How can I tell it's winter in Southern Oregon? I've been scraping the frosty car windows with that big Lego my son left in the car last July. Nighttime starts when the kids get up from their afternoon naps and doesn't end until we're all up and fed and dressed the next day. Oh, and someone's nose starts dripping every three weeks.
All of this winter business translates to a lot of inside time, which means Mama's patience and creativity is in steep demand. This is the first winter that the kids have been old enough to demand activities. They're no longer entertained by cardboard boxes and rumpled newspaper, nor fooled into thinking another morning of folding laundry with mom is fun. And so I'm taking a crash course in family crafts on the cheap, where the finished project is never as important as how much time passes while I sip my coffee without interruption. Five minutes? Promising. Ten minutes with only one intervention? A keeper! I mean we are talking 18 months and 3 1/2 years old here, so we aim low with big goals of not stamping each other with the potato prints, avoiding a glue pond, and not eating any of the craft supplies.
We made play-doh this morning and I was so proud of myself for both remembering the cream of tartar on our last shopping trip, and being the kind of mother who makes her own play-doh, which really, I'm not. But the batch turned out good. Good enough for Col (rhymes with soul) to sneak a nibble and puke up his breakfast.
I gave each kid a doughy lump on their own cutting board with their own tools: butter knife, cookie cutters and plastic cups to use as rolling pins. Col, 3, made snakes and volcanoes and pies. Carried away by the thrill of wielding a knife, he chopped his pies up like a very short chef on those old Ginsu knife infomercials — "wait, that's not all Mama, chop, chop, chop, you also get one million slivers of play-doh flying off the cutting board, chop, chop, chop!"
Rose, 18 months, pulled apart pieces of play-doh and hid them carefully around the kitchen.
The combination of being extra housebound coupled with drinking a little more coffee than average, resulted in, after a 26-year hiatus, making a picture perfect cootie catcher! Col was enthralled with the contraption, even when he unfolded the banal "give Mama a hug," when the previous turn instructed him to "eat one chocolate chip!" I thought only fourth grade girls were indoctrinated in the art of cootie catchers but when Dan came home from work he said "nice cootie catcher," as if we routinely sneak the gizmo out to play a round after the kids are in bed.
But guess what trumps play-doh, or messy painting, or stripping and doing the naked noodle dance, or even watching real garbage truck footage on You Tube? It's water play, absolutely tops. I don't know what it is about water, but picture one of those cartoon bad guys, say Cruella DeVille, with her manicured fingers in a pile of glittery diamonds. That's how the kids feel about getting their hands in water.
While we're waiting for Col's little friends who sleep in until 7:30 a.m. to get their act together, I pull out the towels.
"Okay, come sit at your work stations" I call out to the offspring. "Work," for the little people, is full of glamour, and their eyes light up as they see the various cups, funnels and spoons waiting for them on their towels, plus five dried black beans for extra creative challenge. I pour a few ounces of water into one of their cups and they're off to the races, mixing and pouring and stirring.
Of course the water doesn't stay in the cups and bowls and spoons. Eventually, it soaks into the towels, spills out onto the floor and drenches their clothes. Our bathroom is perpetually filled with cute little garments in various stages of drying.
Dan's a bit skeptical about this water play; he sees it as a vehicle for small kitchen floods and slippery concussions. Perhaps he doesn't share my philosophy: if they're not hurting themselves, each other or personal property and entertaining themselves, I will never intervene. And it's not like I'm in bed with ear plugs and a novel, I'm probably folding laundry with an ear cocked for particularly loud splashes, wondering when spring is coming.