From Chicken Soup for the Mother of Preschooler's Soul

Play-Doh Perfection

Play creates order, is order. Into an imperfect world and into the confusion of life it brings a temporary, limited perfection. The least deviation from it spoils the game.

Johan Huizinga

There’s something about Play-Doh that makes playtime exciting for little kids. Maybe it’s because they can shape it and mold it, and each time it becomes something new and different. Maybe that’s why my children, Christina and Joseph, love it so much. Or—maybe—it’s because they can make a mess, squishing and bending the clay while relishing its nonconforming nature.

Since we go through so much Play-Doh, it was a waste to continue buying globs and globs of it. It would be more frugal, I decided, to make our own.

My creative mission began by searching the Web for an easy recipe. Many required oil (too messy) or cream of tartar (an ingredient I didn’t have). At last, I found a great recipe using only flour, salt, water and food coloring.

I rounded up my kids.

“Christina, you’re in charge of pouring one cup of flour into each of these plastic tubs. Joey, you put the salt Mommy gives you in the tubs. I’ll add the water and dye. Then, we each stir a tub. Ready, crew?”


We measured.

We poured.

We stirred.

But chaos soon got the best of my efficient plans. Flour powdered everything. Salt crunched underfoot. Joey rolled himself like a pretzel onto the grains of salt strewn across the floor. Christina, pretending to be a baker, patted him down with flour. They laughed hysterically.

“Okay, that’s enough!” I said. I stripped Joey to his undershirt and wiped flour off Christina’s blouse before shooing them from the kitchen.

“But, Mommy, we need to play with the clay now,” pleaded Christina.

“Me, me, me, play!” Joey mimicked the same imploring tone as his big sister.

“You can play with it after I clean up this mess. Don’t touch the clay yet or everything will get yucky.” I bagged each colored mound to keep it clean and prevent it from drying.

“Why will it get yucky?” asked Christina.

“Because it will get full of this extra flour and salt and be messy.”

“Whyyyy?” repeated Joey.

“No more whys.” I ordered Christina to run upstairs with Joey for clean outfits while I tidied the kitchen.

“But then can we play with clay?” asked Christina.

“As soon as I’m done cleaning. I promise.”

Christina raced upstairs with Joey scrambling after her. It took four sweepings to get the floor clean, but I was able to scrub the table free of caked flour with only three washings. Just as I called for the kids, the doorbell rang.

“It’s Auntie Roxie!” Christina shrieked in delight.

“Roxie! Roxie! Roxie!” said Joey.

“Well, since Auntie Roxie is here,” I took advantage of the surprise visit—and my sister, “she’ll play with you while I do the laundry.” She could supervise their Play-Doh time.

But I wasn’t ready for the sight that met me when I returned to the kitchen.

“Now look what you’ve done!” I scolded. “I worked hard to make this with you, and now all the colors are mixed up. Why did you have to waste it all?”

Annoyed at my sister, I reprimanded, “Roxanne, did you have to let them use the entire clay in one day?”

“Oh, don’t worry. It’s only clay,” she replied, unaffected by my growing annoyance. “Don’t make Christina feel bad. She was just playing.”

“Yes, but she doesn’t care or respect the time it took to make the clay.”

“Let it go,” Roxie replied.

“That’s it!” I turned to the kids. “I’m not making any more Play-Doh with the two of you.”

“I’m sorry,” replied Christina in a soft voice.

I was tired and frustrated—and I knew I sounded like a child myself. Deciding to put some space between us, I walked into the living room to sort the day’s mail.

“Auntie Roxie,” I overheard Christina say, “doesn’t the clay look beautiful? Why is Mommy mad that I mixed it together?”

“Well, Christina, your mommy’s not an artist.”

“You mean like me and you?”


“Of course, it’s easy for her to be an artist,” I mumbled under my breath. My sister had no children and was an artist by profession. She didn’t deal with the everyday frenetic chaos of a toddler and a preschooler.

Later, while Joey napped and Christina watched her favorite video, I went to the kitchen to start dinner. On the counter, I found a remnant of Christina’s Play-Doh.

“They forgot to put it all away,” I complained to myself. Feeling a little guilty for my earlier attitude, I paused and began shaping the soft mound. Then I tore away a piece and discovered a swirl of marbled colors.

As a truce, I took it tomy daughter. “Hey, look, Christina. I found some more of your clay, and I think it’s pretty inside.”

“Oh, Mommy, you’re lucky now.”

“Really, how is that?” I mused.

“Well, see where you opened it—that’s the magic rainbow I made for you.”

Sandra Giordano

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