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Thinking Inside the Box

My cousin's kids in a box.

Isn't it delightfully ironic how shrinking our parameters can often expand our view?

A cousin of mine recently posted a picture of her kids in a giant cardboard box in merry repose as if they had moved in to stay. That box was clearly all the world they wanted or needed in that moment. The whole universe was in there. I just wanted to climb in and giggle with them.

I'd been thinking of creating a new mascot for my illustration brand and spent months musing over possible visual representations of the magic, curiosity, and off-beat imagination of childhood. A lightbulb maybe? A paint brush or a crayon? An emancipated balloon or kite? A smiling sunshine quadrant beaming out of the corner of a page? What unleashes a child's imagination and opens the world up to them?

My kids in a box.

Then, one sleepless night, my ping-pong thoughts ricochetted off of a memory of my oldest kids when they were about 2- and 3-years-old. We bought a new vacuum that came in a box big enough to fit 4 of them. No toy or gift was ever so magical. They giggled and jumped and squealed and laid down in it, pretending to be asleep. They closed the flaps and called to me to come find them and then to turn it over on top of them and then to climb in with them and then to go away so that they could stretch the boundaries of their imagination along with the boundaries of their autonomy. No adults allowed. Then my thoughts ping-ponged back to my cousin's kids so pleased in their box universe. That was what I was looking for! Blocking out reality to create a new one. Climbing into a box.

My kids are much older now. We've had multiple unusual snow storms in TX this winter and my now tween and teenagers wanted to go sledding, but we are Texans and don't own snow gear, so we grabbed some metal cookie sheets and laundry baskets and headed for the hills. I'm no spring chicken, but there is still something fantastical about folding yourself up and climbing into a small space. I laughed out loud as I climbed into a laundry basket and rocked my tiny container side to side. I felt like I was 5 again and it was magical. (For the record, cookie sheets are much better sleds than laundry baskets.)

Last weekend my youngest turned 10. One of his presents came in a box the size of a small bathtub. He and my 12 year old argued over who had dibs on it until they realized my husband had already unwittingly put their treasure in the recycling. My boys love boxes. They love sitting in them together. They love building things with them. They love creating tiny furniture to put in them. Boxes are as good as currency in our household (and, thanks to Amazon, we are wealthy). They represent endless possibilities. An empty cardboard box (even used and dirty) quickens their heart rate and lights up their faces and their imaginations.

Something about shrinking our world seems to open it up. I love the phrase "think outside the box" and all that it communicates about creative thinking, but I would argue that, ironically, it could just as pointedly be said, “think like you’re inside the box.” As an adult envious of my kids' ability to tap into their imagination with ease, I wonder why we ever climbed out of the box in the first place. The possibilities were just as limitless inside of it.

My mom's kids in a box.

My new mascot in a box.


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