So different from the warm, sweet smelling beeswax we usually use or even the homemade pliant play dough we make from things we find in our kitchen, instead we take it out of the box, warm and brown and moist.
It’s cold to the touch and both gritty and smooth at the same time. We tear off a hunk and begin to roll, smoothing the jagged edges into a warm ball.
Make a plant, I say. Any kind of plant you want.
He makes a tree, tall and sturdy. Beginning with a thick trunk, he fans out branches, leaves, and finally, as an afterthought, roots. The tree lists to the right, top-heavy and awkward. Rolling it in his hands, he begins again.
Make an animal, I say. Any sort of animal you can think of.
He chooses to surprise me, slowly teasing out legs and tail and head from the chunk of clay. Then ears, then a mane. I know what he’s about now, but I act surprised when he walks his creature towards me, pretending to jump when his lion roars. The legs buckle and the the head lolls and he gives up, rolling it all back into the ball.
Make a person, I say. Can you do that?
He can. It’s no surprise to me when the person he chooses to create is a miniature version of himself.
Look, Mama! That’s my hair! Those are my arms! See my feet?
Yes, I reply.Yes, I see your messy hair. You need another haircut! And look at those strong arms and fast feet. You’ve created quite a sculpture!
So many lessons in a ball of clay… I could tell him what a joy it is to create, what a blessing to be able to do the same work Our Lord did when he created us.
I could talk about starting over and new beginnings and infinite possibilities in a small lump of clay.
I could be explicit in my instruction, showing him how to manipulate the clay just so and create something that is a copy of my own.
But I do none of those things. Instead we sit together, manipulating and recreating, over and over and over again, as the insignificant clay is worked and reworked into something that pleases us
And when we are finished, we return our small hunks to the box, once again to be part of the whole. We wash our hands carefully, but the clay stays with us, caked under our nails. The smell lingers throughout the day and even a bath doesn’t totally remove it.
And when it’s time for bed and we’re recalling the day, we once again remember all the possibilities we found in a small lump of clay.