My sons have a book, an adorable picture book with a simple message titled “Little Boy,” by Alison McGhee and Peter Reynolds. The book is one they’ve always loved, the words simple and its meaning clear. It is about a parents’ wish for their little boy to never lose the magic of childhood – the love of creating, exploring, and finding limitless adventures supplied with nothing but a cardboard box.
“Little boy, so much depends on…a puddle to jump, sand to dump, truck down the hall, pencil lines that mark how tall, and…your big cardboard box.”
I thought of this book recently. My youngest, Finn, asked if he could keep the giant box that a light fixture arrived in. “Sure,” I said, expecting the box to keep him entertained for a few hours until it was put out with the rest of the recycling and his attention was once again fixated on cars, action figures, and anything that irritated his older brother. Days passed and, yet, the box remained. It was turned into a rocket ship, complete with color coded buttons and an escape hatch for when the star-jumping got rough. The box sat in the middle of our living room, a few stuffed animals brave enough to venture into space sitting inside, waiting to be launched toward the moon.
After convincing Finn that the box needed to be moved, it was carried up the stairs and transformed into a puppet theater. Finn spent hours one weekend drawing, cutting, and perfectly paper puppets taped to straws for his limited production of The Adventures of Max and Ruby in our upstairs hallway. At his request, the box was then moved into his room and put on his bed, a five-year-old curled up one afternoon napping inside after cushioning it with his favorite blankets and pillow.
“Little boy, so much depends on… your starship pajamas, that story abut llamas, the way you don’t worry, the way you won’t hurry, and… your big cardboard box.”
Days went by, and then weeks. When Finn decided to transform the box into a fort, the sides caved in from the windows and doors cut into the weakened cardboard. We suggested that the box be retired and Finn agreed, only because a new cardboard box had arrived with our purchase of a new lawnmower, this one even bigger than the first. His sights were set on a new design and purpose – this box was to become our dog’s secret hideaway, a soft spot for her to land after Finn moved her pillow and every pet toy in our house into the box, insisting that it stay at the foot of our bed where she slept.
“Little boy, you remind me how so much depends on days made of now.”