It is well known that parenting means making sacrifices. But they won’t always be the ones you expect.
For example, take the game Hungry Hungry Hippos.
It’s a cross between a toy and a game board, and I hated it.
It consists of a square plastic board with marbles and a pocket on each side. Each side features a plastic hippo head which you are supposed to move with a lever, grabbing marbles from the middle and dragging them back to your pocket.
When all the marbles are gone, the hippo who’s chomped the most marbles wins.
It was noisy, it was dumb, and it taught nothing but greed. Also, did I mention it caused an ear-shattering racket? Just the 30-second commercial could give a stone Buddha a migraine. So, of course, my kids begged me to buy it.
I stubbornly refused, however… until the night my toddler came down with croup.
Croup is a swelling of the upper airway which makes it difficult for a child to breathe; what you notice is the painful screech on every inhale.
As terrifying as it must have been for my child, I think I was more terrified still. Sitting in the back seat between my little boy and my toddler, while my husband drove us all as fast as he dared to the hospital, I found myself distracting my boys with the biggest promise I could think of — that when this was over, I would buy them that awful game.
A few hours and some medicated mist treatments later, we were all back home…playing Hungry Hungry Hippos.
It was every bit as deafening as I had feared.
But I made a discovery: it went faster when I didn’t even try. In fact, the more I lost, the happier my children were. And if I was noisy about it, and made a big fuss about losing, that made them the happiest of all.
“No, no no, not again! Where did all the marbles go? I’m a hungry hungry hippo and you ate them all! Grrrr!” (Do hippos growl? Mine did.)
It was a small price to pay.
Once I discovered this trick — the magic of pretend-losing — there was no stopping me. I lost at card games; I lost at Candy Land. Eventually, I even managed to lose at chess!
“Well, wouldja look at that! You beat me, sweetie, in six moves!”
“It has a name, mom. It’s called Fool’s Mate.”
It had a name? “I knew that.”
Some of my biggest sacrifices were made at amusement parks.
For one thing, I bought the ugliest, brightest T-shirt I could find — the color of construction-cone orange — just to make myself easier for my children to spot. I still have that shirt, and if I ever have to go deer hunting I will wear it again.
Then came the Dragon Coaster at Rye Playland.
I have never liked roller coasters. Or, really anything they have at amusement parks. When I was ten, I tried to bribe the attendant to let me out the emergency exit of the House of Mirrors — which I had only chosen because it terrified me less than the Ferris Wheel. Alas, he wouldn’t do it. Apparently, Bazooka bubble gum isn’t legal tender.
But somehow, I had ended up at Rye’s Dragon Coaster, and someone had to sit with my little one or he couldn’t take the ride.
Usually, I consider just driving up and down the hill on Luquer Road to be excitement enough… but at that time, my husband was recovering from some surgery that put him on the “no-ride” list… so Dragon duty fell to me.
The ride was bad. I was right to fear it. Luckily my kids were distracted enough that they didn’t see me losing my cool.
But I had forgotten about the photo booth on the way out… the Blackmail Booth, as my husband calls it. Somehow, they manage to snap a photo of you at your absolute worst— just as you are realizing this was a giant mistake and you must re-prioritize your entire life…for what little is left of it.
In the photo, each of my boys was laughing maniacally.
My face, however, was the textbook picture of Fear. If you showed that picture to an alien who had never seen a human face before, he would say, “You humans call this fun? What was she thinking? Also, why that shirt?”
I bought all the copies just to bury them deep, somewhere in the attic. I plan to be long gone before any of my loved ones find them.
With luck, they’ll never know what I did for love!