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Into The Box This Christmas

Into the Box this Christmas

How did that whole baby-proofing story play out at your house?

This can be quite a thing for parents, especially if one of them reads way too much and the other has access to entirely too many tools. Sound like someone you know?

Fortunately for us, there was a mitigating factor. The home to which we welcomed our firstborn, Sam, was so small that we would have been hard-pressed to find anything to lock, cover, latch, or tether. In fact, in that house we broke just about every rule on the safety list, including not only leaving our cherished babe unattended in the same room with the very large dog, but also having said infant share her nursery with him. (Rosco’s crate was in there first, so it just seemed fair.) In the end, we did manage to find an outlet or two to push plug protectors into, just so we could say we tried.

Then we moved.

At our new house, there was a lot more square footage to explore. Before we had a chance to put everything away, much less bolt it to a wall or lock it up tight, Sam discovered the sheer toddler joy that comes from pulling plastic containers and lids out of a low cabinet. I had to admit the slide-out shelving in our kitchen was very cool for its day, but for Sam, it was Nirvana. And rookie that I was, I actually remember saying something like, “Geesh, honey, who needs real toys? Look how much fun she’s having.”  Yes, out loud.

So two years later, when our medium-sized daughter was born (and my husband asked, somewhat impishly, what all that baby-proofing was good for anyway) our family room was already overflowing with colorful plastic toys that I had spent lots of money on and stashed in equally colorful totes and bins.

As I read this month’s article, Toys They Touch, about the physical, social, and cognitive rewards kids reap from hands-on play, I was reminded of my parental quest over the years to buy my kids the perfect toy. Okay, no – not even perfect toy – just any toy that did not end up broken, at Goodwill, or buried under a blanket in a closet because listening to it was causing me to consider drinking during the day. Guilt-inducing flashbacks played in my head. There was the triplicate purchase of some toys to avoid nature’s preordained sharing squabbles. The failed attempts at systematic toy rotation to avoid sensory overload. And the eleventh-hour trips to Toys “R” Us because I feared Santa hadn’t fulfilled his responsibilities.

And finally, in what was almost a cathartic experience, my mind arrived in Box Town.

Much like the plastic-container play time from Sam’s toddler days, Box Town was a completely organic movement, but this time, instead of the kitchen cabinet, one of the kids discovered the recycling bin. Before anyone over the age of seven had time to shut down that nonsense, the empty cardboard boxes, toilet paper tubes, and plastic cylinders were being turned into a wholly original and recyclable play set. The girls spent countless hours with Box Town, first designing and developing the new community and then playing with the LEGO people, Littlest Pet Shop figurines, or Polly Pockets who lived and worked there. Bonus points for diversity and inclusion in Box Town when no one questioned an errant Happy Meal character (think Simba or a lone Ninja Turtle) moving into the neighborhood.

The front end is where I got in on the fun – exactly what experts say we parents should do more often. At the kitchen table, one of the girls would cover a cereal box with construction paper, I’d cut a big double door out of the front, and she’d put a cross sticker on it and declare it a church. A piece of blue fabric that used to be a t-shirt lined another box for the town swimming pool. The residents might travel about using an elaborate tube shuttle system for one version of Box Town, but in a covered wagon the next time around. Each time we created a play set, we knew recycling day was coming, which meant an opportunity to build a bigger, better Box Town.

This month and next, I won’t be buying a whole lot of toys, and we haven’t built a Box Town in quite some time (maybe you will with your kids!), but every time we take out the recycling, I smile and think about the perfect toy and the power of play, and that’s kind of funny. Funny – and amazing.

Karen Schwartzkopf
Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family, including husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director. You can read Karen’s take on parenting her three daughters – Sam, Robin, and Lindsey, also known as the women-children – in the Editor’s Voice.
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