Katrina Whelen is feeling a little boxed in by her daughter's artistic creations.
I know when my daughter has had a particularly productive day at kindy/preschool because the teacher has to open the double doors to let her out. Through she walks, balancing a mountain of egg cartons and cereal boxes precariously taped together and adorned with random bits of fabric, foam and glitter. This is box construction at its finest and most abundant.
Not familiar with 'box construction'? Visit any kindy class and there is usually a corner dedicated to housing masses of empty boxes of all sizes. Odd shapes are highly prized, as are empty paper-towel rolls, egg cartons and tissue boxes with the plastic dispenser still intact. Next to the boxes there will be a row of sticky-tape holders and what I call the 'optional extras' – glitter glue, foam shapes, bits of string, fabric and lengths of ribbon. This corner is my daughter's spiritual home.
I attended a presentation by an early-education specialist at the beginning of the kindy year. She spoke about the importance of box constructions for encouraging spatial understanding and problem solving. Excellent. Could she please pop over to my house? I have a spatial-understanding problem on my lounge-room floor. You see, we can't throw any of these amazingly beautiful, spatially educative, meticulously thought-through, cardboard creations out.
I've tried the stealth-trip-to-the-bin approach. Invariably, the next day my daughter will cast an eye over the cardboard sea and exclaim, "Where's my 'computer'?" "Oh," I say, "was the 'computer' the one with two white boxes and an orange thingy on the front? Let's look for it!" Sure, I feel a shred of guilt as we begin 'looking', but the problem is still simple maths – the input (box constructions being made) is far greater than the output (box constructions in the bin).
I've tried deconstructing and recycling the boxes, but my daughter can spot a bit of old sticky tape on a biscuit box a mile away and says dismissively, "Don't want that one. I only want new stuff."
I've also tried returning the boxes to kindy so that some other (lucky) child can build something. Again, I have been outwitted by my three year old, who cleverly started writing her name on every face of her designs. By effectively trademarking her boxes, the other kids at kindy reject them.
So I've been reduced to giving people 'presents'. Visit our house – friend, relative or delivery person – and I'll press a box construction into your hands and tell you loudly to treasure the creation and admire the craftsmanship. I'll also tell you, very, very quietly, that you are in fact free to bin said item.
And so I come back to the words of the early-education specialist. Yes, it's fabulous that my daughter is so enthusiastic and engaged in box construction. It's brilliant that she is so dexterous with the sticky-tape dispenser (apparently very good for developing the fine motor skills required for pencil grip). It's marvellous that she can envisage something and then build it.
But there is a part of me that is looking forward to not having to eat cereal at the rate of knots in order to keep up with her raw-material demands; to not having 'bulk pack of tape' as a permanent item on the shopping list; to reacquainting myself with the lounge-room floor, free of cardboard boxes; and to not being woken in the morning by the sound of the sticky-tape dispenser in overdrive as her creations take shape.
Even so, I suspect it will be a long time before I can discard a box without wondering what it might have been.