How I learned to love my kid’s obsession with slime.

How I Learned to Love My Kid’s Obsession With Slime

How I Learned to Love My Kid’s Obsession With Slime

Snapshots of life at home.
May 12 2017 9:39 AM

Goop Therapy

How I learned to love my kid’s obsession with slime.

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Slime is half cooking project, half STEM-friendly chemistry experiment.

jarabee123/iStock

Slime, slime, slime, slime, slime. Fluffy slime, glossy slime, galaxy slime, pearl slime. Glitter slime, soft-serve slime, butter slime, floam. Are you the parent of a 9-year-old girl anywhere in the world right now? Then there’s a decent chance your house, your apartment, your yurt in the Mongolian steppes is ankle-deep in slime, slime, slime, slime, slime.

Dan Kois Dan Kois

Dan Kois edits and writes for Slate’s culture department. He is writing a book called How to Be a Family and co-writing, with Isaac Butler, an oral history of Angels in America.

For the uninitiated, slime is a stretchy, goopy mixture of glue, borax, and food coloring that’s easy to mix up and fun to play with. Fold it over and pop it like Silly Putty! Stretch it and knead it like pizza dough! Squash it through your fingers! Add other ingredients to it to see what happens!

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Slime mixes leisure pursuits long loved by 9-year-old girls—crafts, silliness, glitter—and puts them on YouTube, the news source of choice for the preteen market. It’s half cooking project, half STEM-friendly chemistry experiment, with a pleasantly tactile result. It’s moved from underground fad chronicled by bewildered mommy bloggers to bona fide craze, complete with celebrity aficionados (Salma Hayek’s daughter!) and alarmist reports (will it burn my kid’s hands?!).

And it’s everywhere. The first family we met here in the Netherlands, where we’ve just moved, had containers full of goop on their counter; my daughter and their kids bonded instantly over their mutual love of exotic slime. (“You know those little pellets on the bottom of fishbowls? You put that in slime and it makes it crunchy.”) In Wellington, New Zealand, where we used to live, we walked into a Bunnings—the Kiwi Home Depot—looking for borax, and the saleslady immediately asked, “Ah, making slime, are we?” They were out of borax. So was every Bunnings in town. They received a shipment the next week, 15 cases.

And in the United States, our friends who are parents post photos and videos of their children’s slime successes and slime disasters on Facebook: tables spattered in candy-colored goo; couches distressingly stained (“vinegar gets it out”); grinning kids stretching their perfect slime like taffy. Sales of Elmer’s glue are through the roof. Our daughter messages her friends slime tips and tricks, new recipes, and most of all new videos to watch.

The videos make up their own unique economy. Mostly recorded and posted by preteen and teenage girls, they are a mix of cooking show and ASMR video: Slime-makers talk you through the process but also deliver a lot of satisfying sensory experience. Slime folds, swirls, curls, bubbles, shot artfully from overhead. Fingers knead slime, pull slime, stretch slime, squash slime. Some video-makers are earning money, from video views or from actually selling the slime they make; most just do it for love of the slime game. This one, from 13-year-old YouTuber Charlize Morrison, looks like one of those cooking videos you find yourself watching all the way through in spite of yourself, but with slime. It has 5.5 million views.

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In our house slime has ascended from hobby to infatuation to full-on obsession. In each new town we land in on our journeys—we’re traveling this year for a book I’m writing about parenting around the world—our 9-year-old asks, “Where can we buy glue?” She spends her allowance on borax, shaving cream (for fluffiness), and various food colors. When she’s not mixing slime or making her own slime videos (chattering happily as she kneads and twists, iPad propped up on the sidewalk), she’s playing with slime, an expression of deep contentment on her face as the putty blops and bloops.

For a while, I’ll admit, the slime drove me crazy. For a solid month she couldn’t quite get the recipe right, and the bathroom in our rental house betrayed evidence of various goopy misfires in the grout and tile. I found her constant requests for supplies and her monologues about the differences between types of slime slightly maddening.

If I’m being honest, my bristling at her slime obsession had little to do with the slime and a lot to do with her growing up. In theory, I want our kids to learn independence: to become functioning members of society, capable of accomplishing tasks on their own. In practice, though, it’s nice to be needed. It’s lovely to be the center of someone else’s world. Each time my kids find something outside of our little foursome that infatuates them, I can’t help but feel that infatuation has melted away a little bit of their infatuation with us, which will never return.

It’s foolish to feel bad about that, of course. It’s the natural course of the relationship between parent and child, of being a human being. And she’s so delighted at the creation of each new batch of slime, the simple chemical miracle of it. “I like mixing things,” she says, as the ingredients slowly combine and then, abracadabra, transform into something completely new. Am I really gonna resent my kid’s joy, especially when it’s found in something so hands-on and, in its weird, goopy way, creative? When I was 9, my version of slime was setting things on fire.

Soon enough she’ll be done with slime. (Either that or she’ll start making $3,000 a month selling slime on the internet, which would also be great.) She’ll move on to other infatuations, many of which I’ll find just as befuddling as this one. I’ll do my best to gently steer her, crossing my fingers that she catches fire for baseball or Buffy the way I did. Each infatuation will just be part of her gradual, glorious growing up, an ingredient added to her over the course of years. She likes mixing things, I know. And then, abracadabra, she’ll be grown.