Coming Home Empty Handed From the School Fair

As published in the Rye Record on May 3, 2013 


I’ve just returned from the Midland School Fair. I am completely dehydrated, my feet hurt, and I am in possession of one partially mutilated cake that my son won at the cakewalk. My youngest son got his face painted, and I’m watching him casually transfer that paint to all of the upholstered surfaces of my home. If I had 15 percent less sugar in my system, I could get up and wash that face.

All that said I consider it a pretty successful day because I got through the fair without acquiring a goldfish.

I have radar for innocuous things that are going to turn out to be my problem. I can see it in the eyes of the lady who is approaching me with a great idea for a fundraiser; I hear it in the voice of my son who’s asking me for a shoebox for a school project. I knew that my husband’s new juicer was going to be my problem before I got all 19 hand-wash-only pieces out of the box. After a month in my kitchen, a crime lab wouldn’t be able to find a single one of his prints on that thing. That juicer is my problem. The school fair goldfish is no different.

I cringed as I watched other people’s goldfish acquisitions replay themselves in front of me all day: the elated child running up to his parent, “I won a goldfish!” The word “won” is a bit of a stretch. For the price of one punch on your fair card you get a chance to scoop a balloon out of a kiddy pool. If you get it, you get a fish. If you don’t get it, you get a fish. This partially plays into our culture of sending everyone home a winner, but I suspect it has more to do with the fact that whoever is in charge of the goldfish station doesn’t want to be schlepping 600 goldfish home at the end of the day. That’s really an inordinate amount of flushing.

The parents groan. They know that this little goldfish brings with it a teaching moment on the circle of life. And that moment’s coming soon because that plastic bag prisoner is probably going to be floating by cocktail hour. But they smile and congratulate their child, agreeing to carry that little bag around for the rest of the day. We lock eyes as we pass, nodding our condolences with a sarcastic, “Oh I see your daughter won a fish too!” Echoes of “dead fish swimming” fill the halls.

If you don’t have a floater in your baggie by the end of the fair, you’ve won a fish that lives for multiple years. (I have heard no stories of fair fish that live a few months; it’s either hours or years.) This hearty fish is the one that becomes my problem, and I’ve had plenty. This fish survives any amount of neglect, extreme temperatures, and an extended family vacation. This is the fish that lives long enough to actually finish the container of fish food that we bought on the way home from our first fair.

Of all the thankless things mothers take on, I think the weekly cleaning of the goldfish bowl takes the prize. The fundraiser raises money and the juicer keeps my husband healthy, but I get nothing back from that fish. He doesn’t wag his fin at me when I walk in the house. He doesn’t know any tricks at all. I just watch as he circles the bowl with that impassive (and maybe insincere) kissy face. To be honest, I even get a little bored watching people swim.

Yes, my kids hit the cupcake room more times than I care to count and “won” multiple Woopie Cushions today, but they somehow missed the fish station. My fishbowl is still safely packed away, so I’ve had a very successful day at the fair.