It was in week three of our Stay at Home order that Lucy, my four year old, discovered the box of toys marked as "To be Sold." Sensing injustice, she began rifling through, finding the largest, most obnoxious toy for a reunion.
"Are you selling my most favorite hippo game that I loved as a baby?" She hoisted it out of the box, clutching it across her chest.
This toy, officially designated for 6 month olds, is a bright blue plastic hippo with a cavernous stomach that pulses when plastic balls (or any objects) are thrown inside, a song that is best described as "old timey horror" playing all the while. Eventually, a ball catapults out of the hippo's mouth, each expulsion celebrated with a buffoonish laugh. She was right, starting at around four months, for a solid year, this was her most favorite toy.
"I want it back," she said, the discussion over.
Out of the four of us, Lucy has struggled the most with life during Covid-19. When her older sister, Emma, was in Kindergarten all day, I would pick Lucy up after a half day at preschool and we’d run various errands, with Friday visits to the candy store her favorite. We'd take our time filling two bags, one for her and one for her sister. Just behind consuming the candy, the biggest highlight of her day was sharing the loot with Emma, who always sweetly regifted a few pieces back to Lucy. Starbursts, Dum-Dums, and Jelly Beans made regular appearances, with things like candy corn, candy canes, and Peeps marking new seasons.
It didn’t take long for Lucy to fall into a depression once we began to remain home. Her nursery school conducted weekly story times on Zoom but not one to settle for second best, the process enraged her. “I HATE SEEING THEM ON THE COMPUTER!” she yelled. On more than one occasion I found her lying on her bed in the middle of the day (unheard of before), staring at the ceiling. “I just want to be alone, mom.”
The greatest indicator of her gloom appeared nightly, when around 8:30pm she’d announce, “I’m going to bed,” like Sophia from the Golden Girls. Normally a one hour process (at least) that we struggle to get rolling before 9pm, her bedtime routine became less than twenty minutes, and she denied us the great pleasure of reading to her, even her favorite Star Wars series. Prior to March 16th my days were often designed with the specific goal of expelling Lucy’s energy, and suddenly she hardly moved all day. I’m well versed in the crippling affliction of depression. Seeing it in Lucy scared me. It scared me a lot.
With Covid-19 having us (and the whole world) under immense restrictions, the least I could do to lift spirits was relinquish some of mine. Suddenly, we were a family who made slime….slime with glitter, no less, and scented with Chanel No. 5. Eye shadow? Why limit it to the eyes when it looks so interesting on your chin? The tent with a tunnel that takes up the entire living room? Let’s leave it out for three days! The easel that is too large to actually use indoors - let’s keep it in the sunroom and I will carry it out to the deck for you, multiple times a day, the door frames scraping my fingers every single time. If it brings you twenty minutes of happiness and takes another twenty to clean up, what’s a little blood?
My greatest endeavor to bring her joy was purchasing a toy sewing machine so I could make new dresses for barbie dolls. For weeks she had been asking to make crafts with FAB-BRICK. My early, and insufficient, endeavors involved doll sized sleeping bags and pillows made of red and blue stapled felt. Nevermind that I haven’t sewed since making a pair of Jams in seventh grade home-ec some thirty years ago. The machine I ordered was for an eight year old, surely I could master it.
When it arrived, the first thing I did was remove the pesky roll of thread that had somehow gotten tangled through the bottom of the machine. Then I opened the instructions and discovered that this is actually a necessary feature called a “bobbit,” so I spent the next 30 minutes youtubing how to rethread everything, eventually managing it, but not without shouting, “How is this for a freaking eight year old?!” on more than one occasion.
It turns out, the outfits offered in this kit aren’t meant to be worn by dolls, because, you know, buttons and zippers and stuff. Instead, at thirty dollars, this machine is to get comfortable with sewing, so just straight lines and no instructions for a complete outfit. Undeterred, I discovered I could make Barbie sized strapless dresses if I sewed them roomy enough in the back to be pulled up and down, the top fitting as though Barbie had reconsidered her breast implants. My mother-in-law saw a picture of one of my masterpieces and informed me that if I sewed the seam inside out, I could hide it. MIND BLOWN. I’ve made a lot of these dresses, with Lucy and Emma picking out the fabrics and accents, but one I made with a pink top, green bottom, and a lace belt is my favorite. It looks like a nine year old made it.
Now more than fifteen weeks into the pandemic, Lucy is perking up. Emma is done with school, and we have settled on settling. It’s not great, but it’s a little better. Sometimes. While she still hasn’t seen a single friend since March 13th, she has stolen a hug or two from some people she loves, she throws fruit and doll heads into that hippo’s belly, and she will always be the thief of my heart.