‘OK’, I said to the toddler, ‘This afternoon, we’re going to get crafty’. I pointed at the array of materials I had prepared on the kitchen table while he was having his nap. He could choose between a rainbow of poster paints, several different pots of playdoh (admittedly, a long time since the blobs of dough were single colours), or a case full of colouring crayons in every shade imaginable. He took one look at my offering, before marching towards the kitchen shouting: ‘No Mummy, NO ART TODAY! I’ll have a snack.’ So that was that, then.
This is a regular occurrence in my house. The intention is there, but let’s be honest, we rarely get down to it. And when he is occasionally tempted to try a bit of painting (generally the medium of choice, as it creates the most mess), he spends a few minutes painting colours on top of each other until we have hundreds of sheets of paper covered in black splodges – and then, as is the rule of these kinds of things with toddlers, I spend another 20 minutes clearing it all up. So to be honest, I rarely push it when he rules in favour of a snack.
I can justify this to myself, as he spends five mornings at nursery now. If he has a creative streak, he gets ample opportunity to flex it.
But I have a confession to make. Recently I had a friend over for a cup of tea in the afternoon and she admired a bit of artwork displayed proudly on the fridge. This green-painted paper plate had two eyes that moved when you shook it – and although it prompted debate amongst my husband and myself about whether it was a frog or a fat alien (we definitely need to get out more), I was very proud of the toddler’s painting efforts. You won’t be surprised to hear that this masterpiece had arrived home in his nursery bag a few days beforehand.
“Ah that’s sweet”, my friend remarked, as she pointed at the green alien-frog. “We painted an underwater scene yesterday, did you know there’s a new online art and craft store that will deliver? I’ve used it a couple of times already.” I stared down at the cup of tea I was stirring, refusing to meet her eyes. ‘Oh that old thing, yes he did that a while ago now!’ I quipped, ashamed of my inability to add ‘at nursery’ to the end of the sentence.
Why was I so embarrassed to admit that we rarely get crafty at home? After all, we read plenty of books, we build towers, we drive trains around tracks, and we pretend we are cooking together at his mini kitchen. It’s not like we don’t spend time together. And to be honest, our time is probably a lot better spent doing those things, than with me on my hands and knees picking playdoh out of the rug or trying to work out how to remove felt tip pen scrawlings from the dining room table before the husband gets home from work.
In a desperate attempt to ease my guilt, I recently rang my mother and asked her whether she got crafty with us after school when I was a child. ‘Ha!’ she scoffed ‘I used to bring you a cup of orange squash and a couple of biscuits, and then I’d pop the television on while I did some housework – and you turned out alright!!’ I laughed nervously. Did I turn out alright? Doesn’t every other mother in Dubai spend their afternoons creating glittery underwater scenes?
It did nothing to reassure me – and with a birthday party to attend that weekend, I decided we would get crafty and make a card. It would make me feel like a better mother – and it would save some money too.
I lured the toddler with the promise of a box of raisins if he completed his task (I probably shouldn’t admit this, but why stop now) – and in seconds, he was sat at the table creating those familiar splodges.
That night, I chose the most colourful sheet of paper – a couple of green splodges on a white background – and got to work with some felt tip pens to turn it into something pretty. Catching sight of the artwork on the fridge, I was inspired, and made it into a couple of frogs in a pond, complete with lily pads and sparkly fish. I don’t want to boast, but I was pleased with our combined effort.
Fast-forward to that weekend and my son proudly handed over his card to the birthday girl. Birthday girl’s mum looked over her daughter’s shoulder and a big smile spread over her face. ‘Ah, look darling! Aliens in a space ship! It’s amazing! Did he do it at nursery?’
I slowly nodded - and it was that moment that I decided we were better at building towers.