Get her a fish tank.
No, seriously, Christine's wanted one for a while, and I had been saving up some money. So for mother's day, we got a brand-new 45 gallon fish tank, stand, lighted hood, and all the equipment. There are two major reasons she wanted one: she liked my fish tanks when we were dating, and she wanted a major source of humidity in our bedroom.
When I was young (about 8), my mother got a small, ten-gallon fish tank. Shortly thereafter, I ended up taking care of it. It sat in the kitchen and waves of fish lived and died in it. None of the fish lived over a year. Finally, I got a book on raising fish, and one of the passages said that keeping a tank in the kitchen (with all the kitchen grease, oils, and odors) was a bad idea. So was keeping it near a sunlit window. So I was allowed to take the tank to my room, which was cool and damp most of the time.
Over the years, my fish tank collection grew. I inherited a 5.5 gallon tank from someone who was giving it away, then I got a 20 gallon tank for my birthday. I kept tropical fish for many years, but one winter, my father killed my fish. See, one of my "punishments" for whatever crime I may have done was that my father took away my lights in my room. My room was like a dungeon, with very little outside light from windows near the ceiling, and so was dark most of the time, and for a long time I was terrified of the dark. Thus, an effective punishment. But this one winter, our heater was not working very well, and my father hated spending money, so he turned the thermostat down instead of paying someone to fix the furnace. All my fish tanks had heaters, so the tropical fish were okay with it. But when I got "punished" this one time (I don't even remember why), my father took away all my fish tank stuff that had lights. The included my tank hoods and the heaters. Why the heaters? They all had a small orange LED to indicate if they were on or not. So that night, it got so cold in my room, a thin sheet of ice formed on the top of my tanks. Almost all of my fish died within the next few days. When I cried and cried, my father said I had killed them, and that if I hadn't had been bad, my fish wouldn't have died of the cold. My mother was appalled at this comment, so while he was away at work, she had some heating guys come fix the furnace at great cost. She even tipped them. She also said she'd buy me new fish in the spring.
When spring came around, I had learned my lesson: don't have tropical fish. My home life was simply too complex to keep fish that required delicate care. I was also sick of dealing with bully fish killing and eating other fish (I had these 3-spot gouramis that I... ooooohh! What assholes they were!), but I am also sure I was still doing the "sour grapes" thing on some level. There was also the salinity, pH, and cleaning issues I had to deal with, and I since I never got an allowance, it was hard to afford all those chemical care kits. Since those days, all I have ever gotten is cold-water or easy-care fish. Ornamental Goldfish. They rule.
The first one I fell in love with was one at a Chinese restaurant in Tyson's Corner (no longer there, but it used to be next to the upper entrance of what is now Nordstrom's). This huge (probably 80-100 gallon) tank hosted only one fish: a monstrous lion-head oranda about the size of a football. It was a pearl-white, and huge veil tails almost as long as its body. The bumps all over its head had pretty much closed off its eyes, and it was fed by hand by a thin old guy who hand-fed it from a plate with a pair of chopsticks. I don't know what he fed the fish, but it knew when someone came to the tank (it was low to the ground, about waist-height), to swim to the top and open its mouth. I once fed it some small noodles (via permission of the waiter), and I recall looking into this fish's toothless mouth, which opened to the size of a quarter, smacking the water surface. Sadly, the restaurants back then always allowed smoking, and sometimes I'd see people put out their ashes in this tank. I would get so mad, and I think that's why I hated smokers for so long.
I never had a fish get that big. The biggest one was Herman, who started out as a freebie at a pet store. He was a teeny-tiny fish (a redcap veil-tail) no bigger than a pea. He came free with some dwarf gouramis I got because he got stuck in the pet store clerk's net, and looked very damaged by the whole ordeal. "Keep it," he said with a smile and a sigh, "no charge. He might make good food for some fish." The dwarf gouramis were eventually killed by those stupid 3-spot gouramis, and then I stopped getting tropical fish. Because Herman was a goldfish, the cold didn't bother him when the tanks froze over. He stayed out of everyone's way, and survived several tank moves, even when I got Koi (never ever, get Koi for a fish tank... they don't understand glass, never stop growing, and eventually all of them killed themselves when they jumped out of the tank or bashed themselves to death on the glass). Herman kept growing.
When I became a teen, my psychology teacher sold me her old 35-gallon fish tank with stand, hood, lights, and all the accessories including a ridiculously powerful overhanging water pump that could clean a small lake in a matter of minutes. I had to stopper the outflow pipe with tape to reduce the flow that almost turned the tank into a whirlpool. Jeebus! I recall Herman, now the size of a golf ball, bravely swimming against the current to no avail; it just blew him around the tank like a leaf in a storm drain. Finally, with the adjustment of the outflow pipe position and wads of packing tape, I got the pump to blast downwards at a more acceptable volume, which always left a place with no gravel unless I put a huge rock there or something. This tank sat next to my bed from age 16 until age 20, through 3 moves. This is the tank Christine so fondly remembers when we were dating.
When I moved from my house to the FanTek house, all my tanks went with me, but I gave them all but my 35 gallon. Then when I moved in with Tim and Anita, the 35 tank went with me as well. By then, Herman was the size of my fist. He had lost his red cap, but was growing oranda bumps all over his head. He was also turning a pearly white, which thrilled me to no end. Sadly, the water in that house went bad one day (some rust/ground seepage issue), and while refilling my tank, Herman, as well as the rest of the plants and fish, died.
When I got married, the tank went with me, and we tried to keep fish, but they never lived long. When we moved again, there was a flood (that house flooded a lot) where rusty water got dumped into the tank, and all the fish died. And so did any other fish we put in there. Within a week, they died. We scrubbed the tanks, cleaned it with approved fish-tank cleaning solutions, but nothing would live in it again. We turned it into a terrarium, and all the plants died, too. Finally, before we moved to Fairfax, we sucked in our remorse, and trashed it. I watched the garbage truck crush my memories while I mouthed a silent good-bye.
Then, as a promise to my son if he kept sea-monkeys alive (and he did ... even got them to lay eggs and breed), we got him a small tank two years ago. All of his fish have died but one, and the one is still alive to this day. The tank doesn't look so good (big algae problem), but hey, the fish is living happily.
We had been planning to get a big fish tank for a while, but never got around to it. Knowing mother's day was coming up, and knowing that Christine bemoaned the fact we hadn't had a good fish tank in a long time, and wanted the humidity in the bedroom a fish tank usually provides, I started to save up for it, and look at prices. Christine kept a betta (Siamese fighting fish) for a while, but then Thisby broke into the tiny plastic and ate it. Man, Christine didn't like Thisby for a year after that. So I knew I had to have a reasonably cat-proof tank. Luckily, the hoods are stronger now than they were when I was a kid. Thisby has so far been unable to get my son's fish, although when she gets into his room, she'll sit on the tank and think about it, in her own crazy Thisby-like ways.
So this Sunday, we went out, ate at the Outback Steak House to celebrate Mom, and then just bought all new everything. Tank, stand, hood, light, gravel, net, hose vacuum, plastic plants, food, chemicals, statues, the works. I set it, and our good friend Missie came and provided company. We made pizzas, and now we have this gorgeous tank in the bedroom. It's a 45-gallon tall, which I found out is almost too long for my arm to get in there to the bottom unless I stand on a stepstool. It's right next to our bed, and looks absolutely gorgeous. I did a blessing to help the tank be a future haven for whatever fish may come our way.
We're getting the fish today (we had to wait 24 hours for the tank water to cure and stabilize). We're still going with ornamental goldfish, and I hope to get a couple of black moors, and possibly a redcap veiltail, to remind me of Herman. Oh, and a snail. I love snails.
Oh, and BTW: Those dumb 3-spot gouramis did eventually die. After the freeze, one of them died, and so the bigger of the two remaining got all full of himself, and beat the other one to death after a year and a half of merciless teasing and gourami gang tactics. He was alone for many years (where he turned this striped tunafish blue and just looked like a mean badass of the deep, I don't know WHAT the deal was with him), but finally died at the FanTek house in another tank when he was attacked by some vicious mollies, I think. Ha ha! Take that, you evil gourami!
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