Mysterious fish disappearance & reviving a baby fish after a squeeze incident

Recently, our Neon Tetra fish numbers dwindled to five from seven. One suddenly disappeared about a month ago, and we assumed it was eaten by the female Betta, the biggest fish in the tank. No other events occurred until three days ago; we noticed only 5 were visible.  

Kids were intrigued by its disappearance and determined to solve this mystery. They were not kidding. Elliot opened the tank lid and started lifting the decorations and moving around the gravel. I doubted he would find anything, but when he lifted the cave a tissue thin skin with its regular coloring swirled to the surface. Its insides were gone.

The red color is not blood. Its the red stripe on its body. Kids want to keep this specimen for an indefinite amount of time.

Clues: The orange Platy was seen nipping at the Tetras lately, so it became the first suspect. Betta became the #2 suspect. These suspicious fish had two sets of keen eyes watching their moves and a tap on the tank glass if they got too close to the Tetras.

Kids profiled each fish and after watching, what seemed like a billion YouTube videos, they concluded it’s the catfish group. One video explained how catfish will eat their tank mates if they run out of algae to eat. A-HA! We haven’t been giving them algae drops since they probably had enough to eat from the leftover food and fish waste. I assumed they already had plenty to eat.

New Plan: For kids: Must buy new fish to replace the 2 Neon Tetras. For me: Let’s keep it the way it is and no more fish.

Action: Bought 2 orange Platy’s and the 2 of the tiniest Neon Tetras at PetSmart. When I told the guy we wanted the smallest ones, he really delivered. They were barely visible in the plastic bag.

Implementation: Kids wanted to do the transfer themselves. I wasn’t too sure but it would be a good learning experience nonetheless. Two minutes in…water all over the chair and floor. This plastic bag collapsed and water spilled out when I cut the rubber banded part off with a scissor. Clean up took about 30 minutes for me while the kids ran off to do their thing. humph…

First transfer to our tank from PetSmart. Two baby Tetras mingling with the others.

Realization after the fact: The tiny 2 Tetras are probably babies. They may starve because the bigger ones will get to the food first.

Next action plan: We must transfer them to a smaller bowl. I tell Elliot and he wholeheartedly agrees that’s the best plan.

Implementation: Prepared a small fishbowl with conditioned water and some rocks. Elliot netted out the first one and put it in the bowl. Unfortunately, the second one got squeezed on its side during the transfer. It darted out of the net and Elliot tried to hold onto it, and this is how the Tetra’s midsection got squished. It immediately went limp and floated slowly down to the bottom of the bowl. Thought it was playing dead, but it was breathing rapidly, floating sideways. It wasn’t floating upside down; all hope is not lost yet.

Reaction: Elliot – speechless. Me – frustrated. This probably means we’ll have to go back to PetSmart the next day. Elliot: visibly upset and panicking when the fish wouldn’t swim. He apologized to me for being careless and apologizing to the fish for hurting it. I told him he didn’t need to apologize to me; it was no one’s fault. We were trying to provide a conducive habitat for the fish, except that our well-intentioned move went awry. He put his hand to his eyes and started crying saying if the fish dies it would be his fault.

When he replayed this saga to his sister later, she asked if he cried. He said, “No, I wasn’t crying. I was weeping.”

I’m exhausted from cleaning, moving this and that around, comforting a sad child, and googling treatments for Tetra fish. My first instinct was to tell Elliot that we should just let it peacefully die. We’ve accidentally killed so many fish that I didn’t see it possible to revive a tiny one back to health. It’s not that I’m heartless about fish; I really didn’t believe we could do anything productive.

Problem Solving: Google how to care for injured fish. Elliot starts searching YouTube videos and I google search on my phone. Visiting a fish vet is a possibility, but I wasn’t confident we’d go that far. The Tetra was $2.50. He found a video from a YouTube channel called Joel’sAnimalPassion00; his Tetra looked weak and would hide in dark spaces away from others. He provided specific steps for treating a sick Tetra. His channel

Step 1: Quarantine the sick fish in a small cup or bowl

Vitals: Rapid breathing, floating around sideways. At time, it swims normally and floats sideways again.

Step 2: Add a few drops of water conditioner and a dissolve a dash of salt into it. He added some medicinal formula for fish, but we didn’t have that to add at home. Had no idea if this would work, but it was worth trying in changing the water composition with salt.

Step 3: We do all of steps 1 and 2. Since the fish may be stressed out, we add a tiny pinch of “First Bites” powdered food.

Step 4: Still floating around, nibbling at the food falling over it, and breathing rapidly still. The YouTube guy said his Tetra didn’t like light, so he covered the cup with a cap. We used a small white box to cover the top.

Reducing sunlight to create comfortable ambiance for frazzled fish. Fish is housed in the bottom half of a cut plastic water bottle.

Step 5: Wait and see

Step 6: The next morning, we are surprised that the wounded Tetra is swimming normally. We give it more food and it perks up. Few hours later, we net him back into the 10 gallon tank. Immediately, it starts schooling with the other Tetras. Its name is “Warrior” due to the ordeal it survived.

Conclusion: Elliot is thrilled he was able to revive the baby fish back to health. He said we were the Emergency Room Fish Doctors and that it was tough treating a baby fish.

Current status: The revived Tetra is back with the other fish in the main tank, schooling happily with the others. I don’t want it to starve, maybe I’m paranoid, so we feed the two in a separate net container. Rest of the fish are inundated with baby food scraps. Must do a water change in the next day or two.

Careful transfer from quarantine to main tank.
Warrior is back!

This experience has convinced the kids that they are ready to upgrade to a 20 gallon tank. They promised to do all the necessary work and won’t need my help. Elliot says he’ll even use his birthday money to buy the new tank. I’m not giving in easily; they told me the same spiel when we got the 10 gallon tank. Guess who does most of the cleaning, feeding, and burying the dead fish by our garage.

Update: Day 2 of post-discharge from the small bowl. Warrior is happily schooling with the other Tetras.

Kind words from an unexpected stranger

The other day I made a phone call to one of Ellis’ healthcare supply office. We’ve been their customer for seven years and never questioned their bill. They became a part of our family through the years.

I signed the contract, a scroll-like document, for all the supplies we needed at home when Ellis got discharged from the hospital at one-month-old. I led the way holding a baby carrier and the hospital volunteer pulling a red wagon filled with medical supplies to help load into the car. Here’s my list of supplies: feeding pump, pole, tube feeding lines, bandage tape, dark glass jug of MCT oil to mix with formula, gauze, scissors, IV bags, syringes, charger, oximeter machine, weight scale, pole, and a thick binder of instructions and phone numbers. I felt like I had undergone a super accelerated and condensed nursing program to bring my kid home.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, Ellis quietly sat in her car seat looking around at the outsides for the first time.

Something about that first month and going through traumatic situations together, we have been two peas in a pod. Since the time I held her on my knees looking at me in the ICU, with wires and tubes coming out of her, I have been lost in love as a protector and mom. We stayed together always. Even when admitted to the hospital, she would freak out if I was not on the bed with her. Nurses, exasperated with her crying, would just get an adult bed and have me lie down with her. It was better than the chair, but even a small baby takes up a lot of bed space. I always had cold butt as it stuck out to make more room for her in the middle.

That’s the backdrop for my story. Needing to reorder supplies monthly, it became an unquestioned part of our lives. We ordered religiously for the first 5 years of her life, but it’s been sporadic for the past 2 years. Lots of changes in diet, routine, and stomach upset that made us reconsider supplemental night time feeding of extra caloric formula. Also, to hear the whirring of the pump throughout the night keeps me in a state of half awake/ half asleep mode. Then, if you don’t follow close instructions, you end up with formula spills, stomach upset that leads to throw up, beep sounds from the pump, extension line wrapped around the kid during sleep, changing all the bedding in the middle of the night, wiping the carpet with damp towel so floor doesn’t smell like vanilla milkshake, or washing face and hands from the throw up debris.

Current goal: get all of her nutritional needs by oral eating. This is a lot to ask for these heart kids because their heart works overtime in pumping blood, burning calories quickly. Weight gain is painfully slow. When she says “I’m hungry,” I panic. I feel that if she does not eat something right at that moment, she will pass out. I see that as a reflection of myself as a good parent. It’s irrational, I know.

Well, it just came to my attention that I was not aware of the fine print from the company. We receive lots of hospital bills, insurance company letters, packets of Explanation of benefits, and duplicates of hospital bills that are overdue, insurance pending, or payment not processed yet. The paperwork is confusing and interpreting the deductible, out of pocket, maximum, OMG, it’s baffling for lay people like me who do not fully comprehend the billing terminology.

Anyways, last week I received 10 separate bills in one day from the collection agency. It was kind of funny as I handed Elliot the empty envelopes to recycle. I didn’t realize our bills were this overdue. I assumed that we weren’t being charged for months we didn’t order supplies, which were quite a few months. Well, I forgot that we were renting the pump. Fine print: If you have the pump, you pay for the monthly supplies whether you order or not. Had no idea.

Spoke with the customer representative, billing department, blah blah blah. All the same thing. I don’t know where my anger was directed: me or this company. I couldn’t believe my oversight and complacency; I couldn’t believe their fine print and the continual repeat that this is their policy. It seemed unethical to not update parents of this billing practice from time to time. When your kid has a chronic illness, a lot of things fly straight through your head and forgetfulness runs rampant. You’re too tired and too worried.

I was exasperated and asked to speak with the supervisor. The lady asked me, “for what?” and I got majorly pd off. But there’s Ellis looking at me as I’m talking on the phone; she knows it’s about her because these phone conversations begin with confirming patient’s name and date of birth. Ugh, can’t get too mad on the phone or she may think I’m mad at her. She may think she’s to blame for my frustration.

All these things are going through my mind, and in the middle of it, Elliot calls “Mommy” like 5 times asking me if he could eat the peanut butter-jelly sandwich on the counter and Ellis announcing that says she needs to poop. Adult reality and kid reality; my mind felt like mush.

Ok, I’m taking too long here. I didn’t have the bandwidth to carry this conversation further. I called the collection agency to settle the debt. I needed to be over with this or it’ll hang over my head the rest of the day, the week.

I’m so mad that I’m sobbing on the phone as I tell the collector our account number and all that confirmation info. The guy must’ve thought I was nuts or either being dramatic to get a lower settlement. I explained the situation and asked what final settlement amount he could offer. I thought he may assume I’m not sincere with my story, so I had to explain that I was going to pay the bill but that this whole situation upset me tremendously.

I never expected to hear words of comfort from a debt collector: Don’t be too hard on myself.; It’s understandable how I could’ve not known in the middle of all this medical drama with your kid.; It’s a shame I wasn’t notified about this during a service pause.; He apologized that I was going through this but that now I know and can decide whether to continue business with them.

I cried more thinking how God comforts me through unexpected people. He knows the big toll caretaking has on me emotionally, physically, and spiritually. But when I feel the day is too long to bear, He sends surprises in is perfect timing. Knowing that He cares so much to convey affirming words to me made me sadder with gratefulness and humility that He acknowledges a flawed person like me.

It was a surreal conversation. You don’t usually think of a debt collector showing this kind of thoughtful understanding to a collectee. His kindness made me cry more. Settled the debt, cancelled the account, and cried because I felt relieved to have this behind me.

The kids asked me why I cried. I explained that I was mad at myself for a stupid mistake of mine. I apologized to Elliot that I was short with him when he was just asking about a sandwich. Ellis shakes her head side to side like a grown up, saying “Mommy, it’s ok. Everyone makes mistakes.”

p.s. I am posting this without further edit. It takes so long to edit that it may keep me up through the night. I’m not upset anymore and have made peace with the situation. The medical supply company is just doing their business and I have the choice to change providers. No hate…I’m over it now.

Last day of June, Tooth Fairy, and pains of getting older; Another rambling of sorts

Under this unusual circumstance of a pandemic, my kids tirelessly remind me that they’re bored. There’s not much I can do about it; I’m running out of ideas and stamina.

They exclaim they’re bored, literally, 2 seconds after they sit on the couch from playing. What?! Or they’re bored as they take off their shoes coming in from a walk. It’s baffling. After they say the 2 dreaded words, they already know my pre-recorded statement: “Being bored is not a bad thing. I want to be bored.”

With all their shenanigans and their endless boredom, I can visibly notice how much they’ve grown. A surprising change is their voluntary teeth brushing in the morning. It used to be an agonizing experience getting them to brush teeth twice a day…there would be tears, sighing, bribes, yelling (I’m not proud of this one), and dreadful stories of what happens to un-brushed teeth.

One morning this mid June, both of them began brushing without the usual whining. I assumed this is some fluke or kids buttering me up for something. But it’s been two weeks now; they’re brushing twice a day.

I’m not sure what inspired this change, but it might’ve been prompted by a lingering cavity tooth for Elliot. Since it is a baby tooth, the dentist told us to watch it so that the cavity doesn’t get worse. X-ray showed his new tooth growing in and the best thing would be for it to naturally fall out.

The tooth held up fine until mid May when he felt some pain around that tooth. We all panicked because the dentist office was closed. For days I had him gargle with salt water and told him, worse comes to worse, I will have to treat it myself as a non-professional dentist with “yankers” (a facetious term we picked up from a dinosaur show; I don’t have yankers, for real). Sorry kid, it’s the COVID time: the dentist office is closed.

Thankfully, we got an appointment the first week of the dentist reopening after the shelter-in-place. It was a hopeful car ride to the dentist as we prayed for the cavity to not get worse and that it truly was wiggly. Prognosis: it’s ready to fall out but in pieces. The tooth cracked but it didn’t cause pain or show any infection. BUT if it hurts, he’d need to get it extracted involving laughing gas.

A week later, part of that tooth with the cavity broke off and fell out. The other piece is hanging tight. Relief felt all around.

That night, a visit from the Tooth Fairy wrote encouraging notes for both kids, left Elliot’s tooth as a his souvenir as he requested in his letter, and hid small surprises for each under blankets. Usually she leaves it under the pillows, but this time the lumpy small Ninjago pod and Hatchimals Pet would be too obvious. Although Ellis didn’t lose a tooth, she has a tendency to remind you of her sadness frequently: she gets a small surprise for waiting patiently.

In the morning when he couldn’t feel the prize under his pillow, his eyes grew wide with nervousness. He’s matured because it wasn’t the old reaction of immediate crying. instead, he played it off like it was okay: maybe she doesn’t come for a cracked tooth or she’s sheltering-in-place because of COVID-19.

Dino chompers. Post-cleaning selfie

All those experiences may have motivated him to brush consistently. Ellis may be brushing for different reasons.

Ellis, 7, is still waiting to lose her first tooth. She has her eye on one of them but we’re not sure if it’s wiggly. Her teeth are small, like popcorn kernels. This has her jumping for joy that we’re going to the dentist this week. She’ll get the dentist’s authoritative word.

Then, she asked me if the Tooth Fairy would leave me a present if one of my tooth fell out. Do grown-ups get presents too? I replied, “Uhhhhh, that’s ok. I don’t want a gift from the Tooth Fairy. When you have grown-up teeth, you don’t want them falling out. It’s best to keep your teeth in your mouth instead of out.”

I shook my head in disbelief that I uttered those words. I felt like a dinosaur. Those are the kinds of things I heard from my parents or the older generation. There’s truth in it, but I was shocked to find myself saying the same thing.

It’s hard to get older and there’s a lot of regrets, wishes, and anxieties in facing the future. Changes are slow, sometimes dramatic, and seeing the difference/s from my young self to middle-aged self takes a toll on my self-image. It seems vain but the struggle is real. This will be a lesson of self-acceptance and thankfulness that with God’s help I get to see the faces of my 3 favorite peeps each day.

God created both youthfulness and aging. There are pros and cons to both, but I have to rekindle faith that God knows what he’s doing and that it’s a natural process of life. I was young once…now it’s transition time to a new stage.

p.s. Ellis got definitive word that bottom tooth is wiggly. She’s in high spirits!

Dino drama

Our house is inundated with dinosaur toys. Kids have been collecting them for years; they want each of every kind (and the variety is endless). When I store the dino toys away in the closet, they are adamant these ferocious looking animals stay in open view.

Baby-rex out for dessert with his pet dog. The geese background is from a wooden tray my neighbor made for me. She decoupaged and painted the sides and back an ocean blue color.
Baby rex reassuring pony that hedgehogs are not scary but friendly.
Ball toss at the beach!
Back and forth…

I like the dino figures made specifically for the toddler age group, which Ellis got as introduction to dinosaurs. She was frightened to play with her brother’s dino collection yet she wanted to have her own that was not to sharp and plastic-y. These toddler dinos have round features, friendly smiles, and soft bodies. Fast forward three years, and I’m the only one who still likes the toddler ones. I’m told: “it’s so baby looking.”

Ok, that was a long introduction to this post. Will not digress anymore. Kids decided to bring out boxes of dinosaurs into the living room and have created a beach setting for them. Walking from couch to kitchen requires special footwork and keen vision; one misstep creates a domino effect of the town collapsing and tearful children. Lately, setting up toys for pictures has been lots of fun. People on the internet have done some marvelous and creative things with toys looking like real people or characters doing everyday things.

I wanted to try. Here are some pics:

Kids say funny things: Part 7. Birds are chirping

With warmer weather and more sunshine trees are shaking off its winter slumber and birds are getting more vocal too.

On a stroll last weekend, kids and I walked near a tall tree with chirping sounds coming from above; but no sight of birds. This tree however kept its leaves and its sprawling branches made a ring of dark shadow on the ground. We peeked underneath carefully and quickly: wanted to avoid any bird dropping surprises.

A Eucalyptus tree from Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve. (Not a picture of the actual tree I’m referring to)

Me: “Can you guys see any of the birds?”

Kids: Looking up at the tree and its intertwined bare branches…They could hear varied chirping sounds from different tree spots but none were visible.

Me: “I guess they’re busy building nests.” I’m not sure of that statement’s accuracy, but in passing I learned that birds build nests and lay eggs in the spring when leaves start to grow on trees. Good time for baby birds to hatch and get stronger so they’re mature by summer.

Ellis: “They are singing loud.”

Silence. Everyone doing their own thing. Me: sipping coffee from my tumbler and checking out new flower buds. Elliot: hopping on lines of the sidewalk.

Ellis: “I think they’re practicing a song.”

Me: “What song?”

Ellis: In a low voice, she mumbles to herself. “Maybe they’re practicing the happy birthday song to sing for my birthday.”

Elliot: “What song?!” He asks loudly like he couldn’t believe what he heard.

Ellis: “To sing happy birthday for me for my birthday.” She shyly responds putting her hands in her jacket pocket.

Elliot: “Oh Ellis. I don’t think they know that song.”

I wish I could see the world where birds sing only for me and the same squirrel, named Fretz, pops up to say “hello” whenever we see a random one around town. If the squirrel looks different, it’s assumed to be Fretz’s girlfriend or uncle.