My son Zach has 32 Zhu Zhu Pets. For the uninitiated, Zhu Zhu Pets are animatronic hamsters which, when activated, make a variety of noises (coos and purrs, as well as words and nonsense noises) and explore their environment; one can buy a host of accessories, as one would for a real hamster, but they will also zip around the floor, responding to various stimuli they encounter. There are dozens of distinct “characters”, each with a name, and unique coloring, markings, and phrases that they say.
Since I told you Zach has 32 Zhu Zhus, I probably don’t need to tell you that he loves them. He will set up tracks, and then line them up to all go through the track one at a time. He will set them all up on the dining room floor and then activate them, so that the room is over-run with furry, squeaking robots. And, when one of them ceases to properly function (the most common problem is that the button on their back, which activates them, will break) Zach is grieved. We are currently going through a mini-crisis, because Zach wants to replace Rocket (or Rock-it; I forget). Rocket appears to be out of production. Rocket’s not coming back, and Zach’s not happy about it.
But the amazing thing I wanted to tell you tonight is that Zach knows them all, by name. At bedtime, Christy told Zach to pick up all the Zhu Zhus and put them in a new plastic bin we have for storage. Zach dutifully moved from room to room, gathering up pets and putting them in the basket. Christy tried to join in helping him, but this proved problematic, because even after all of the pets seemed to be off of the floor, Zach kept searching, saying “Zhu Zhus. Zhu Zhus.” Finally, Christy showed him the basket, and together they inventoried all of the pets that Christy had added to the basket – he was still looking for those pets! As soon as the inventory ended, Zach went back to searching, now saying “Zuzu. Zuzu.” “We got all of them, Zach,” said Christy. “Zuzu. Zuzu,” said Zach. And then we remembered: there is a Zhu Zhu pet named Zuzu.
Josh remembered what Zuzu looks like (which was amazing in itself, since Josh doesn’t have any affection for the Zhu Zhus), and we all continued to search for a light brown puffball that looks a little like a porcupine. Sure enough, Zuzu was hiding in the bathroom.
Zach still has a hard time forming sentences, and really can only do it for things he wants or needs. Zach can’t always remember my name. Zach forgets basic safety rules, like ” no wandering away,” or “no walking into the street.” Zach has a hard time connecting with new people.
But Zach’s not stupid. He can look at a box with 31 of his pets, and he knows which one is missing, and what it looks like. And he won’t stop until all 32 pets are together in the box. Is that an obsessive behavior, or is he shepherding? I’m going to choose to see the latter, and I’m going to pray that it’s a little bit of the image of Jesus in Zach, a child of God.