Dear Wallander: Advice for a Concerned Mother

This week's guest columnist is Kurt Wallander, the brooding Swedish police inspector who looks like he hasn't shaved, or slept, for days. 

Dear Wallander,

I'm the mother of three beautiful young boys—ages 3, 6, and 8—and one of them is lying to me. I found Gilly the Goldfish on the rug, ten feet from her tank. Clearly, she didn't make that leap by herself. 

Luckily, I got her back into the water and she seems okay.

All three of my boys deny doing this. In your experience, what's the best way of getting the truth out of them—and how can my husband and I ever trust them with the life of another pet?

—Mom Wants Answers

Dear MWA,

My colleagues are impatiently demanding that we abandon a discussion of your case to devote ourselves to the case of the Fifth Woman, though their theory of the case is completely off-base. 

So, I shall storm from the meeting and stalk to my apartment, where I can meditate on the details of your case and fall asleep in my chair until my flip phone wakes me with the most annoying ring tone known to Europe.

I am, of course, handicapped by not being able to visit the crime scene to collect evidence and interrogate suspects. 

The first mistake of any investigation, especially homicide or attempted homicide, is limiting yourself to three suspects. Certainly, other people have access to your home. Other children visiting during a play date or a birthday party. Neighbors and friends over for dinner. And strangersperhaps a man there to repair your dishwasher. 

Although, a stranger is actually the least frightening possibility. Because the worst monsters are the ones we know and love.

You have a tainted crime scene and three primary suspects you cannot trust to be truthful about themselves, their brothers, and what they know of the assault upon this goldfish. But, if you insist on knowing the truth, purchase two items: another goldfish and a wireless camera. If this new goldfish goes missing, ask yourself a simple question before you decide to watch the footage: Do you really want to know? 

The trouble with suspects so young as your three boys is this: under pressure, any one of them will wilt and falsely confess to the crime. 

This will not give you closure. It will only cement the idea that one of your boys is flawed and murderous, when he simply may be annoyed by your persistence or afraid of the older brother who actually took the fish out of the tank. And, this act may not have been malicious. Your youngest child may have been trying to play with Gilly when the fish slipped out of his grasp.

It's normal for children, especially toddlers, to not know how to properly care for pets. 

It's even normal for little boys—and girls—to do things like pull the wings off flies or try to light ants aflame with a magnifying glass on a hot day. This isn't something a parent wants to encourage, and God forbid they torture hamsters, family dogs, or goldfish, but it is typical and nothing to send your boys to therapy over.

Your three-year-old likely doesn't even fully understand the concept of death. Having a peteven a goldfishcan help teach them that their actions matter. They can, and should, learn that forgetting to feed your fish for a week or dropping him on the floor is a mistake you can't fix. 

I know a little about mistakes you can't fix. Do your three sons a favor and help them learn that lesson as early as you can, when the worst that can happen is what happens to a pet goldfish.


Guy Bergstrom is a speechwriter and reformed journalist. He's represented by literary agent Jill Marr and can be found on Twitter @speechwriterguy or at his blog, For etiquette questions you want answered in this column, try