Twenty-five years ago I was presented with the most wonderful gift my 6-year-old self could imagine. It will forever be known as The Goldfish Christmas.
Admittedly, the first Christmas we decided to change our gift giving practices ranks pretty high on the list, yet it does not hold a candle to the the magic of Christmas 1985. Dad was new to his career as a full-time musician and Mom had left her job as a teacher to stay at home with us full-time. Cash was tight, so the big Santa gift had to be creative. As the story goes, Dad headed to the pet shop on the 24th, picked out four goldfish, and carefully placed them in a thermos full of water so they would survive the sub-zero temps.
When Annie and I awoke on Christmas morning, we were greeted by the most amazing sight. Two bowls — one with red rocks, the other with blue (our favorite colors, respectively) — containing two goldfish each. In those days, my mom would videotape our reactions to the Santa gifts so that my dad (who always had to work on Christmas morning) could still enjoy our initial reactions. The video shows us in flannel nightgowns, as we giddily emerge from the bedroom with huge smiles. I see the fish first and exclaim in my incredibly nasal voice “Goldfish! Real live goldfish!” Annie giggles, her blond curls bouncing as she follows me over to the bowls. As we peer into them, we are visibly struck with a sense of gravitas.
Annie and I have relived The Goldfish Christmas many times since 1985– we agree that the power of the goldfish was entirely tied to the fact that Mom and Dad had entrusted us with something alive, something vulnerable. In the video, we spend quite a bit of time staring into the bowls, contemplating the future of our piscine wards and our own futures as caregivers. Anxious to start their lives with us off on the right foot, I quickly name mine– Rudolph (he had a red nose) and Violin (a clin d’oeil to my budding love of classical music). Annie looks at me calmly as I proclaim their given names. She has already decided on hers — “Big Dan and Little Dan,” she coos shyly. A double homage to the man who, unbeknownst to her, had rescued them from the overcrowded pet store tank a mere 20 hours earlier.
Each Christmas since The Goldfish Christmas, I find myself hoping for the same sense of wonder I felt the moment I looked into my bowl. As I glance downward at my swelling abdomen and feel the first flutters of life within me, I realize that I’ve finally gotten my wish this year.