Winning {and Losing} A Fish from the Fair

fair fish

Before we even got to the fair, she was prepping me. The sun was high overhead and it was a picture-perfect day to roam around the fair eating and laughing in wonderment at everything there was to see.

“You know what game I want to play first, right Mom? You know I want to try and win another fish, right?” she asked smiling, a knowing glimmer in her deep chocolate pudding eyes.

Yes. I knew. And she was prepping me because she knew I would not share her enthusiasm for another fish.

She had won a fish at the fair last year, and for reasons still unclear to me, we went out the next day and bought a ten gallon aquarium, complete with light, filter, and every other accessory fish apparently need to survive. Were the moon and stars aligned just so? Was it the pet store guy convincing me each fish needs a minimum of three gallons of water just for themselves? In any case, we got the whole shebang, with two additional fish in tow.

A few months later, they were all dead.

Correction: A few days later, the Fair Fish was dead. And then at some point, the other two kicked the bucket as well. All unbeknownst to her, because like a crazy good mother, I ran out and replaced them before she ever knew.  At some point, I put an end to the charade (because really) and then shortly after, our dog died. So as you might imagine, I did not share her eagerness.

fair fish 2

And besides. Fair fish have what you might call a reputation.

A big scarlet letter.

And not for longevity.

Quite the opposite. They probably ARRIVE at the fair already weak, swimming in that toxic rainbow water with one fin in the grave. And yet why is the goldfish game the easiest to win? Rationally speaking, it should be the hardest! You’re taking shots at winning a LIVE pet, for God’s sake– not just a 3-foot stuffed purple gorilla. Who makes these rules up?

But there was something about the optimism beaming from her tan golden face that was charming and a little bit contagious. She knew the odds. She knew she would be going home with a fish. And she also knew it might not live that long. Her cheerfulness in the face of terrible odds was inspiring.

I took note. I watched how happy it made her to just try. To go after the challenge. I saw how fearless and nonchalant she was approaching the whole thing. How much she was enjoying it.

If she lands that ping pong ball, we're doomed.

If she lands that ping pong ball, we’re doomed.

Look, I get it. We’re only talking about a stupid fair fish. We’re not talking about, say, LIFE. Or LOVE. Or you know, whatever. But it’s all relative. Risk is relative. It depends on what you’ve already won or lost and what it cost you. The price you paid.

And as luck and skill would have it, she won a fish. 

And she was elated.

And then we lost Gilbert a mere 72 hours later.


But somehow I didn’t feel the panic or worriment this time around to run out and find a body double for him. (And shout out to those who’ve tried. It’s not necessarily an easy thing to do.) It seems a year later we’ve all grown enough to face loss head on- the big ones AND the little ones.

And she was fine. She really was. Actually, she was more than fine. She asked if we could go to the store to buy more fish and start the aquarium all over again. Oh, the optimism, I thought. I have to admire it. And perhaps work on finding mine again.

So you know what?

We’re going to.

We’re going to buy more fish and start the aquarium all over again, even if the odds are against us.

Tell me about your Fair Fish. Everyone has a story and I want to hear yours.

6 thoughts on “Winning {and Losing} A Fish from the Fair

  1. Andrea says:

    I won a fish at the fair that lived 10+ years and grew (in our big aquarium) to be at least 8 inches long. So I guess some fair fish gain strength through their adversity!


  2. Kevin says:

    I won a fish when I was a teenager at the Firemans field days or at a fair. He was a good and trainable fish. He never strayed far from home. His name was Kwambanajarobi. He could dance to loud rock music. And he lived for many weeks but then he died. The end. I am not sure if I ever recovered.


  3. Three years ago, my son won a fish at the fair ~ he’s still here, alive and swimming! I don’t know why or how that fish is still here, but he is and he’s been a house favorite because of his ability to keep swimming even after his lifespan should be well-over! Sorry yours aren’t surviving. Perhaps because ours was in plain clear water?


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