Like most holidays, Halloween just bubbles with opportunities for craft-making. Cauldrons! Ghosts! Skeletons! Pumpkins! Cats! Between costume assembly and outdoor decorating, you could (in theory) spend days on end happily crafting away.
I have a problem though, one that seems to practically spit in the face of American motherhood. (Bad Mother! Bad Mother! Move over, Ayelet Waldman!)
I hate crafts. And I'm more than just politely "non-crafty"; I truly despise crafts. I loathe the scissors, the glue, the mess, the overwhelming sense of failure...
I can just hear my husband's rather pedantic analysis: What about crafts do you hate, exactly? Just saying you hate something isn't very precise. So I'll clarify:
- I don't hate crafts that other people produce.
- I don't hate people who like making crafts.
- It's the crafting process that I hate, when I'm the one doing it. So I hate crafting (the verb), as well as the crafts (nouns) that I produce.
My children, on the other hand, never met a craft project they didn't love. Fine. But now that they want to challenge themselves in this area and need my help to do it, I have none to provide.
Even at their age, I didn't like crafting, probably because fine motor coordination never numbered among my gifts. I could spend gobs of time and effort on a given craft, working my clumsy little fingers to exhuastion, with little to show at the end of the day besides a steaming pile of manure. Way back in nursery school (1970s preschool), the teacher fretted about my lack of manual dexterity, suggesting to my parents that they provide me with lots of little jigsaw puzzles. Don't know if they heeded this advice; if they did, it obviously didn't help.
My theory: we tend to enjoy doing the things at which we naturally excel. We get a lot of positive feedback without breaking too much sweat, tilting the cost-benefit ratio in that activity's favor.
Some propose a different direction of causation – the more we like something, the more we do it, resulting in repetition. Then, due to all of this practice, we become increasingly skilled, resulting in praise and positive feedback. It can work that way too, I suppose.
But if we consistently associate a given activity with frustration and meager praise, it eventually turns us off. And yes, I do praise my kids' efforts and not just their achievements. However, I try not to go overboard here, as I clearly remember from my childhood that the more someone went off about how hard I had tried at something, the more likely it was that I really sucked at it.
Consider this though: you don't necessarily have to be good at something to enjoy it. In my case, I do like yoga, even though (if this is at all possible) I am even worse at it than I am at crafting. Every yoga teacher I've had has approached my mat on the first day, pushed on my legs, then frowned. No matter what she goes on to try, my legs just spring back into their same non-elastic position. (Typically, the teacher just shrugs and moves on; most yoga instructors are not the type to fixate on someone else's weaknesses). Although I'm obviously untalented, yoga moves still feel good during the class and afterwards, so for me, there's clear intrinsic reward independent from a final product or outside approval.
Crafting, on the other hand, results in a very tangible and all-too-real final product, and when you've exerted a lot of effort and produced an eyesore, the cost-benefit ratio, for me at least, leans heavily against crafting.
So back to Halloween - my two oldest kids, who have developed a pirate obsession of late, have thoroughly planned their costumes. To my horror, I've discovered that swinging by the Halloween superstore is not going to cut it this year.
Back in mid-September, they sketched complicated designs, and their plan now involves the entire family. A pirate ship will be created (note the passive voice here) from cardboard, and two holes will be cut to encircle my husband and me. This parent-powered contraption will even contain designated storage cabinets for candy. The kids have decided that their little brother, who really just wants to be a skeleton like he was last year, will be a skeleton pirate – they want to hang him from the mast or something. Fine, but how do we get from these paper sketches to reality? Please, please, please don't make me do this.
My husband's not any more enthused than I am, as crafts really aren't his thing either. His mother, on the other hand, just loves crafts and is delighted that this trait has finally popped up in her grandchildren. Still, I'm not sure that cardboard shipbuilding is something she could tackle - I could more easily picture her weaving bandanas or something like that. The sad truth: We'll probably end up just buying a lot of this stuff (the night before) and hoping that the kids aren't too disappointed.
Reading Halloween stories aloud, baking Halloween cookies, supervising trick-or-treating – all of these I can handle. But my kids will just need to find someone else to scratch that crafting itch. Happy Halloween!