lab? I posted a picture of our babies on a fish lovers site to get their input.

What I learned from the people who actually know something about fish, drained our adrenaline a bit.

No, we did not have a magical fish. Rather, my husband had inadvertently bought a Platy for $.49 rather than a Goldfish, next door, for $.59. (Knowing Ken, I’m sure it was the 10 cent savings that distracted his attention from the breed of fish.)

Platys are live bearers and release several free swimming babies every few weeks for many months after being fertilized. So our babies were actually quite common.

But now we realized that ‘Goldfish’ wasn’t a common name at all…. for a Platy!

Even though science could explain away our adventure, it couldn’t purge the wonder of our experience. The story of the mother fish named Goldfish, who lived in our fish tank, was even more fun to tell, now that her baby mystery had been solved. (Actually, she has more stories, too—including a very tragic ending to her story.)

Being a Mom

Like Goldfish, I took a very commonplace name, 18 years ago: the name, “Mom”. I’m sure there were some who heard and thought I was headed for a small and boring existence. But I’m like Goldfish! Each of my babies have added his or her own unique personality to our evolving family dynamic. And being a mom has only brought intrigue and meaning to the role that I play.

In fact, I’m not really sure what my identity was before I became a mom. My ‘pre-kids’ life seems rather one-dimensional and boring to me now. It’s almost as if motherhood plopped me into a tank where my true identity was unveiled, and one of the main plotlines of my life’s story began! These three amazing people have made my life so much richer and fuller.

Sometimes, as I study the details of my kids’ faces—the furrowed brow of my curly-haired boy as he concentrates on homework; the sparkle of amusement in my daughter’s eyes when somebody makes a harmless mistake; the ‘out for blood’ expression on my older son’s face, as he plows through opponents on the soccer field–I become entranced in wonder.

Then, I whisper to myself in a hushed, reverent tone, “I’m a Mom!”

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