Family life

The great Rainbow Loom meltdown

Susan Goldberg and her son learn a few valuable life lessons from... Rainbow Loom, of all things.

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Susan and Isaac show off their Rainbow Loom friendship bracelets. Photo: Susan Goldberg

Thunder Bay, Ont. writer Susan Goldberg is a transplanted Torontonian and one of two mothers to two boys. Follow along as she shares her family’s experiences.

Oh, Rainbow Loom! We have joined your cult—I mean your following—and now everywhere I look, tiny multicoloured elastic bands dot the floors. I’m sporting a lovely “fishtail on the fingers” bracelet, and Isaac is wearing a matching one. “We’re friendship twins, Mama,” he told me, “and these are our magic friendship bracelets.”

But it was not always like this with the Rainbow Loom. I mean, have you seen these things? Thousands of tiny elastics stretched out over a series of plastic pegs. You manipulate said tiny elastics with a miniature sort of crochet hook, weaving them under and over each other in a series of complex patterns to create bracelets and rings and—oh, I don’t know—toilet paper roll covers, plant holders, tea cozies, hammocks.

That is, in theory, one could create any number of things on the Rainbow Loom, assuming one had the manual dexterity of, say, Glenn Gould. For the rest of us, in particular the six-year-olds among us, mastering the Rainbow Loom is freaking hard.

I discovered this when I sat with Isaac on Christmas morning and we attempted to make the first, very basic, anyone-can-do-it bracelet. We were fine actually getting the elastics onto the loom. But when it came to hooking them over each other, things deteriorated quickly. Isaac would try, as hard as he could, to stretch one band over the next, only to have it pop off the loom, taking with it several of its multicoloured friends. With each mishap, he grew more frustrated.

“It’s hard, honey,” I kept saying to him. “Learning new things is hard. It’s OK not to be good at things right away. You’ll keep practising—you’ll get better.”

But he didn’t want to keep practising in order to get better. He wanted to be good at Rainbow Loom right now. And no amount of my comforting or soothing or rationalizing made a difference. Another elastic would pop off the loom, he would cry out in frustration, I would say something about learning being difficult, until he finally pushed away the whole thing in a fit of tears and anger.

By then, I was frustrated, too. Not only with the blighted loom itself, but also with Isaac: Why couldn’t he just accept the fact that he wouldn’t be a professional weaver of elastic bracelets right out of the box? How would he ever master any new skill if he gave up at the first sign of difficulty? Why couldn’t he just listen to me in my infinite parental wisdom?

And then, it occurred to me that my own emotions were a mirror of his: a six-year-old frustrated by the thwarted possibilities of a new toy; a mother frustrated by her own child’s (entirely age-appropriate) frustration. Him expecting to be good at a complex physical skill right off the bat; me expecting him to be good at a complex emotional skill right off the bat. Both of us with expectations that exceeded reality.

We put the loom aside. I called on the collective wisdom of my Internet friends to get some hints about the loom. It turns out that “Rainbow Loom meltdown” is a very real thing. We were guided to the “fishtail on the fingers” pattern, which let Isaac create a bracelet using only my fingers and the crochet hook. By the time we made about four of those, he was getting pretty decent with that hook. He managed to return to the loom a little less frustrated, and to get a little bit better at working the bands. And I managed to watch him return to the loom with a bit more acceptance of his own frustration. I have no idea if, in time, we will be turning out Bird of Paradise or Starburst or Rainbow Ladder bracelets like pros. But in the meantime, we’ve got our matching friendship between bracelets to go with our matching, ever-evolving learning processes.