"Hungry, Hungry, Hippos"
This week, I'm sharing a reflection posted on Facebook by Emily Cannon, a pastor-mom who currently serves McPherson First UMC in McPherson, KS. I hope you appreciate this beautiful intergenerational learning as much as I did.... Pastor Michelle
Before I left for work this morning, Iris asked me to play with her. She took me by the hand and led me to the playroom, where she pulled out the game "Hungry Hungry Hippos". I got it set up, and as I was doing so, I told her the name of each hippopotamus (one is Sweetie Potamus, one is Bottomless Potamus, etc.)
She was really excited during the set-up, but as soon as the actual game began and our hippos started snapping loudly and dueling over the "food", she got distressed and said "No, Mama! Stop! This is how we play!" Then she scooped up the balls and started gently placing them, one by one, into each hippo's mouth individually. She had them take turns, and she distributed the "food" as equitably as an almost-3-year-old can...and when there was only one left, she intentionally fed it to the hippo who had the least. And then she insisted that we play another round and feed the hippos again, in the same careful fashion.
At first, I thought that this was just a hilarious misunderstanding of how "Hungry Hungry Hippos" is supposed to be played...but the more I thought about it, I realized that my toddler was living out the same theological concepts that I preach every Sunday. And I don't think she's unique in this; I think that *most* toddlers have a similar grasp of sharing, turn-taking, and equitable distribution of resources. They have an innate sense of justice and fairness, and--if they're anything like Iris!--they're *very* vocal if something appears to be unfair!
And so now I'm pondering a couple of things: first of all, I wonder if we all retain that sense of justice as we grow into adulthood. I wonder if we still have that little voice inside that says "Wait a minute! There's more than enough to go around, so let's stop snapping everything up for ourselves and make sure EVERYONE gets fed!" (And I wonder if perhaps our cultural/political narratives of fear and scarcity silence our childlike inclination toward equity...)
And perhaps this one is a bit of a stretch, but I also wonder if learning the hippo's names made Iris less inclined to let them battle it out for food. She seemed quite intrigued when I mentioned that they came with names, and she listened intently when I read off all the monikers...so I can't help but wonder if hearing their names made the plastic animals feel more "real" to her, and if that made her more concerned about their well-being. I could imagine that, to a two-year-old brain, it's easy to let "the blue one" and "the yellow one" fight and chomp at each other, but maybe it's harder to be ruthless when you think that "Bottomless Potamus" is depriving "Sweetie Potamus" of her food.
Maybe there's power in knowing someone's name and investing in their story. Maybe we're more inclined to trust in abundance when we know who it is we're sharing with. Maybe on some level, we're all more interested in cooperation than competition.