Clara has wanted a fish for a long time now. I think it’s part of her older sister instincts. She has a strong desire to take care of things that are smaller and weaker than herself, but she is tired of those things being her younger siblings and would like to trade them in for something she can legally stuff in a bucket of water without getting into too much trouble. We nearly bought her one for her 8th birthday a few weeks ago, but it just never worked out, and deep down we were still not certain she was ready for one. Was she mature enough for that kind of thing? We were still waiting for proof.

So, when I saw the picnic table covered in mason jars full of goldfish at the cowboy carnival this past weekend and realized they were being given out as prizes to the children, I thought for certain I was going to find one of them with her name written on the top. I was quietly scanning the lids when Andrea walked up.

“You are looking to see if any of them are ours aren’t you?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I finished reading the last of them, “But, I guess we lucked out this time. Do you think the girls will be sad that they weren’t here in time to win a goldfish?”

“Oh, they were here in time,” Andrea shook her head, “Clara just said she didn’t want one.”

I was a bit shocked, “What do you mean, she didn’t want one? She’s been dying to get a pet fish.”

“Oh, no, she still WANTS one, but when she saw these fish she told me, ‘Mom, I can’t take home one of these fish! It wouldn’t be fair. Do you know how much a fish tank costs? At LEAST 50 dollars! That’s more than all my birthday money put together, and that doesn’t even consider the cost of food, and the cost of decorations for in the tank. A fish can’t just live in a jar forever and I can’t afford to give him a decent home. No, it looks like these fish are free, but these are definitely NOT free fish.’ so she didn’t even try to win one.”

“Huh…” I said, looking back at the jars of fish and then looking across the room at a little girl in a yellow dress and bonnet. She caught my eye and waved, galloping off on a stick horse. A girl caught on the prairies somewhere, moving a covered wagon west, transitioning between the innocent and wild days of youth and the grown up world of hard choices and sacrifice. “Maybe the little girl is ready to take care of a fish after all.”