“There’s (a) wonderful Italian expression: l’arte d’arrangiarsi – the art of making something out of nothing. The art of turning a few simple ingredients into a feast, or a few gathered friends into a festival. Anyone with a talent for happiness can do this…” Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love.
I once bought ‘idea cards’ listing fun activities to do with kids using household items. Sensory boxes, flashlight exploration, ball jars, crumpled newspaper in handkerchiefs…. They all sounded good, but unfortunately the flashlight batteries were always dead, I couldn’t find anything resembling a handkerchief, and none of the balls fit in the jars I had. The kicker was that if I actually did pull it together, my kids rarely got interested! When I was baking they loved to smell the spices, but if I gave them cinnamon sticks in a sensory box they ran away. I often felt irritated that they didn’t appreciate my efforts.
I’m learning that sometimes simple really is the best way to get to special, and focusing on my kids is a much better way to spend the morning than focusing on a handkerchief-hunt. The last thing I want to do is feel irritated, but so often I find my patience wearing thin when I’m getting an activity together or hurrying my kids out the door to get to a playdate, a museum, or a park. While going places, meeting friends and being busy are all wonderful and often necessary, I sometimes feel they don’t allow me to really connect with my kids. We’re too busy being entertained to interact.
That being said, we do need a bit of a plan because we all have fun, connect with each other and behave better when we find “something to do”- an activity of sorts. I’m learning this activity needs to be easy, require zero prep time, and no special “ingredients”. In other words, amidst all the chaos of our lives, I need to whip up “something out of nothing” (what the Italians call l’arte d’arrangiarsi–turning a “few ingredients into a feast and a few friends into a festival”).
Yesterday I had planned to stay home in the morning so I could be with my kids, but when we do this, I also try to keep it stress-free by not planning anything specific. Today when we finished getting ready for the day, I panicked: I literally could not think of anything for us to do! Slowly, I took a deep breath and listened to what was happening in the moment. My guys seemed up for a little project, nothing big–but something they could sink their teeth into. I looked around and happened to see an old lamp we were getting rid of just sitting out on the driveway. I saw one of my boys carrying Peter Rabbit and remembered during storytime last week they’d asked a lot of questions about scarecrows. Something told me the lamp would be the perfect scarecrow stand. L’arte d’arrangiarsi. When everyone responded with enthusiasm to “making a scarecrow,” we got started.
With Beatrix Potter’s scarecrow drawing as reference, my boys helped me find a random cardboard tube for the arms. Julian solved the problem of how to attach it to the stand by going inside the house and coming back with an extra firewire computer cable we had sitting around (how oddly genius!) It was strong, yet flexible to work with.
Caleb brought shoes with laces, just like the picture, and Julian set up the pants with a coat hanger. They coloured in hands and ripped a paper for the face, which was a little small but the right shape. They drew in the face themselves. Their little brothers hung around and helped out, just happy to be a part of the action. I was surprised at how ‘into it’ they were as they went beyond the picture to come up with their own creations. They stayed engaged when I stepped back to let them try to solve the problems, jumping in only when they got frustrated. In the end, who knew a junky old lamp, cardboard tube, and firewire cable could turn into a free, easy hour of fun and a way to connect with my sons? At one point I got a little giggly when they were working together to put on the jacket and started singing “What works? TeamWork! What works? Teamwork!” (I have no idea where that came from…) because I thought I felt a teeny, tickly sprinkling of l’arte d’arrangiarsi magic hit us just right then.