A few weeks ago Heather and I left Annabel in the care of my parents so we could attend Jackie’s memorial, and when we returned Annabel was out of her mind with excitement. Turns out that while we were gone my parents took Annie to the toy store and let her pick out whatever she wanted.

Annie’s choice – the thing that had her so freakin’ excited – was a doll house that a family of little panda bears lived in.

At the time I thought it was cute, but not something that was going to hold Annie’s attention any longer than her other toys. Boy, was I ever wrong about that.

Every morning since then I’ve gone into Annie’s room to get her out of her crib, and every morning she greets me the same way:

“Dada! Wanna play panda bears wif me?!”

Annie doesn’t just want to play first thing in the morning either. She wants to play all day long. Every ten minutes or so she strolls over to me, puts her hand on my knee, then asks in her sweetest voice, “Wanna play panda bears wif me, Dada? Pwease?”

And so I get on the floor and play panda bears.

playing "panda bears"

playing "panda bears"

After a couple days of this I told Heather that as adorable as this whole panda bear thing was, I didn’t know how much more panda bear playing I had in me. She laughed and told me not to worry as she was sure Anne’s obsession would pass soon.

But then the next day Heather came home with a present for Annie – a family of hedgehogs to join the pandas in the house! Annie lost her two year old mind and starting running around the house, whooping.

“What are you doing to me?” I asked Heather. “You’re enabling an addict!”

Heather laughed and said she stumbled upon the hedgehogs at the store, and that they were just too cute to pass up. While she was right that they were very cute, she definitely inspired a new round of fervor for “playing panda bears,” and not just with me:

“Mama! Wanna play panda bears wif me?”

“Gramma! Wanna play panda bears wif me?”

“Bampa! Wanna play panda bears wif me?”

Today Heather’s brother, Kyle, came over to visit, and before he got here we worked with Annie so that when we opened the door she would say, “Uncle Kyle! How are you?” We practiced this until Kyle’s car was heard parking outside, then asked Annie what she was going to say when we opened the door.

“Uncle Kyle!” she replied. “How are you?”

Heather smiled, pleased, then opened the door. Annie immediately sprinted up to Kyle and yelled, “Uncle Kyle! Wanna play panda bears wif me?!”

The funny thing is that while I may have reached my fill of “playing panda bears,” these tiny critters have triggered Annie’s imagination and ability to play pretend in an incredible way.  For example, she will make the animals have entire conversations together, like this one I eavesdropped on today:

MAMA PANDA BEAR: “Hi, Mama Hedgehog. Let’s go inside.”

MAMA HEDGEHOG: “Okay, Mama Panda Bear. Wait. Where Baby Panda Bear?”

MAMA PANDA BEAR: “I don’t know!”

MAMA HEDGEHOG: “Oh no! We need to find him!”

MAMA PANDA BEAR: “Baby Panda Bear? Where are you?”

MAMA HEDGEHOG: “Here he is!”

MAMA PANDA BEAR: “Yay! Thank you, Mama Hedgehog!”

I almost died from the cute. But I didn’t dare let on that I was paying attention or else I surely would have heard, “DADA!!! WANNA PLAY PANDA BEARS WIF ME?!”

playing "panda bears"