I found a Hungry, Hungry Hippos marble in my garbeurator recently.* It’s been months since we had a marble sighting, but I know that there is at least 17 more to be found around our house. It is a true statement that 74%** of North American households with children has a Hungry, Hungry, Hippos set, and every single one of them promptly loses 18 out of the 20 marbles. If you can still place more than two Hungry, Hungry, Hippo marbles, you are supervising your kids too much. Let them go: it is the beginning of an unraveling that you can’t fight any more than time itself, or the magical allure of an Oreo cookie.
There were days, early on, when I put all the puzzle pieces back together at the end of the evening and kept floor mats down, and gates secured. Those were the days where the boys just loved the feel of objects, and were constantly trying to understand the physical laws of the world they were born into. What tastes good, how things stack, that things exist even when you can’t see them. But the scale is small; it exactly fits the capacity of their imagination. It is easily tidied in a few minutes, life can be ordered.
Somewhere along the way they have learned to navigate the world around them enough that the mundane turns fantastical. Your children’s play takes on a life of its own as imagination makes every surface is a cliff, every object something completely other than it appears to be, and every game rule is just a starting point for another thousand completely contradictory and complicated ones.
They pick up skills. Their little fingers and brains learn to navigate finer and finer things and before you know it, it’s no longer building the Duplo wall; you are being told how many legs are on the Lego Hobbit Spider they got for their fourth birthday. Moments later they smash that spider into smithereens and start building it anew into something completely different. They are fitting themselves in and out of costumes, shedding their identities every few minutes. They try to understand the mystery of families and how they come together and what they want for themselves, while loving their own so fiercely the mere mention we’re not all together makes them cry. Except one day you will look outside and you will find your son, fully dressed in winter gear that you didn’t wrestle him into, gleefully flinging himself into a snowbank completely of his own accord. He’s never been outside alone before, but there he is, with you watching through the glass.
But it’s not just them that change. Who was that woman who kept all the puzzles ordered in Ziplocs and religiously swapped out age appropriate toys? I barely recognize her anymore. Now I’ve lost count at 14 stuffed angry birds and I am mildly concerned they’re breeding in the walls at the alarming rate they appear all over the house. I no longer look below adult eye level in order to ignore the stickers all over the closet door, and I am only asked to arbitrate in serious matters such as a brother suggesting that he would like to change his middle name to Corndog. I have someone peeking over my shoulder when I cook or work, and I gladly invite them in to my world too; this duller one they will inherit. There is crayon on my walls, and unadulterated joy in my heart that we have arrived at this place. Because while it is hard to rein Luke Skywalker’s and puppy dogs’ attentions back to practical matters, it is witness to them come into being.
It is apart from you. Without noticing, at some point you feel yourself relaxed in a room alone while they are happily brandishing swords in another. This is life, as it is. Their worlds will grow ever bigger and expand outwards from yours, with secrets and jokes and opinions that represent them, entirely. And that is the point of all of this; not to make them in any image, but to provide a world sufficiently large to find their way in it.
*I wanted to take a picture of the marble, but I promptly lost it again. It will turn up.
**74% is a completely made up statistic, but I bet it’s not far off. Any takers? Actually, you know what, I don’t need a gambling problem.