The Curious Incident of the Mom and the Perler Beads | Confessions of a Stay-At-Home Mom

March 27, 2014

The Curious Incident of the Mom and the Perler Beads

I grew up on crafting with perler beads.

If you are not yet acquainted with perler beads, I first have to ask, WHAT DID YOU DO AS A CHILD?  Second, I would explain that perler beads are small plastic cylindrical beads…

...that you place on peg boards to create patterns…

…then iron so they stick together to create a plastic craft.

It's the simple things in life, really.

I made this. Be proud.

But my sisters and I lurrrrrrved them. We'd spend hours sorting through various colors, coming up with different patterns and creations. Sometimes, we'd thread a string through an open hole to make an ornament or bookmark. The possibilities are endless.

Well, that's not true.

There are only so many peg board shapes and only so many bead colors. So, mathematically, there is a finite number of possibilities. 

But still, many.

Since it was four score and a million years ago, I'd long forgotten about my perler bead days. Until I recently happened upon a boxed set at a local store. The box came with 3 pegboards and small compartmented craft box full of various colored perler beads.

The nostalgia overwhelmed me and I immediately grabbed a box for the girls. This was a chance to share a bit of my childhood with them, for my daughters to participate in the very craft activity that filled so many of my childhood hours. I promised myself I would be patient (since the beads are small and I knew it was inevitable for a spill at some point), and excitedly explained to them how the perler beads worked.

At home, we unearthed the materials, and I stared, in awe, at the beautifully separated beads in a rainbow of colors. Each color in it's own rightful spot spoke deeply to my perfectionist-slightly-OCD nature, and I thought it was just so beautiful.

Order. Beauty. Namaste.

The girls and I sat down to work. It took a little bit for them to really comprehend the task, but they quickly caught on and enjoyed the different shapes and colors. I basked in the creativity, the quiet, the order of all the beads and pegboards.

It was not before too long that I realized these seemingly innocent beads were actually evil incarnate.

Why did I not recall how incredibly frustrating perler beads are?

What? You thought you finished a project? And you tried to pick it up so you could iron it?


Oh? Your iron is subpar at congealing the perler beads together?


I'm sorry? You don't like sweeping the floor?


In the midst of being imaginarily taunted by craft beads, Bug got bored.

It started when she accidentally dropped a few pink beads in the white bead section. I watched something change in her. Whereas I appreciated the tidy order of each compartment of bead colors, Bug came to life at the idea of beads of every color living together in perfect rainbow harmony. Blue beads cohabitating with brown beads! Red beads nestled with yellow beads. Orange beads against green, black and tan beads. 

The glory overwhelmed her. 


So what first looked like this:

Now looked like this:

And a part of me died.

And maybe a little irked when I tried to walk across the hardwood floor and small beads implanted themselves in the soles of my feet.

I took a deep breath, shook it off and put the perler beads away for the night.

The following day, they girls excitedly asked to do perler beads again. With some hesitation, I obliged. I found myself wondering if my mother used to resent the small beads and multi-part toys as much as I have started to. Bug luckily lost interest immediately, and Chica become very involved in an intricate star pattern. From across the table, the blended box of colors taunted me. So I decided that now was as good a time as ever to sort those beads.

There is something cathartic about sorting. Gently putting everything back into it's rightful place, restoring order to former chaos. One by one, I stuck my fingers into each compartment to fish out the mismatching beads. And it was during the first few attempts at restoring bead order that I was confronted with a very frustrating reality.

In the 25+ years since I'd last used perler beads, my hands had grown. As a child, my thin little fingers could easily navigate the small beads, plucking the exact color I needed at any given moment. As an adult, it would have been easier to have potatoes growing out of my wrists. My fat fingers could not, for the the life of me, grip those slippery orbs. Forget it. "Cathartic" was thrown out the window as I attempted, again and again, to grasp these small objects.

The impotence I experienced during that sorting session is second only to any previous attempts I ever made at eating Chinese food with real chopsticks.

Yet, I could not accept the box as it was, unsorted and frantic. Like Sisyphus and his bolder, I sat for the better part of an hour (even delaying dinner) to sort every. last. bead in that box. The frustration was fascinating. Just as I'd almost completed one compartment, a sloppy flick of the wrist would send the wrong color beads flying, some landing in neighboring compartments while others softly clinked as they landed on the floor. I may be finding perler beads under my radiators and tucked into corners for the rest of my natural life.

Damn these wretched, wretched beads.

Slowly, yet surely, I made my way around the box, securing the perimeter. 

The order would have to be restored from the outside in.  After a few more turns of the box and contorting myself into some very frustrating positions to more easily access the inner compartments, I was left with this:

The beautiful picture of order.

And all is right in the world again.

Until I went to leave the dining room and my feet were assaulted by camouflaged beads scattered over the floor. I could almost hear their faint giggle of victory, deriving pleasure from my suffering.

Well played, perler beads. 

Well played. 

What toys taunt YOU as a parent?

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