Last year, I got the bright idea to get the boys some sort of pet as a joint Christmas gift. Immediately we vetoed a puppy (I can only potty train one thing at a time), and a cat (in my husband’s words, “demon spawn”). Rodents are problematic–the boys would want to hold them, inevitably drop them, they’d get lost, and we’d smell them decomposing in the walls/vents weeks later. Turtles are coated with salmonella. Birds are dirty and obnoxious; our house has enough constant noise, thank you. We decided to go with guppies: pretty, flashy, active swimmers, and relatively clean fish.
The week before Christmas, I purchased and wrapped a tank setup and rocks. Christmas morning, the boys’ excitement about opening the Big Box went from a 10 to….<<crickets>>. Once we explained what it was for, they were slightly more excited. We set up the tank, filled it with water, added the chemicals and live bacteria, and then let it sit for a few days, following the directions included in the box. A few days and 1,000 “When can we get the fish, Mom?” questions later, came the big trip to finally get the fish. I asked the pet store expert/ disinterested high-schooler working that day whether guppies needed a tank heater. His response? “Eh…they’ll be fine.” I took him at his word, and we brought home our 4 new guppies: Bob, Jerry, Kevin and Stuart, named after Minions, of course. We slowly introduced them to the tank, and all was well. I gave myself several congratulatory pats on the back for the great idea.
The next morning, Stuart is lying dead on the bottom of the tank. Kevin is also dead, caught in the plastic seaweed. Bob was still swimming, but looking lethargic. Only Jerry seemed happy. Cue the dead guppy netting and explanations to the boys. Immediately, I blame the water temperature and ask my husband to stop by the pet store for a water heater on the way home from work. Not two hour later, Jerry (the happy one) is also dead. Spectacular. Spitting in the face of probability and rational explanation, Bob is still somehow holding on. We install the water heater and are sure that the problem is fixed. WRONG. A few hours later, Survivor Bob is dead. The water is looking strangely cloudy, and it becomes quickly clear that the issue wasn’t the temperature, but some sort of imbalance in the water. Now we have an empty tank full of toxic water, the boys are sad, and I am anxiously awaiting for my Mom of the Year Award to come in the mail, for choosing the best Christmas present, EVER.
After some research and multiple trips to the pet store, we learned our guppies were victims of New Tank Syndrome which makes the water imbalanced at levels toxic for fish. They recommended we do frequent and substantial water changes and test the new water to ensure we had the correct balance of ammonia, bacteria and phosphates. The temperature may have played a small part in the guppies’ demise, but the toxic water was what killed them.
Last year, the imbalance in our family tank had reached toxic levels.
I was a stressed-out mess. My fuse was nonexistent. My husband spent most of his time walking eggshells around me. Our oldest son was regularly acting out, at much higher and more consistent levels than your average 4-year-old meltdowns. At the time, I was in a fast-paced job that had high levels of stress and negativity, and I was no longer able to absorb it. I had stayed too long for a number of good reasons, but the bottom line was the job–that I once really liked–and I were not longer compatible. I was bringing the stress and negativity home every day and injecting it into my family. I was the toxic conduit. Not unlike our poor dead guppies, we were trying to survive in a toxic tank, and it was time to change the water.
Imbalance may be tolerable for a short time, but is not sustainable long-term.
Maybe your tank only needs a 10% water change to bring back balance, or maybe you need to dump the whole tank and start new. For us, it was time for a water change–a drastic one that included a complete job change for me. Taking that leap, of course, wasn’t done on a whim. It took planning, thinking outside the box, crunching numbers, applying for new jobs, tough conversations, adjusting schedules, and a whole bunch of faith. There were, as always, bumps in the road and we all had to make adjustments in the process, but it was the best thing for our family. In the end, it put our family on a new path–a healthier, saner one–and it was absolutely worth every bit of agonizing and effort.
And the guppies? After a week of water changes and testing for balanced levels of nutrients, bacteria and phosphates, we introduced 4 new guppies: Bob II, Kevin II, Jerry II and Stuart II. Six months later, they’re still happily swimming around. We do maintenance water changes and the ever-exciting tank cleanings when needed, but pretty much the boys just argue over whose turn it is to feed the fish.