Hungry, Hungry, Hippo Marbles and Unraveling

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.



    1. It is quite honestly the best middle name ever. My Unicorn alternates between Hot Dog and Corndog, but usually settles on some hyphenated version. This upsets the engineer a great deal for some reason.

  1. Oh Jen, you nailed it! Now that mine are teens, we’re in a whole new stage of evolution. I’m so glad that you’ve learned to relax amid the chaos at such an early stage. You’re a rockstar!

  2. Loved this – it’s so true. I remember when my husband wanted ME (not him) to count all the matchbox cars that my son took on vacation….um..I think not.. and he also suggested, early on in our parenting, that we only have 1 or 2 toys out at a time so we don’t ‘confuse’ the baby…hee hee….how naive we were. I remember thinking I have become my grandmother when I realized everything we owned seemed to be put in ziplock baggies (and then in my backpack)…now I have not a care if the pieces to this are put with pieces of that….

    And did you approve of “Corndog”?

    1. My husband really fights this too. I understand his point because I guess I should be teaching the children to keep their things organized and all that, but I need to save my energy for the long term rather than worry about things in the short term. My strategy is more to weed out toys and get rid of things to manage mess. I REFUSE to count toys anymore though. If someone wants it done, they are going to have to do it themselves. I figure the best way for them to learn to keep track is to lose a few precious items along the way.

      And of course I approve of Corndog. I might just cross out his actual middle name on his birth certificate and write it in. You can do that, right?

  3. Oh how I love your posts, lady. I truly do. This was a beautiful ode to growing children and just letting it go as it happens. I could picture the kids and the kid mess in the house, the way you wrote this. And truly, nobody can resist the magical allure of an Oreo.

  4. I just had to, literally, DRAG my child a block to get her to day care. I have a new appreciation for well made back packs.
    Therefore, I assume that any joy in this post is purely fictional…because I am mad.
    I think I need a time out.

    1. You didn’t get handles installed when she was born? I think that they should offer that option as a matter of course in the hospital. Don’t get me wrong; the joy is interspersed with rage and frustration, but I can safely say it gets better. And then worse, and then better, and then you want to puke because it’s the worst rollercoaster you’ve ever been on.

  5. I finally got rid of my Hungry Hippos set. I kept it for ages. I have no idea why because no one played it any more. I remember thinking it was the closing of a chapter of sorts. Letting go of the Hippo set and I really couldn’t wait. We do change with our kids’ lives. I threw away the puzzles, too! I like you theme…I was going to change to this one.

    1. Amy! I was a lazy non-responder this month; life got in the way of blogging mojo. I know what you mean about closing of chapters. For me the major one so far has been putting the stroller away for good. I can’t even use it on my bike anymore because the boys collective weight is too much. It is sort of an unconscious thing where it falls out of use, but when you finally sell it or get rid of it, it brings it home. I’ll never have baby twins again!!

    1. And I yours, Lady Tonic. It does allow you to enjoy life more. It’s sort of a reap what you sow effort; a hell of a lot of hard work in the beginning and then lots of happy moments with (hopefully) happy, independent little beasts in the end. And then there’s booze for when that doesn’t work out.

    1. Thank you Aussa, and also for visiting! I always say that the highs are higher and the lows are lower with parenting, and particularly twins like mine. On average it all comes out in the wash, you just have to decide if you like rollercoasters or not.

  6. Cracks me up…because it’s so true. We actually have 16 of the marbles, because that game lives in a drawer where they can roll around but not escape. However, my girls set ups pulley system from Mardi Gras breads, shoelaces and hat boxes last weekend and have hauled things up and down the stairs so many times we don’t have a clue what’s where. Keep up the brilliant attitude and writing!

    1. Pictures or it never happened! There is no possible way you have 16!!! Actually, since I discovered my husband has been hiding them in the conch shell, I guess we have a lot more, but if I gave them to the boys they would be immediately scattered to the wind. One of my sons would adopt them as his babies, like he did to all the Yahtzee dice. I love that your girls set up a whole pulley system.. it’s amazing what they can make from ordinary items.

  7. Oh this is such a cute post! I’m pretty sure along the way our dog probably swallowed a Hungry Hippos marble or two….I can’t blame him for every missing toy though.

    1. Our dogs, despite being total toy hounds before the kids were born, have never messed with the kids stuff. Despite that, our remaining wayward dog does take a lot of blame for things. I am sure if I was to carefully inspect I’d find she’s eaten the odd stray marble or similar.

  8. Marbles are like a sock that I lost years ago in my washing machine. I believe the washing machine eats them and is therefore alive and lives off of electricity and eats socks. Marbles also are alive and move when one does not look.

    1. Washing machines are evil, destructive forces of order, and bringers of chaos. If it weren’t for washing machines I would not have piles of wrinkled laundry spawning everywhere all the time. Thanks for stopping by and reading!

  9. I think I have the missing marbles. Years ago, a jar of marbles magically appeared in my home. I have no idea why they are here. It could be they were once mine, but I can’t remember because I have figuratively lost my marbles. I blame my kids.

    1. Magic marbles!!!! The universe was just trying to give you back your missing marbles, which, of course the kids are responsible for. There’s no other reason for marbles to go missing than tiny, sticky hands. Thanks for stopping in and reading!

  10. This is exactly the type of mother I imagine I will be (when I grow up?…) I love the idea of an organized chaos where kids are happy and free and wanting to change their middle names to ‘corndog’ this has also given me fond memories of Hungry Hungry Hippos!

    ps. 60% of all statistics are made up anyway 🙂

    1. The kids sort of impose chaos whether you want them to or not. My husband tries to impose order more often than I do, and it’s kind of like bailing out the titanic with a teacup. I say, fill the teacup with gin and embrace it.

      And the best part about kids is buying all of your favourite toys and playing with them again.

  11. I had all the marbles, and then my son swallowed a few. I think I found most of them in his poop, but well ya know I might have missed a few here and there!!! Love the post, I am still putting puzzle pieces in ziplocks, I am sure that will end pretty soon!!!

    1. It’s good to know they pass right through! I only recently gave up the ziplocs myself. The boys’ just hit this phase where their play got a lot more elaborate and I threw up my hands. It may also be that I am a very tired woman and I can’t be arsed to do anything but watch Downton Abbey anymore. Thanks for reading!

  12. I needed this like crazy. Miss Corndog over here makes me feel like I’m trapped in the moment of her babyhood like an insect in amber. The fact that it won’t always be so tedious gets lost on me sometimes, and this is an excellent reminder to just savor those moments because they’ll be gone by this weekend.

    1. Yes, it will go. My boys are particularly into everything under the sun and couldn’t go anywhere without supervision for a long time. If I turned my back I’d find them in the furnace room or dismantling a lamp or whatever. Our house was nuts. But then I went to visit relatives at Christmas and the boys just disappeared downstairs with their cousins for hours and I had an actual adult conversation and an uninterrupted drink for the first time in 4.5 years. It was magical. They’re still high maintenance in a lot of ways, but I can at least trust that they have some sense of self preservation now.

  13. I love this- a really great picture if what life is like with kids and how it changes you. I often long for those organized, near days when we actually had clean carpet and furniture without scratches and crayon marks, but them I remember the sweetness that comes with all of that… And I know one day I’ll look back on it and wish desperately for its return.

    1. Yes, the mountain of cut up paper and crayon marks on my kitchen table look messy, but they’re so temporary. My parents often say how quiet things are after the boys leave their house after a visit, and I know that’s how I’ll feel when they’re grown. Thanks for stopping by and reading 🙂

  14. we are one of the hungry hippos households. AND all of our marbles are accounted for. but only because we’ve been trying to sell our house and I have serious fear of some potential buyer stepping on one, hurting themselves and then suing me over marble injury.

    1. That sounds impossible. How did they not all get lost the first time you played the game? I am also trying to sell my house, and I am just hoping that no one looks too closely at the heat vents or under the couch, because I am 99% sure that’s where most of the missing items are. Thanks for reading!

  15. As the mother of two boys similar in age, I can say with no uncertainty, I feel you. Hungry Hippos works for two times tops before all the marbles are gone and one mouth refuses to chomp any longer from the abuse. I hardly go a day without a lego stuck in the bottom of my foot. Moonsand was the worst invention yet. I used to put shit in baggies, too. They grow up, as we grow old.

    1. They grow up, as we grow old. You said it, sister. Our hippos get dismantled frequently and poor yellow hippo will never recover. I am never buying moonsand, because I hear it is the devil’s handiwork, and I don’t need to exorcise any more things like that from my carpet. Daycare sent the boys home with snowmen full of rice the other day. WTF, daycare? Do me a solid and don’t send home crafts with 1000000000 tiny particles in them. Our dog is already glittery, I just don’t need more of that in my life.

  16. I just found one of the marbles for the “ramps and marbles” set they got for Christmas which came with 11 dark blue marbles and now has just one. I found that marble in the sippy cup drawer (yes, I have a whole drawer dedicated to sippy cups.) Last night I lay in bed with my oldest, age 6, and as we held each other’s faces he said, “The days just go by so fast.” When I asked him how he felt about that (because he seemed sort of sad, and I was beginning to feel a bit sad myself) he replied, “I feel both happy and sad.”
    They grow up so fast!
    Looking forward to checking out your blog and thanks for the follow!

    1. And that, right there, is why you have to love this age. The chaos and tantrums and all of it is undone when they kill you with sweetness.

      Thank you for stopping by! I loved your FP’ed post this week.

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