When I was 5 – and I know I was 5 because I was in kindergarten, and I was one of those unfortunate children who had a summer birthday and never got to have a class party with cupcakes and pop – I left my Play-Doh out overnight. When I picked it up the next morning, it had, of course, dried up. To my 5-year-old eyes, all the little white patches of dried dough appeared to be a disease, like the ick my fish got or the poison ivy rash my brother had. In my haste to not catch the white rash, I dropped it on the floor and fled the room. The whole day at school, I imagined the disease spreading all across the floor, onto my bed and over my treasured Rainbow Brite doll.
Of course, nothing of the kind happened. I came home, and there laid the now-white ball of what used to be Play-Doh, just where I had dropped it. My carpet was still blue, my Rainbow Brite still … well, rainbow. I was safe.
Much later, when I was 22 or so, one of my good friends, April, brought Play-Doh to one of our bi-weekly game nights. We laughed at first – we wanted to play Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit or something equally intellectual. Three hours later, though, the intellectual games were still collecting dust on the shelf, and we were busy building castles and trees and jewelry and model beer pong tables (we were, after all, college students!). At the end of the night, though we were exhausted from hours of kneading and molding, I instructed everyone to squish their blobs of Play-Doh back into the containers and seal them tight – I didn’t want the return of the white disease. Not, as my younger self believed, because I thought the white patches that were sure to appear would spread across the apartment – though I did share that story – but rather because I had so enjoyed the evening that I did not want it to end. I wanted the Play-Doh to be there for our next game night.
By the end of the year, we had quite a large collection– all colors of the rainbow, complete with props (remember the Play-Doh spaghetti machine?). I’m not sure if it was the return to the innocence of childhood or the silliness of half a dozen twenty-somethings sitting around shaping rabbits and snakes, but the those nights became an outlet for stress relief – we were college students, waiting tables to make it through school, and we felt stretched as thin as we could stretch out our Play-Doh. Putting it away at the end of the night also became something of a ritual – my story of losing Play-Doh to carelessness served as a warning for us. If we wanted to play again, we would have to be careful and take care of our Play-Doh.
The return to carefree activities of childhood can be a surprising – and very real – escape from the stresses of the world. But always – always – remember to put it away your Play-Doh. You want it to be there for you next time.
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