Fish Foray

Words by Sloane Citron

Photos by Annie Barnett

A few months ago, I wrote about how I was considering getting a fish tank and/or a small motorcycle, to revisit two of my favorite things from my youth. I figured that these might bring me a touch of happiness during these bleak times. I haven’t given up on the motorcycle, but I did end up with a fish tank.

I lied to myself and others and said that I bought it solely for my grandchildren. If it were not for them, I probably wouldn’t have been able to convince myself to move forward with the fish, but since I’ve got a growing number of little Citrons running around, it was easy to tell myself that I was doing it for them.

Most of the fun of any new project is the planning, learning and buying the things needed for your new idea. This was not lost on me. I watched countless YouTube videos of tanks and fish; I visited three fish stores; and I studied dozens of websites, all in order to learn how to proceed. Finally, I decided on a Fluval Spec V 5-gallon Aquarium, a newer type of set-up where all the aspects (filter, air pump and lighting) are included in one unit.

Five gallons is small, but the tank (the measurements of which I studied and tested a dozen times) would fit neatly in a small space at the bottom of our family room bookcase. The efficient size would allow for a few fish and would lessen the amount of maintenance that would be required. I’m well aware at this point in my life how I come to resent having to take care of my big ideas.

I saw that I could buy the tank a bit cheaper on Amazon, but I’m now in an anti-Amazon mode, believing that the behemoth is destroying many things that  I love, from bookstores to toy stores to locally-owned shops. So, I now make every effort to buy in my neighborhood. That can even mean Petco, which, of course, at one point put out of business many small pet stores but is now the only such place in town. There is one aquarium store in San Mateo, and it is first on my list.

When I went to Petco to buy my tank, to my surprise, they were having a sale, so their price was actually less than at Amazon. I bought the Fluval system and a bag of natural gravel. After this, I went to the San Mateo store (they did not have the fish tank in stock) and bought some rocks, a heater and other items.

Once home, I undertook the happy part of any project, taking out the parts and setting things up. I put the tank together, added the substrate and rocks and filled the tank with water. I also added some plants I had found. And then I had to wait. It takes a while for a tank to get “established” with the bacteria and other microbes that make it hospitable to tropical fish.

After a couple of weeks, my tank was nothing but algae—a total mess, so I researched what to do and after a couple more weeks I was able to get that cleared up. Then, I could not get the water to the correct specs to introduce fish. Another two weeks passed before I decided to just go for it, and I introduced a test fish. Once it lived for a couple of weeks (and after dealing with another algae bloom), I finally had the tank working properly.

Then came the incredibly difficult decisions of what fish to buy. I started my research all over again. Worried that I would make bad decisions, I made no planned choices. Instead, I broke down one soggy Sunday afternoon at Petco and bought some green Tetras and some colorful Endlers. Looking for something colorful and larger, I learned that I could add one male Beta fish and it should work out.

Well, it did work out until I decided to add some beautiful long-tailed guppies into the tank. Within days, they were gone, never to be found. I knew that I had erred and felt a lot of remorse. But I am still learning. Along the way, a snail crawled out of the tank because I accidently left the cover off when filling up the water. Someday we will find this poor little guy. 

The tank looks good now, and the best part of all this meshugas is that the grandchildren really do love it. I lift up the grandkids in turn when they are over at the house, and we sit there on a little stool in front of the tank and together watch the colorful fish swim and dive.  

Now I wonder if I will break down and buy the Honda Monkey that I am eyeing, the yellow one that will remind me of the small motorbike I had as a child. Will I be able to justify it by driving my grandkids around the block? I’m sure that my children will NOT let me do this. So, if I get the bike, I’m on my own.