When we visited my twin brother back in July, Lily was absolutely enthralled with his fish tank. She kept asking me to hold her up so she could watch the fish swim back and forth. When we visited friends of ours recently for a BBQ, Lily danced and shrieked and pointed at the betta fish sitting on the counter. This weekend when we stopped at my cousin’s place for supper, Sunshine got to help my cousin’s roommate feed the fish and Lily again pointed at the fish and stamped her feet in excitement.
I thought, “Why not get them a fish?” We aren’t allowed dogs or cats in our current home (and don’t want one until we’re not renting—it’s hard enough at times finding places that are child-friendly, much less pet-friendly) but a fish should be okay. We could just get a little one in a little bowl, so it wouldn’t be too much work, and they could find out what’s its like to have a pet.
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Shopping for a Pet Fish
As soon as I voiced this idea to my husband, we were off to the pet store. The first store had a great sale on fish tanks, but hardly any fish. Sunshine bawled as we left the store without a fish, despite our assurances that we’d get one tomorrow.
The next day, my husband spent some time researching online before we went to another store. This store had tanks full of fish, but as I read the care notes, my heart began to sink. Goldfish need 10+ gallons. Other fish needed 20+ gallons. None of the fish, in fact, seemed suited for the simple little “goldfish starter kit” that promised “Just add fish and water!”
I steered us toward the betta bowls again. One fish. One little decorative bowl. My husband didn’t like that idea. The bowl can’t be used for anything else. What if, in a few years, the girls wanted more fish? And didn’t betta fish just sit there? Couldn’t we find a fish that would swim around? Or get them three little fish in a little tank?
No, said the fish expert. She gestured to all of the nice small tanks we’d been looking at and said they were betta bowls. If we wanted anything else—even guppies—we’d need a bigger tank. So we looked at the betta fish again and at their tanks. Lily jumped up and down. Sunshine agreed that she wanted a “Sushi fish” (the name given to our friends’ betta fish). We picked out Betta Fish Tank Starter Kit, the prettiest betta fish in the bunch, an extra plant, and headed for the checkout.
Naming Our Betta
On the way home, we talked about names for our new fish. Sunshine was adamant that the fish should be called Sushi (just like our friends’) or Nemo (we just watched the movie). We suggested Captain Nemo or Moby Dick or Queequag, but Sunshine refused all those.
Then we suggested Anchovy or Sardine or C-O-D (spell it out and say it fast—it sounds neat). Again, Sunshine vetoed those suggestions.
My husband suggested The King, after Anna and the King of Siam, since betta fish come from Thailand. I suggested Siam-I-Am, a play on Siam and Green Eggs and Ham. Sunshine agreed. My husband laughed. The name stuck.
We spent the evening setting up Siam-I-Am’s new fish tank, watching him swim around, and then finding a spot in the house for him (on the girls’ dresser, where they can sit on their bed and watch him).
They fed Siam-I-Am before they went to bed (though I think he was still a bit shell-shocked over all the changes) and when they woke up this morning (he ate three pellets). Lily has been climbing onto a box beside the dresser to watch him. So far, so good with having a pet.
Caring for a Betta Fish
As we adjusted to fish ownership, caring for our betta fish got easier. Siam-I-Am required one pellet of food a day. I cleaned his tank roughly once a month.
We’d gotten everything we needed to care for him with his tank; food pellets, a net for carefully taking him out of the tank for cleaning, water treatment to make our city tap water suitable for Siam-I-Am’s home, gravel, and of course the tank itself. Instead of one of the decorative bowls, we had a plastic tank with a lid for Siam-I-Am to explore.
When we went away for a few weeks in the summer to visit family, I asked our neighbours to take care of Siam-I-Am for us. Shortly after we left, my neighbour emailed me to ask about cleaning the tank. I said I’d cleaned it shortly before we left so it shouldn’t need cleaning until we returned. She said it was dirty and asked where Siam-I-Am’s supplies were. I told her where to find them and how to do it.
When we returned home, I was shocked at how dirty Siam-I-Am’s tank was. I realized our neighbour had been overfeeding him dreadfully. All the uneaten pellets sank to the bottom of his tank and fowled his water. No wonder she’d needed to clean the tank while we were away! As long as I kept Siam-I-Am to one or two pellets a day, then his tank required less cleaning.
My plans to have the girls care for our betta fish didn’t really work out. At ages 3 and 1, they were too young to feed him without supervision, and cleaning his tank was also a careful task for Mom or Dad. After a while, the novelty of dropping pellets into Siam-I-Am’s tank wore off. His care was left to me. I’d make my morning coffee and feed the fish, and in the evening I could watch him swim around his tank while I washed the dishes. He was quiet but companionable.
Then came a fateful day when I looked at Siam-I-Am and realized I hadn’t fed him in about a week. Unfortunately, Siam-I-Am didn’t survive that. While betta fish are hardy fish who can put up with dirty tanks and a few days of missed feeding, a week of no food was too much.
Betta Fish Costs
Betta fish are an affordable pet. The starter kit costs about $20 and includes your tank, gravel, food and water treatment samples, and a plant. Betta fish themselves are about $5-15. Food goes a long ways because the betta fish needs only one or two pellets per day; a can of pellets is under $10 and lasts a year or more. You can also get buffet blocks to put in your fish tank while you are away on vacation (if you don’t have neighbours who can come overfeed your fish for you). Water treatment is necessary for most city water and is also under $10 for a bottle that will last you for quite a while.
Overall, you should be able to buy and keep a betta fish for your first year for under $50. Your local pet shop can help you with questions or advice about betta fish, or you can order all your fish supplies on Amazon to get set up before going to purchase your fish.
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Siam-I-Am was a fun pet for the couple of years that we had him. I would consider getting another betta fish, especially now that our kids are a bit older and can take on more of the fish care. Having a pet fish is an excellent learning opportunity for kids—maybe it could be a science project (including some research before purchasing!). Caring for the pet can also be part of your child’s chores, teaching them responsibility.
Have you owned a betta fish, or are you considering this pet for your kids? What questions do you have or what tips would you share?