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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cardboard dreams

In recent days, my household life has been dominated by laundry, mostly in the form of a dryer that had finally dried up.  After nearly 14 years and three houses, it was beyond repair and I couldn’t fathom stringing our socks across the back porch another day.  Finally we broke down and had to buy another one, which came delivered to my door and my children stood staring at the truck until one of them broke the silence.
I thought they would say something about the size of the truck or the amount of appliances it held.  Instead, it went something like, “does it come with a cardboard box?”
The kindly deliverymen overheard and after telling us that it did not come with a box, they quickly redeemed themselves.  “Why, did you want one?  We’ve got some here.  How many do you want?”
“Three,” I answered.
And I haven’t seen my children since.
The magic of the giant cardboard box is nothing new.  I’m pretty sure I spent at least four years of my childhood hanging out in one, either drawing flowers on the outside of my house or serving tea to my stuffed animals.  My houses or rocketships or ticket booths or restaurants took up the main living spaces of my parent’s house until they moved it to another room, then to the basement, then to the garage, until one day I would wake up and my beloved playhouse was gone and I’d cry and stalk the neighborhood on trash night in hopes of finding another.
Three full size washer or dryer boxes are nothing to shake a stick at, so when I turned around to find them all scattered throughout my family room, I immediately froze.  And then I listened to the incredible harmony that ended up being my children as they shared markers and helped each other cut windows and garage doors, build porches and fully supply their new abodes.
Later that day, I had to leave to run errands while my husband was in charge.  Upon returning, he met me outside.  “You’ll never believe this.  I told them to go play in their boxes and they’ve been in there for an hour.  Without fighting.  For an hour.  I’m not even lying.”  The look on his face was as if he’d just witnessed a miracle.  I nearly had to slap him back to reality.
The truth is that there isn’t much better than a kid in a box.  We as parents know that nine times out of ten, if you buy a kid a big toy they will end up enjoying the box more than the actual gift.  Back when I was young, we would scour the neighborhood for appliance boxes on trash night because even if you have to dig it out of someone’s garbage, the box is a mighty thing.
Maybe it’s the unbridled creativity that ensues when a kid is given a box.  My own three children did completely different things.  My youngest made a beauty salon where you can get a haircut (and a discount coupon for restaurant night, from the latest advertisement I heard). My oldest made the sweetest little cottage where I find her curled up with a book.  My son of course made a “bro cave” with lanterns, a stash of candy, and a direct view of the TV.  I think there’s real peace for a child knowing they can create a world of whatever they really want, to design their own dreams in a place big enough for only them.  So many of the things children see nowadays are 100% virtual.  There are virtual pets and virtual worlds and virtual bedrooms.  Time and time again they have designed things on the computer screen that they will never be able to touch or color or cut or just feel with their own hands.  The beauty of the cardboard box might even be more so now than it was thirty years ago, and fill a void in a creative child’s world that no digital programming could ever accomplish.
Or maybe they just want to draw on the walls. 

I’m good either way.


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