“Paydoh?” My 18-month-old suggested. With wide-eyed innocence she raised her hands in the air, palms upturned. “Paydoh Mommy?” She asked again. I sighed, “No sweetie, not right now.”
Her response made me cringe. Instead of crying or throwing a tantrum as I said no for probably the tenth time already that morning, she just sighed back. All she wanted was for me to pry open one colorful little container so she could repeatedly roll the dough and press it back together, roll the dough, press it back together.
At some point, amidst the constant laundry to be done, bathrooms to be cleaned, groceries to be bought, “no” became my default response. Penny’s face drooped as I promised we’d play later. I replay that little sigh in my head—it begs the question: if this rainy day isn’t a good time to play with Play-Doh, then when is?
When Penny looks at Play-Doh, she sees magic. She’s never experienced anything like it. She’s amazed that her very own hands can shape it a million different ways. It’s full of possibility and fun. When I look at Play-Doh I see specs burrowing into the carpet, stained shirt sleeves, and a tantrum when it’s time to put it away.
I was so excited to buy the Play-Doh and teach her how to use it; now I find myself cringing every time she asks for it. On this rainy day we can’t go for a walk, or to the park. We’ve already been to the library. We have nothing better to do and all the time in the world. Today is a perfect day for Play-Doh, and I said no.
I didn’t want to take out Play-Doh today for a plethora of reasons, mostly including how it always ends up in Penny’s mouth, and it stains. I’m sure I’m not the only parent who finds Play-Doh to be an exciting nuisance.
When my response elicits a sigh from an 18-month-old, I feel like the worst mother on the planet. Is it really the end of the world if she puts this non-toxic substance in her mouth? That’s how she explores the world around her. Sure, it’s annoying and gross, but it’s not going to do her any harm. Every time it inevitably sneaks into her mouth and I swat it away, she is learning that not everything is edible.
It’s frustrating when the little specs get into the fibers of the rug, but they always come out when they harden. What’s the point of having a perfectly clean rug in a room that’s meant to be played in? If I don’t allow my daughter to be creative and explore things she doesn’t fully understand yet, I fear she will be hesitant to try new things in the future. Playing with Play-Doh presents a few of the thousands of teachable moments that pop up every day. It’s my job to take advantage of those moments, not prevent them from happening.
Saying no to Play-Doh made me realize I need to start taking time in the moment to think about why I’m about to say no. Is no the best answer, or can I do better?
Luckily, toddlers have a short attention span and a minimal short-term memory. Penny will probably ask for “paydoh” again in the next fifteen minutes, and I will get the chance to say yes. I’ll remember how happy it makes her and ask her which color she’d like. I’ll help her roll out the dough and say “ta-da!” as we use the molds to make a star, then a heart. I’ll put on music and smile as I watch her concentrate on making new shapes.
The decisions I make today will affect who my daughter is for years to come. I don’t want to look back and wish I had taken the time to say “yes” more often. Penny won’t remember what we made with Play-Doh, or what colors we used. She won’t remember each time we played with it, or even each time she asked for it. She will, however, remember how she feels validated and special when her mom says “yes” to spending quality time together.