Building, Clay, Summer

Clay Play

07.26.09 | 3 Comments

In my first visions of parenthood I saw myself on a sailboat. Our family was learning abroad, working magically by uninterrupted wifi on open seas and anchoring at my whim at ports in a clockwise path around the Mediterranean Sea. The stage set for bedtime reading of the Greek Myths; ancient history learned in context.

In reality, we live a different life in Silicon Valley. What we learn of the ancients springs from the pages of books and rests in the dream of going there someday, to the birthplace of our language.

Right now we’re reading about the part where the Sumerians invented writing on clay tablets in Mesopotamia, which is actually a blast, and I’ll tell you why: it involves copious amounts of mud.


Mud is one of those insufferably wonderful things you can indulge in, costs nothing to make, and is a requisite, in fact, for Beard’s instruction on building a clay oven (which we will eventually get around to constructing, given we are home one weekend and not paddling the slough or hiking the mountain or building a chicken tractor, etc). Unlike many toys, mud has the capacity to both riot and, conversely, quiet the mind of a child.


Ford got so involved the other day that he became unusually quiet and, for a while, my world felt peacefully bittersweet. It reminded me of pint-sized days, diapers and the slackjaw discovery days of his infancy.
There he sat outside, dipping his hands in the cold wet clayslip, then basking them in the sun, examining them. For a time his hands were muddy, and after a while the mud beaded and caked.


We talked of elephants and rhinoceroses, pigs and hippopotamuses. Did you know that the word hippopotamus comes from the words river (-potamus)and horse (hippo), just like Mesopotamia was combined from the words between (meso-) and potamia (the rivers)?


The mud on his hands began to roll into balls, and he walked around the yard until they began falling off his hands, and then he said it started to tickle, and then things got a little silly before he finally decided to wash it all off.


Which goes to show you that you don’t really need to hang out between the Tigris and Euphrates to imagine what the Sumerian kids did in their spare time (even though a little family adventuring would be fun) and you don’t need a party of moving targets to have fun with a little clay on your hands, either!

(But I’ll be the first to admit it’s WAY fun to throw in a few more kids)

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