I have this thing. And this thing is, that I don’t like shop-bought play dough. Homemade play dough smells nicer, it’s softer and I just like it. It makes me feel like I’m at one with my inner ‘mother of the year’, as I pile the kids on the bench, let them choose the liquid colour for the doughy mess. Then stir in the water and flour; mixing it together with wooden spoons and curious little fingers, which cannot resist the wildly coloured brew. I also figure, that since it’s home-made it’s not quite so detrimental when my two-year-old, Emma, manages to shovel it into her mouth when I’ve turned my back. It seems she has developed a bit of a taste for it. But, for the UNINITIATED mothers of play dough eaters – be expecting a surprise when you change your toddler’s nappy the following day. Eating play dough can have some rather shocking results.
There is one SECRET ingredient that must be added though. This is what makes homemade dough really special. Emma’s eyes shine with delight, and her smile is broad, as I open the small jar of glittery silver sparkles that we call ‘Fairy Dust’. Fairy dust is then sprinkled over the big soft lump. My two year old, with her limited speech knows that the sparkles are good. They add glimmer and shine. She squeals, and speaks in her own language that can only be interpreted by family members, who seem to know what she is expressing through the garbled grunts and sounds that make up her vocabulary. Even I have to admit – the big girl that I am – I can’t help but think the play dough looks so much prettier now! I start to picture fairy dances, with dew drop sparkled spider webs, shining in the bright moonlight. Ladybugs dancing on fairy dust sprinkled floors, in colourful flower laden shallows. Yes, I start to see and create beauty when I look at those small shiny dots.
The kids roll, sprinkle, and knead the sparkles through the play dough. As I watch the kids pounding, stretching, squishing and working the dough into shapes and cutters, I start to ponder. I think I know how it feels to be that dough at times in life. To be stretched and hammered into all sorts of uncomfortable positions, as life changes. Life tends to have a habit of taking you to places you never thought were possible. Just like those pudgy little fingers, pushing the dough to each corner of the star cutter. Determined little fingers that want each tip to be clear, so everybody knows that this shape is a STAR.
Life can throw curve balls, which you never expected. Sometimes decisions are made through immaturity, hurt, or misunderstandings that cause pain or brokenness. But as I watch my kids moulding this sparkly dough, it makes me think that the end result of that pushing and shoving of the dough creates something of beauty. Its beauty may not be obvious to all that lay eyes on it, but the creation is beautiful never the less. The creator is proud of this precious work.
I watch quietly. Firm, fat fingers shaping, building. Contemplating. A work in progress. I am reminded to look at the sparkles in life. Especially when it seems that I’m being pushed and stretched more than what I'd prefer to be. Look at the sparkles – the things that capture my attention for good, with thoughts of beauty, hope, imagination, creativity. All that sparkles in this life.
Mix all ingredients in a large pot (make sure children are as involved as possible with the mixing before the cooking starts!). Once children have finished making a mess with the mixing, move the pot to the stove and cook on medium for 3-5 minutes, until mixture congeals. Allow to cool. Once cool enough to handle, sprinkle the sparkles into the play dough and allow the children to knead the sparkles into the dough – they will love it!
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem