It could have been a scene from any birthday party: A throng of 8- and 9-year-olds huddled around a stack of tiny colored rubber bands, twisting them on plastic looms into multi-colored bracelets.
Except all the crafters were boys.
It's a new demographic for an old trend.
Just as Silly Bandz proliferated years before them, the Rainbow Loom bracelet-making craze has taken root in all parts of the country. But unlike cheap trinkets that children simply collect and trade, these must be made, like the friendship bracelets of yore.
The looming kits that launched the trend more than a year ago were created by Cheong Choon Ng, a Malaysian immigrant of Chinese descent. Ng wanted to bond with his two daughters, who enjoyed making rubber-band bracelets. A dad -- an Asian-American mechanical engineer, at that -- is responsible for the biggest crafting craze in the country? And all because he wanted to impress his girls?
The idea is uniquely suited to take off with this generation: individualized and creative, but a tedious enough task that well-intentioned parents can be roped into taking over.
Jennifer Gregory, stay-at-home mother of two young boys near Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said she avoided getting the loom until her 6-year-old started bringing home bracelets from friends and wanted to return the favor.
Unlike many mothers, who have had to stalk toy stores for shipments of the looms and small rubber bands, she found one nearby. She figured the activity would help her boys with their fine motor skills.
It ended up being her fine motor skills that got the most work.
Last spring, Gregory posted on her blog, therunawaymama.com: "... being the only human being in the house who can loom a bracelet hasn't given me any power or leverage. Instead, it's rendered me a helpless servant. I've been propositioned to loom at least a dozen times while sitting on the toilet or handling raw meat, and I've been woken up twice before dawn (on the weekend!) by a little person holding a loom and whispering in my ear, 'Can you make this bracelet? I've been waiting all night.'"
She's not alone.
"I've had to do a decent amount of the work," said Kelly Caplin, mother of three small boys in Weldon Spring, Mo. She has watched YouTube tutorials posted by other bracelet-making experts, usually under the age of 12, to learn various techniques while helping her boys make bracelets.
"In total, we could put together an entire weekend of putting together bracelets," she said. Some of them are more work than she's willing to put in. The more complicated designs take fancy fingerwork.
"We have made one triple single, and it took a long time," she said. "It turned out good, and we have not done another. It was a proud moment for us, though."
Some schools have banned the looms, saying they're too distracting. Others have realized their potential to be used by cliques. One distressed mother described driving to three different toy stores in a single weekend because her first-grade daughter had been told that her group of friends had to wear the same bracelets in the same colors.
"No one will talk to you if you're not wearing one," one fifth-grader said after losing her prized bracelet.
But it's not just mean-girl politics that fuel a fad. It's the addictive nature of the repetitive motions, using a plastic hook to twist, twist, twist those little bands onto pegs.
A few weeks ago, Gregory was having one of those maxed-out parenting moments when her 4-year-old approached her to make another bracelet.
"I cannot do this right now. I need a timeout," she said, and headed out the door for a quick walk. When she came back inside, sanity restored, she discovered her husband sitting at the kitchen table figuring out the loom and attempting to craft a bracelet.
"Jen, you should not be the only person in this house who knows how to loom a bracelet," he said.
Once he got the hang of it, he caught the bug, she said.
Two hours later, he was still looming.