Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Dear Mordechai,

My kids wanted a pet for their afikoman present. Should I get them a dog or a fish?


Doug Wolfson


Dear Doug,

Well, on the one hand, fish are a lot easier to manage, because they don’t leap onto strangers or bound out when you open the door, and you don’t have to take them for walks unless you want to.

On the other hand, you can forget to feed your fish and they won’t say anything, like they’re awkward little house guests. (“I don’t know if I should say anything. Should I say anything?”) And then they die.

Whereas if you forget to feed a dog, he’ll remind you. Or he’ll chew on everything until you get the hint.

We actually had goldfish for a while. They’re dead now, but not because we forgot to feed them.

Because that’s another downside – you can accidentally kill a fish. And not in the ways you’d think. For example, as of a year ago, two of my kids had fish. They kept them in separate bowls, because they didn’t want to get their fish mixed up, because they could not pick their fish out of a lineup. (Which is another downside of fish, but also an upside, because you can replace them without the kid knowing. It’s harder to do that with a dog.) They fed the fish whenever they remembered, which was about once a month, plus I fed them every day.

And now we have zero fish. You can say it’s my fault, but all my kids are still alive, B”H, so I know how to take care of things.

But I did want to teach my kids responsibility, and I wasn’t going to do it by stopping to feed their fish and sacrificing a creature’s life so my kids will go, “Oh” and then move on. So a few months ago, I told one of my sons to change his fish’s water. He filled a little cup with water, put the fish in it, and started rinsing the bowl, and before I knew it, he came over to me and said, “My fish is dead.” And he handed me a cup with a dead fish in it.

“Is this warm water?” I asked.

“Yeah, why?”

So that was the end of that one. Then, a few months later, I was changing the water for my other son’s fish, because I didn’t want him to kill his fish in the name of responsibility, and I made sure to use cold water. Not only that, but because we’d recently gotten a piece of paper in the mail that said that the local water had lead in it, I even ran the entire bowl’s worth of water through our Britta, which took basically all day. Then I put the fish back into the bowl, and the next time I glanced over at it, the fish were dead. It was the filtered water that did it, apparently. Which is scary, because my family drinks that water. Well, not that water, with the dead fish in it. Other water, similarly filtered.

Point is, changing the water is the number one cause of fish death in our household. Which is good to know, because I still owe my son more fish because I killed his first fish, even though the fish were only alive as long as they were because I’d kept feeding them. But I might as well get more, because we still have fish food. And then when we’re out of that, I’ll have to get more fish food, because we’ll still have fish. And so on. Until he accidentally kills his own fish by dumping the entire container of fish food into the bowl.

Dogs are definitely more fun. And not just because it’s harder to accidentally kill them. You can play with them, teach them tricks… You can’t teach a fish tricks, because he doesn’t even know you exist. And because you never know if you’re dealing with a replacement.

Occasionally I think about getting a dog. It seems like fun. You see people playing in the park with their dogs, and you’re like, “There’s no way I can do that with my fish.” But what you don’t think about, because you’re only seeing the fun times, is that dogs have all the same disgusting bodily functions that humans have – diarrhea, hot dog burps, foot odor – only they don’t warn you beforehand. The dog doesn’t tell you when he has to throw up, so you can tell him to run into the bathroom. And for all the tricks you can teach a dog, you can’t teach him to go get a paper towel and clean up after himself. And who wants to deal with that? I already have my own kids.

So I don’t want to own a dog, apparently. I want to be the grandparent of a dog. I want my kids to have a dog. But not until they leave my house. They’re begging me for a dog – go ahead and get one, once you move out. That way, I only have to see it until it makes something dirty, and then I can just hand it back and send it home. I can also show up once in a while and get it presents. For burying the afikoman in the backyard.



Dear Mordechai,

I got my friends a present the first time they had a baby, and now they just keep having babies. I think they’re doing it for the presents. What do I get them the second or third time around?

Say “Uncle”


Dear Say,

That’s a great question. For the first baby, everyone gets baby products, but for the second baby, they probably still have all those products, and the first baby is done with them. It’s not like different babies are into different things. It’s not like one baby will like a rattle, and the other one will go, “You know, I’m more into reading plush books.” Clothing is nice, but that’s handed down too. It’s not like the second kid will look at the outfit and go, “I don’t know if that’s really my taste.” Babies are pretty much all the same. Unless it’s a new gender. But eventually you run out of genders. There aren’t that many.

Though I suppose there are different seasons. For example, if the couple had their first baby in the winter and their second baby in the summer, you could probably assume they have no newborn summer clothes. But then you’re making an assumption about the size of their baby. Maybe this one is huge.

I think that’s why everyone asks how big the baby is. On the surface, that’s the most impolite question ever.

“My wife had a girl.”

Mazel tov! How much does she weigh?”

“I don’t know, one-seventy? She doesn’t let me look at the scale.”

“No, the girl!”

But that’s why people ask the size – we’re fitting the kid for clothing. It’s not so we know whether we can ask to hold her.

“Ten pounds? Never mind. I can’t even hold my phone without dropping it in the toilet.”

But if you’re really stuck for a present, the important thing to realize is that babies aren’t babies forever. They’ll be kids someday. So maybe get them something kids want. Like a pet. They’ll be sure to appreciate that.

“No, it’s a dog! This will save you the expense later.”

Also, you can never go wrong with buying diapers. No one’s going to say, “Oh, we have diapers already.”


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