A couple of months ago I received a text from my 11-year-old neighbor girl, Sophie.

The text was from her father’s phone and started out like this:

“Hi. This is Sophie. I would like to know if you would be interested in babysitting my fish while I go on vacation. Since you have a fish pond in your backyard, I believe you are the logical candidate for the job. Please let me know if you are interested.”

Now there is absolutely no way I could refuse a request like that, so I texted Sophie back, “I would love to babysit your fish.”

Sophie texted back, “Great! Then we will need to meet in person for me to give you the proper instructions for fish care and feeding. Please be at my house at 1:30 p.m. Thank you.”

Now, I should probably say here that Sophie is a delightfully intelligent and detailed oriented 11-year-old. So when we met for my training session I was in for a lot of very specific information.

Sophie: Thank you for coming. This is my fish, Connor. He’s a betta fish or also known as a Siamese fighting fish.

Me: Oh gee, I don’t know if I can babysit a fish with anger issues.

Sophie: You’ll be fine. He rarely leaves his aquarium. You will notice this chart I made on the aquarium depicting the days we will be gone. Feed Connor on the days with check marks.

Me: What if Connor is hungry on the off days? What if he asks me for a burger and fries? What do I do then?”

Sophie: That’s not going to happen. Can we focus please? (Picking up a 4-inch card with a variety of miniature colored clothespins attached, Sophie placed it in front of the aquarium.)

Me: Does Connor do his own laundry? Hanging clothes out to dry kind of seems like a waste of time for a fish.

Sophie: Dad warned me about you. Can we please concentrate? Connor needs his exercise. So you hold the entire cardboard up to the aquarium glass. When Connor swims up to a particular colored clothespin, that’s the one he wants to play with. You take it off the cardboard and rub it up and down the glass. Connor will chase it.

I could not believe what I was seeing. This fish was chasing a purple clothespin up and down the glass.

Me: Sophie, that’s amazing. Did you teach him that?

Sophie: Why yes I did. Connor is very gifted. He’s in my advanced clothespin class. Now we need to talk about interior aquatic illumination. His light goes on first thing in the morning and off at exactly 3:15 p.m.

Me: Why 3:15?

Sophie: (pausing a moment to think of an analogy I could understand) It’s kind of like coffee. Too much light and he’ll be awake all night. Now, do you think you can handle this?

Me: Yes, ma’am. You have very clearly explained my duties. I will try to do a good job.

Sophie: There is no trying. There is only doing. Good luck.

Sophie went on vacation and I babysat Connor, all the while praying he wouldn’t die on my watch.

Seven days later my doorbell rang.

Sophie: Connor lived. I must admit I had my doubts after our training session. I got you a gift to thank you for taking care of Connor. It’s a ceramic mushroom bell. I picked it out myself.

Me: Thank you, Sophie. I’ll hang it in the tree outside my sunroom to see when I’m having my coffee. And Sophie, I’ll fishsit for you anytime.

God, I love this child.

Raul Ascunce is a freelance columnist for the Sentinel-Tribune. He may be contacted at RaulAscunce@gmail.com.

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