It was my idea of a great rummage sale. I skipped the tables with crowds around them and headed for the empty corners where creative possibilities lay disguised as junk. I found old transistor radios and alarm clocks for the kids to take apart, horn rim glasses and a scatty wig for the dress up box, a tin of colored thread on wooden spools, and best of all, a large cardboard box of ancient Coleman parts (valves, screens, springs and brass coils) just waiting for the uninhibited to reinvent the lantern.
On my way to the cashier, I cast one last glance over the toy table when an old peanut butter jar caught my eye. Curious, I pulled it out from between the piles of games and books and read the label: "Ma-Jean's Magic Jar (For times when the kids say there is nothing to do but watch TV".) Inside were orange slips of paper. I unscrewed the lid and pulled one out. "Make a house! Use chairs, couch cushions, blankets." I added the jar to my pile of treasures.
Later that night I read the rest of the slips. "Have a picnic on the front porch," "Pretend you fell down and bumped your head and broke your leg, Grandma can be the doctor," " Have a parade with records." The slips went on to suggest that making jello, writing letters and turning seven sommersaults were all a lot more fun than watching TV.
Try some Ma-Jean Magic. Sit down with your children and fill the jar together. Ask them what they consider fun. Add your own ideas. Some of our favorite things to do are as simple as reading a book together or making pancakes in the middle of the day.
The shared pool of suggestions makes this project a success. They are not vague orders from an adult like "Go outside and play," but instead offer immediate and tangible alternatives a child helped think of himself.
Ma-Jean's Magic works for me too. Sometimes I need a piece of paper to remind me how important it is to sprawl on a bed with my children to read Where the Wild Things Are. Besides, you never know where you will find magic. It may even be at a rummage sale.