By Diane Ako
Olivia and her friend Kira have developed a rude habit of fishing. In the neighborhood. From my dad's water garden.
I didn't realize this until recently. She had asked me months ago if they could catch guppies from our own water garden to play with and look at, and I said no, because it's mean to the fish. I didn't realize they would decide it was OK to do this to my dad's fish.
So many times in parenting, little truths are revealed in indirect ways. This is how this one came about:
"Mommy, can we get a puffer fish?" she has been asking for two weeks. I've been saying no, with the standard Just Because follow up to the standard Why? question.
Finally, I decided to give her a longer explanation to put an end to this tediousness. I told her I didn't want to buy a large tank with a filter for a puffer fish, nor did I want to be obligated to buying it a high-protein diet or any of the other fussy, high-maintenance routines that go with this not-for-beginner fish. I think it's cute, but too much work.
Then, I asked, "Why do you want a puffer fish?" It's that a weird request from a little kid? Did she learn about it in school?
"'Cause they're funny looking. They look like popcorn," she said.
"Where have you seen them?" I continued.
"At Kung Kung's house," she said. "We fish for them."
She said she decided to go up there when I denied her request to fish from our water garden. "It's mean to the fish! It gets them upset to be chased after then pulled out of the water!" I explained.
Well, I know my dad's fish collection, partly because I have to feed them when he goes away. OCD that he is, he is now up to about 12 water gardens (varying pots and tubs), six tanks, 24 vases of Bettas, and six assorted bowls of livebearers. He has amassed this in only seven years since moving back to Hawaii from New Jersey. There is no puffer in this equation.
Suspicious, I continued questioning. "What do they look like?"
"Popcorn." Duh, Mom. Didn't she say that?
OK, what color? "Orange and white."
The lights go off in my head. What is orange and white and puffy and easily accessible to two kolohe kids? The freshwater fancy goldfish (ryukins, orandas) in the front yard water garden. These fish cost $5 to $30 a piece!
Keeping calm, I verify these are the ones in the front yard, and ask, "How are you 'fishing' for these fish?"
"With our hands!" she demonstrated, and made a cup with two hands.
"What do you do with them?" I queried.
"Nothing. We look at it and throw them back," she answered. So there's a fish gasping for air for ten seconds or so while they look at it in their small hands. Or, as Olivia guesstimated, One minute or two.
"Don't do that anymore. It upsets the fish," I ordered.
Claus was listening to this conversation with amusement and added under his breath to me, "Air torture."
Took me a beat to catch his joke - as an antonym to the well-known water torture.
Indeed, air torture. Part-Chinese air torture.