“Tell me a Hop and Bun story,” Sprout says, his pants around his ankles as he’s sitting on the toilet. Perched on the side of the bathtub, I look off into the distance, as if I can pluck an idea from the mirror above the sink. “Hmmmm, well,” I stall, wracking my brain. “Once upon a time, there were two bunnies, named Hop and Bun. They were best friends. One day…”
Eventually, I always come up with something. The plots have ranged from the hapless bunnies getting lost on the subway to saving up money and buying a scooter.
While I love telling Sprout stories – despite the odd circumstances – that’s not my favorite part of this routine. No – it’s the fact that Hop and Bun are utterly from Sprout’s imagination. I played no part in their creation. They aren’t drawn from a book or TV show. One day, Sprout just declared that he was a bunny named Hop and Bun was his friend.
Even though he knows perfectly well he’s human, he’ll periodically declare his bunniness. If we call him by his real name, he replies, “I’m Hop!” He gets down on his hands and knees to bounce around the house. When he goes to bed, we tuck him into his “bunny burrow” and cover him with “leaves” (blankets). He’s so devoted to role-playing that more than once, he’s stayed in his room after bedtime even though he wanted to leave. After all, a bunny wouldn’t be able to reach the doorknob. Instead, he yells, “Bunnies want to come out!” Similarly, one time he almost broke into tears because “Bun left the house!” When Sprout told me he was outside, I said he was probably just getting something from the car and all was well.
On the other hand, his vivid imagination doesn’t always work to our advantage. There’s times when we’re trying to get him to get ready for bed and he declares, “No, Bun says he needs to poop!” Sure, kid. How can I argue about the needs of someone who exists only in his imagination?
To match Sprout’s conviction, he has an extremely specific image of what Hop and Bun look like. Hop is just plain brown, while Bun is white with pink on his tail. I appreciate the diversity there.
I find it all especially charming because I don’t remember having an imaginary friend growing up. I made up story after story about my stuffed animals, but never had a companion like that described in Puff the Magic Dragon or Beekle, The Unimaginary Friend. As someone who has pretended to be a half-fox and a Norse blacksmith in role-playing games, I know the level of imagination he puts into it is astounding. It’s the epitome of the charmed childhood. Honestly, it’s so fun to play along.
Sadly, I think the Hop and Bun era is drawing to a close. While he had talked about them for months, it’s dropped substantially in the last two weeks. He first moved on to Raspberry – an imaginary guinea pig the size of a raspberry – and then Snowball, an actual stuffed animal that is now “our pet bunny.”
Perhaps the most obvious sign of the Hop and Bun decline was also the most heartwarming. Out of the blue, Sprout declared to me his little brother was actually Bun – but only when he was a bunny. Although he had previously established Hop and Bun had the same parents, he had never actually identified his brother with him. The fact that he associates his brother with his best friend is incredibly sweet. Unfortunately, I think it put a bit of a damper on the imaginative potential. After all, it’s a lot easier to make up stories about an made-up being than one who is crawling around. (Although Little Bird’s affinity for chewing on inappropriate objects does give him some rodent-like characteristics.)
Hop and Bun may not be front-of-mind for Sprout these days, but they won’t be forgotten. Unlike Puff the Magic Dragon or Bing Bong from Inside-Out, I will hold the memory of Hop and Bun close to my heart. I’ll always remember that little voice asking for “Hop and Bun stories” and the imagination to embrace them, even when he himself no longer does.