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Homemade play-dough for the win.

Homemade play-dough for the win.

I live with my parents. There it is. I’m 34 years old, and life royally sucked for a few years recently, and so now, in an epic show of needing help/safety and accepting it when it was offered, I live with my dad and my stepmom. And have I mentioned that my younger brother and his pregnant fiancé live on the premises, too? It’s a big old house, with multiple additions and very few subtractions over the years. We fit. Barely, but we fit.

It probably goes without saying, then, that I don’t get much time alone.

But you know who else needs alone time? My son and I. Just the two of us, alone. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate tremendously the help I get from my family. My son is adored, always the center of attention.

But this is what I want to say the most, with both respect and humility: no matter how much your family babysits or runs interference for you when your toddler is trying to eat one of the dog’s Beggin Strips again, a single mom is a single mom. I’m the only one who wakes up with him when he’s sick. I’m the only one making appointments, yelling at doctors, reading the Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed book 12 times daily, obsessing over whether he eats his broccoli, coordinating childcare while I work (this alone is a feat), buying clothes every weekend because he grows like a proverbial weed, insisting that no one give him soda (WHY?), and planning elaborate outings designed to educate AND tire him out so I can sit down at some point in the evening. I’m the mom and the primary caregiver (Jax is with me 25 days out of 31 in a month); all the “help” in the world doesn’t take the weight and responsibility of his development off of me. I’m not doing anything that any other single parent isn’t also doing, but I’m still the one doing it. Alone, but in a house full of people.

So when my parents decided to go out for an extremely rare dinner-and-a-movie one night last week when my brother and sister-in-law-to-be were also both working, I was stoked to have the house to my(and Jax’s)self.

We made homemade play-dough.

I saw it on Pinterest—the recipe, that is. Then I lost it, or meant to pin it and got distracted. Probably the child and the Beggin Strips again. After a couple weeks of warm weather, we had a little cold snap that prompted me to come up with creative and crafty things to do with my little man, who had taken to pressing his face against the glass of the door between the kitchen and the screened-in back porch, not understanding why he couldn’t go out there and ride his big wheel, shoot balls (and all manner of toys, really) into his baby basketball hoop, or just run in circles trying to get the dog to chase him. Homemade play-dough seemed like good, squishy, neon green fun until the temperature went above 60 again. So I Googled it.

It’s really quite simple. A cup of water, a half cup of salt, and a tablespoon each of vegetable oil and cream of tartar go into a saucepan that you’ll risk staining with the 10 drops of food coloring you will also add. Warm it not to boiling, but just until everything dissolves and mixes together. Remove from heat and add a cup of flour, stirring to mix as thoroughly as you can before it gets too stiff. Dump it onto a flat surface and let it cool for a bit—say, the length of time it takes to change a really nasty diaper, thoroughly wash your hands, and locate a missing cup of juice. Then, knead like you would bread dough. It feels lumpy to start, but the more you work it, the more it resembles store-bought play-dough. Plus, it keeps for up to six months in an airtight container (that’s the cream of tartar at work), so you don’t have to make it fresh every time you want to play with it. I’d found a palette of neon food coloring at the grocery store, and Jax picked green, so once I was done kneading, we made…well, nothing really discernible. He’s two and a half. I attempted to make a crocodile because Jax says “ah-kwa-kwa” for crocodile and it’s absurdly cute. He was entertained for a good hour, it wasn’t hard to make, it wasn’t terribly messy, and did I mention we were alone in the big warm house and got loud and crazy and it was so, so fun?

Fun fact about the play-dough you buy at Toys R’ Us: originally, it was created to lift stains from wallpaper. It makes sense; I laid newspaper down under the play-dough and if I pressed hard, some of the ink transferred in smudges to the dough. Still, once wallpaper grew less popular (or better cleaning products were developed), sales of the dough plummeted. An employee of the dough’s manufacturer took some home and let her children play with it, and when they had a blast, she went back to work and suggested a completely different way to market it. They added color and gave it a fun name, and voila, now you can make your kids clean your walls, I mean, um, now your kids are entertained inside on cold, rainy spring days.

Play-Dough: making it up as you go along. Like parenting. Also, some other pun on “breaking the mold.”

After the play-dough lost its appeal, Jax and I watched a movie together (not reruns of NCIS!), eating our dinner on the couch in irreverent glory (no high chair, Mom? Cool!), then snuggling into a pile of blankets we didn’t have to share with anyone else. This is how it will be, I thought.

We won’t live with my parents forever. We will move out, probably very soon. We will make it up as we go along. We will make our own family mold. Maybe it will be neon green; who knows?

Never underestimate the power of a successful DIY kiddie craft to infuse you with a newfound confidence in your ability to single-parent.