But sometimes having a child changes you. And although I always say that I haven't done anything in my parenting career that I swore I would never do, because my standards had been worn down to ridiculously low through my work as a teacher, I think I have finally found the area of parenting where I've gone back on my word. I'm pretty sure I swore I would never save random garbage. And yet, here I am, with a big box in my living room dedicated specifically to discarded items:
Two occurrences precipitated the establishment of the "Invention Box," as we're calling it:
1. Last week we went to the Dr. Seuss exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry, which is a great exhibit that I recommend, but of which I have no photographs because photography isn't allowed in the exhibit. Anyway, in addition to a large collections of photos and other memorabilia, the exhibit has three toy areas set up for children. Two of the tables have some type of plastic pieces that you can put together to construct various sculptures and creations (you know, sort of in the genre of Legos, Tinker Toys, or Kinex). The third table had little laminated pictures that you could juxtapose to make various Seuss-like creations, sort of like those on this Seuss Army Knife seen here:
Now, I was pretty sure that no child ever would want to sit and play with a bunch of laminated pictures, but damn if Nathan didn't spend at least 15 minutes carefully constructing a "machine that does everything," including shooting out marshmallows. The machine was powered by a person riding a bicycle, and there was a fan installed to cool the person off, but "not so close that it hits you in the head." So, my first thought was that maybe I should go home and assemble my own set of laminated pictures, but something told me that this was one of those toys where enjoyment was context-specific. At the museum, surrounded by colorful Dr. Seuss drawings, whimsical music, and tabletops with goofy characters on them, Nathan was in the right mood to play with laminated pictures. At home, he'd probably cast my laminated pictures aside and ask to play with the iPad.
But I did think that perhaps I could tap into the "random odds and ends as toys" idea at home. Nathan does enjoy stacking up various kitchen items. And he's forever asking me to fashion household items into various playthings, like when we made an action figure zip cord out of tape, a straw, and the drawstring for our vertical blinds.
Then my idea for an odds and ends box was further supported when ...
2. My mom bought two pairs of boots last week while she was in town, and she said, "Shannon, do you need these shoe boxes for anything, or should I recycle them?" I was about to say recycle, when Nathan piped in that he wanted them to put his toys in. Now, although I'm not really a fan of having random shoe boxes of items in my living room, I told him he could keep the boxes until the next recycling day. But then I saw him using the boxes, not for storage, but as a race car track, and that's when I said, "Hey, we should save garbage for Nathan to play with!"
So as to bring some semblance of organization into the project, we went to Target and bought a plastic box, which Nathan then named the Invention Box.
Yesterday he immediately got to work making a rocket ship out of an oatmeal canister:
It's piloted by a small bear.
He said to me, "Don't wreck my spaceship, it's really special." Obviously one has mixed feelings when one's child describes a creation made out of discarded containers as special. I appreciate his creativity, but are his thousands of dollars worth of commercially-produced toys chopped liver?
I have similarly mixed feelings about his decision to take the oatmeal spaceship to school for show and tell tomorrow. On the one hand, I'm super excited that the Invention Box is such a hit. On the other hand, I'm not sure I'm thrilled with the idea that the staff of Nathan's preschool will think we require him to play with garbage at home because he has no real toys.
(But mostly I'm just glad he decided what to bring for show and tell, because often this is a very long, drawn-out decision-making process.)
The next two inventions were a musical instrument made of taped-together plastic cups, and a jet pack that Bill helped make with a piece of cardboard and a 2-liter bottle. Music! Science! Look at all the cross-curricular learning going on here!
The bottle got recycled into this invention, although Nathan doesn't know what it is:
Excellent use of my purple tie-dye duct tape, though.
Also, pro photography tip: Remove all baskets of unfolded laundry from the background of your photos.
Here's a closer look at some of the random stuff I saved for the box, again featuring that laundry basket:
Now, although he did use that soda bottle twice, one thing I'm learning is that Nathan prefers fresh, new items in the box. Which is no problem, because we have new trash every day!
The only trouble is, I'm putting way too many items in the box. Every piece of garbage I find, minus the nasty or dangerous ones, seems like a great new addition to the box. Yogurt shake containers! Rags! The plastic containers my favorite Costco shrimp soup comes in!
This is like a complete 180 from the old Shannon. So now I am not, in fact, the Same Old Shannon.
But even if I do get out of control with the garbage-saving, it's pretty easy to cull the items in the Invention Box. They are, after all, garbage--and a garbage-collection service visits our house every Wednesday! And if I don't throw the stuff away, maybe I could appear on Hoarders. No publicity is bad publicity, right?
Also, for Christmas this year, Nathan is getting a milk carton. If he's lucky.