I was driving my grandkids to school last year, when they reminded me that it was only 20 more days until Christmas. “What are you getting us for Christmas?” the triplets asked in unison.
“Well,” I replied, “I think you have more than enough toys to play with. And you spend much more time playing with the boxes they come in. So I guess I’ll get you some empty boxes.”
“Oh no, Grampa,” they would plead. “We don’t have too many toys; we need more.” And they named all the latest gizmos being pitched during Saturday morning cartoons. But I had my story line and I stuck to it. As Christmas got closer, my wife reminded me that I had better follow through on my promises.
So off I go, scrounging for empty boxes. Some real big ones from the appliance dealers. And then through the offices at school for those nice capped storage boxes copy paper come in, and closets for those boxes our computers came in–the ones you never discard just in case you want to return it, but never do. Well, news got around. Everyone seemed to have fond memories of playing in empty boxes when they were kids. Soon, every day when I came to my office there were stacks of empty boxes beside my office door. Secretaries and colleagues were volunteering: “There are some big empty boxes over the cabinets in room 158"...and so on. I switched to driving my van, and every day I had a van load of boxes to take home after work.
There was no choice but to lock them in the guest bedroom. And as soon as the grandkids discovered that room was locked, it magnified their excitement even more. “That must be where all the Christmas gifts are stored!”
Well, Christmas arrived, and they had plenty of time to open their gifts...all those toys and electronic gizmos. Then I led them to the bedroom and unlocked the door. In spite of having told them ahead of time, it remained a surprise: “Boxes, empty boxes!” From wall-to-wall, from floor to ceiling, the room was packed full of boxes with only enough room to open the door.
And did they play more with the boxes? Yes they did, for the rest of that day and for their many visits in the next two months.
And did I get off Scot free? Not really. I nearly wore out two serrated kitchen knives cutting holes in cardboard: “Can you cut me a window, right here?” and “I need arm holes right here for my suit of armor.”
And duct tape–we used lots and lots of duct tape.
They had wonderful imaginations. Pirate ships, trains, cars, houses, bulldozers, cranes, robots. The structural lessons were everywhere: the solidity of triangles, the sideways slip of rectangles, sides that buckle easily, corners that are hard as rock. And there was a cozyness that they felt nestled up inside a box, perhaps our primordial urge to nest...to feel sheltered.
By the end of February, the boxes were all used up, and I made my last Saturday trip to recycle the cardboard. Our guest bedroom is ours again...for a short time.
I figure I can keep doing this until someday they become...shudder...teenagers.