When news spread that we had officially entered pandemic territory and schools were ordered to close their doors, a friend texted me with words that instantly made my palms sweat and my heart race: "I’m going to the dollar store to stock up on arts and crafts supplies for the kids."
The idea that I would be stuck at home with my three-year-old and nine-month-old and responsible for supplying them with an endless variety of crafts and activities to occupy them was enough to make me run up to my room to see if I had any refills left on my Ativan prescription. I love my kids and I’m happy to read to them, watch TV with them, wrestle with them and snuggle them. But standing by as one of them dumps a bin of rainbow-coloured rice onto the floor while the other one sticks his fingers into a container of red paint and smears it on his shirt because he refused to wear a smock and now both are shouting and crying? That does not fill up my cup with parental joy—and more than a year into the pandemic, I've now decided I'm done with it. Forever.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, I did what it seemed like every other mother with little kids was doing. I scoured social media for activities we could do at home, frantically making lists and pinning ideas and following every craft-loving influencer mom on Instagram. With stores closed, I went online to order whatever was needed, like glitter glue and food colouring and other items that filled me with equal amounts of dread and displeasure.
Since my older son was much more capable of handling art supplies than the baby, I often tried to keep the two of them separated while he was handling markers and pom-poms and other various choking hazards and weapons of destruction. To avoid the complicated logistics of keeping them apart, I attempted to find baby-safe activities for the little one to do in his high-chair. Fellow moms in Facebook groups shared ideas for fun sensory activities for babies, like filling a clear bag with buttons or water beads and taping it to their tray so they could push or squish the contained items around. “This kept my baby occupied for a solid hour!” a mom would excitedly boast.
Eager to give it a try, I threw a handful of dried macaroni in an empty water bottle and some red- and blue-dyed shaving cream in a Ziploc bag, and handed them to my baby, ready to enjoy some mindless scrolling on my phone while both kids quietly entertained themselves. Before I could even think of a witty humble-brag hashtag to caption a photo of him playing, he whined and threw my creations aside, apparently bored and frustrated with this genius activity, as he eyed the giant tub of flour his big brother was burying his dinosaurs in.
Side note: Have you ever tried to wash clothing that's covered in caked-on flour? I would not recommend it.
As weeks turned into months, more crafting projects were carried out with mixed results. Oobleck, or as my son likes to call it “the goopy stuff,” became a go-to activity, which was easy enough to throw together—although my anxiety levels did spike as it became increasingly hard to find baking soda on grocery store shelves. Other creative endeavours were less successful, like the time I convinced myself I was the craft lady extraordinaire from Busy Toddler and made elaborate patterns of lines and zig-zags with painter’s tape for my son to place his miniature toys upon and commence a “toy parade.” After running around the house, collecting every single toy car and action figure I could find, I told him to go wild and set up his parade, which he did—for approximately two minutes. “I don’t want to do this anymoooooore," he moaned. "What are we doing next?” It got to the point where every time a new school closure was announced, or a holiday approached, I’d feel a surge of panic as articles with titles like “10 Things to Make With an Egg Carton” began to circulate among parents online.
As time slowly marched on, my patience for setting up crafts that no one really wanted to do began to dwindle. I stopped gathering ideas and art supplies, and started ordering board games, books, kinetic sand and anything at all that would entertain my kids with little to no effort from me. I also made a conscious decision to stop worrying about screen-time and leaned in hard to TV and iPad time, also known as “drink coffee and hide in the kitchen time” for me.
After more than a year of pandemic life with small children, and numerous attempts at creative pursuits, I have come to the realization that I don’t like doing arts and crafts, and I really don’t like doing them with my kids. I don’t want to cut up a hundred tiny pieces of construction paper to teach my kids about colour sorting, and I don’t want to stockpile paper towel rolls and cardboard boxes in case an opportunity arises for us to build a rocket ship. If an activity includes Popsicle sticks, glue guns or pipe cleaners, I don't want to be involved.
It’s easy to get swept up in feelings of guilt when I see the impressive feats of creativity other parents have pulled off with their kids. But I've come to the conclusion that comparing ourselves to each other is a pointless waste of energy, when we already have so little energy left. I’m also fairly certain that cropped out of every guilt-inducing Instagram photo of a homemade art project is a tiny child screaming in the corner, begging to put the glue stick away and watch Paw Patrol instead.
From now on, if my kids come home from school or daycare with a craft they made, covered in sparkles and paint and their beautiful fingerprints, I'll cherish it lovingly and praise them for doing a great job. I'll feel grateful that their teachers are fostering a love of art and allowing them to get messy. And as I hang their creations on the wall to admire, I'll feel even more grateful that I had absolutely nothing to do with any of it.