I just made play dough for the first time, so I’m feeling pretty old right now. Let me explain, or more accurately, rephrase. I just made play dough for the first time as an adult. You see, I remember my mother making play dough for me when I was little, stirring some salty concoction in her kitchen with a wooden spoon, asking me what color we should make it. I remember how it would start out so soft and get more crusty as the weeks passed, and how it made your hands feel funny if you worked it long enough for the salt to seep in. I remember how awful it tasted. I remember forming it into misshapen whales or ashtrays (for my non-smoking parents), letting them sit out to dry on a shelf.
See, the strange thing about being a new parent is there aren’t any flashbacks for awhile. I don’t have any solid memories until maybe four years-old, so there’s still nothing in my head to harken back to when I make new memories with my daughter. I remember the first few months after bringing Josie home, watching her sleep in the crib I made for her, and in an abstract way I imagined my father, much younger than I ever remember him, leaning over my crib back in 1980. The circle felt closed, but only in as much as a photo album memory feels real. My earliest real memories of my parents involve my mom picking me up from Sandy’s daycare down the road, just before the other kids had to go down for nap, and us going to the beach – my mom leaning against a log reading a paperback, me combing the beach’s white confetti of broken shells for “shark’s” teeth.
But I do remember my mom making play dough, though it probably happened on those four year-old afternoons after day care when it was too rainy to go to the beach. And that makes me feel old, but in a good way. It also makes me realize that I will be making play dough for years – whole sacks of flour and dry lake beds of salt will be combined on my stove while an anxious toddler stands on a chair and watches over from a safe distance. But tonight as I took the wooden spoon and stirred this lumpy goop over the stove for the first time, sure that I had added too much water, and decided on red food coloring, this pink mass of goo coagulated and magically turned into play dough.
When Josie wakes up in the morning, I’ll show her this strange stuff. I’ll inform her it’s not to eat, but she’ll take a few secretive nibbles anyway when I’m not looking, and we’ll make something worthy to dry on the bookshelf and add to her growing portfolio of refrigerator pudding paintings. Knowing my wife, she’ll keep it, whatever it is, and eventually it will go in a cardboard box that will, over the years, collect report cards, writing samples, cutouts of the sports section from the local newspaper, and one day a graduation cap tassel. And just as my parents did after we bought this house, we will wrestle it out of our basement and deliver it to her after she buys her first house, so that she can leaf through her memories now that she has a place to store them.
So, in case you didn’t know, here is the recipe for play dough:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup salt
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tbsp oil
1 cup water (or just lean over the saucepan and sob, knowing that one day she’ll grow up and leave you)
Add ingredients to small sauce pan and cook over medium heat, stirring well. The mixture will eventually begin to clump and stick to bottom of pan, but keep mixing and pulling mixture from bottom of pan. When ball is formed, roll out and knead until it feels right. Store in airtight container for up to a month.