Read Me on McSweeney's
Dead Class Pets
A few days ago, my husband, Nate, made his annual appearance in the third grade as a special visitor. He shared with the children all about his work in philosophy, as represented by a Wittgenstein finger puppet which the kids took turns waggling around from their pointer fingers. Even though the details of what Mr. Nate does for a job were greatly overshadowed by the philosopher puppet's cute little bow tie, I consider Nate's visit this year to have been quite successful because it was incident-free, an accomplishment which I do not take for granted. Two years ago, on a rather cold March morning, Nate paid a notably more incident-filled visit to the third grade.
As the guest of honor, he had many duties for the morning. He helped hang our new classroom clock, kept me company at the copier before school, and got to meet all of the little people he had heard so much about at the dinner table. He showed a picture of our trip to Australia during share time, participated in a group game of “Elf,” and killed our class pet. Yes, that’s right, my husband killed our class pet.
Well, it was actually our not-yet-class pet. This bluish purplish reddish little Betta fish never got to know the thrill of being overfed, underfed, poked, scared, teased, taunted, shaken, or any of the other things I can only assume would have constituted his constrained little life in the third grade. Instead of living to experience these and other joys of being a class pet, he never made it past the initial stage of being just the teacher’s pet.
I don’t like animals, I’ll just go ahead and put that out there. I’ve never owned any myself or had any desire to get one for my class. One student last year wrote a note and put it in my mailbox, asking if we could get a class pet. I told him I’d think about it. My careful “deliberation” carried us through June.
So when Kira approached me one day this year begging for us to get a fish, I told her I’d think about it. The next day she brought in several pages from the Internet detailing various aquatic setups. She persisted, and finally I had to admit that getting a class pet would be a very third-grade-teacher-ly thing to do, and of all the potential pets, a fish seemed the most tolerable. I figured we could “earn” the fish when we reached 100 class points, but the mystery prize pet remained a secret in case I opted out of adopting a living creature and just ordered pizzas instead.
The day we hit 99 and a half class points, I ventured into PetSmart. “Look,” I told the man in the fish department. “I want the lowest maintenance fish you’ve got. I don’t want to have to feed it a lot, clean its tank often, deal with a huge aquarium with a thermometer and water filter, or really spend much money either.” He led me to the Betta fish. “These only need to be fed once a week.” A few minutes later, I was out the door with my new pet.
The next morning before class began, I handed my special guest the bowl, the fish, some water softener, and two bottles of water, and let him get it all set up while I made a poster about reading comprehension. Now, it’s not particularly original to kill a class pet. Every third grade class has their obligatory dead pet story. But to kill one off within an hour of bringing it into the classroom, that’s got to be a record of some sort. “Oh no,” gasped Nate. I looked up from my block lettering to see him staring, shocked, at the fish bowl. The not-yet-class pet was an unmoving bluish purplish reddish ice-cold lump at the bottom of the bowl, submerged under two full bottles of thoroughly car-chilled spring water.
Heavy with guilt and still in disbelief, we stared again at the low-maintenance Betta fish, now gone to that big glass bowl in the sky.
The students began to file in, and I introduced them to our special guest as we got started with our day. “Children, this is Mr. Nate.”
He killed your fish.
Fortunately, for this year's introduction, I was able to present him with less finger pointing and more finger puppets. "Children, this is Mr. Nate. He brought Wittgenstein."
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