On the virtues of cardboard

Ulysse crawling the grounds of his kingdom.

It was a warm day in late June. Ulysse and I were playing on the deck with the fans on full blast to keep the heat and the mosquitos at bay. A pile of cardboard boxes sat upon the table leering at me. I had been collecting these boxes for no particular reason other than that they could possibly be used for something, which is my default philosophy about most things, to Fab’s eternal dismay.

As I sipped my iced tea, sharing it with Ulysse even though I feared it might keep him a little too wide-eyed at bedtime, I knew what needed to be done. With a bit of packing tape and a pair of scissors, I began to fashion a tunnel. Before I had even strung three of the larger boxes together, I had decided the two smaller ones would form a side tunnel. A scrap leftover from joining the two tunnels became a lopsided and fragile chimney. I had to compete with Ulysse for access to the tunnel. He had already started energetically crawling back and forth through it before I could even finish taping the boxes together.

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Ulysse decorates his château as his diapers dry in the sunshine nearby. Note how sturdy that chimney looks now!

There was no need to explain, Ulysse quickly intuited that sticks and Little People should be deposited into the chimney and then retrieved so they could be deposited again. He alternately tossed his crayons in the chimney and put all his weight onto the still feeble structure trying to get them back while I attempted to secure it to the roof of the tunnel. The tunnel was such a hit that when we replaced our kitchen sink a few days later (with the generous and good natured help of my co-blogger’s husband, Gino – Thanks, Gino!) I noticed that the box, while not huge, was sturdy and would make an excellent entryway to the tunnel. The tunnel gradually grew longer; with weekly veggie deliveries came weekly additions. At a play date, my friend Lauren graciously donated the box from her new dryer to my cause and I joyfully loaded it into the car. Fab was nonplussed, but I was ecstatic. This was the first major acquisition and a turning point in the project. Oh, the possibilities!

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I’m just the builder, Miela colored the roof, walls and door. Notice Ulysse has some mail waiting for him in his tissue box mailbox.

With Ulysse frolicking around me as I worked (with a sharp knife, mind you,) I very cautiously cut out a door, which he ran through in a frenzy of excitement. I used the top flap to construct a roof, then I cut out a window, attached the large tunnel, and added a kind of drive through window with a flap that could be opened. This would be the ideal place for crayon storage.

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Yep, shutters, curtains and a window box (literally :-). Colorful decoration courtesy of Miela, one of a small army of teenagers who helped out with Ulysse this summer while I worked on my syllabus and course planning.

With all the packing tape I was using, I decided to cut holes in the walls and slid the empty tape rolls through, securing them with more tape. These make excellent peep holes and toy passage ways. Fab remarked that this edifice was beginning to take over the deck, and the deck is sizable. He was right of course, but what would we do on the deck without Ulysse’s house that we could not do now? Sit there and marvel at the vast, empty expanse? Chase Ulysse around with no obstacles to trip over? What fun is that? Chase the cats back in the house? Actually, that is easier without a multi-entry network of small tunnels I can’t be bothered to go after them in…

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Cats also love boxes, especially whole networks of them!

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Yes, George, looks ridiculous with his summer haircut, but he’s enjoying hiding in the château!

Fab reminded me that I had coerced him into keeping the box from his new table saw a few months back for just such an occasion. Hallway! And now the crown jewel has been added at the end of the hall: the box from our new toilet. I really went all out on this one. It has animal and flower shaped cutouts, star cutouts in the roof, which can be opened, and a swinging door coming in from the table saw hallway box.

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Variously shaped cutouts allow light into the table saw box hallway, as does the school bus shaped window flap. The toilet box has a star gazing roof and an elephant cutout on the gable. That’s a gable, right?

Ulysse and his friends had a great time in the cardboard château all summer and into fall. He ate ice cream cones with Miles, Ellison and Adlai in the main chamber. He and the twins, Ravit and Dalit sent the rumbling school bus through the long tunnel from one end to the other. Connor cautiously peeked in each of the entrances before tossing some balls in to see where there would come out. And Suzanne, a spryer woman than I, crawled through the tiny tunnels with him on all fours, sat in the corner and played Little People and crayon swap, and told each other the silliest jokes they could think of.

Alas! the cold winds are beginning to blow. The leaves are falling and the château is no more…or at least most of it is about to be recycled. The roof was sagging, almost inverted. The long tunnel was collapsing and the cardboard was curling and getting weak from exposure to the elements. These delightful creations are ephemeral… I kept the sturdiest parts though, and if they survive the winter, I shall begin again: trash picking, box scouting, tape wielding and architecting. But I bet my assistant will have some ideas of his own next summer!

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One thought on “On the virtues of cardboard

  1. What a great idea! Thanks for sharing! I’m excited to build one for my toddler. Recent birthday and future holidays should be great box gathering opportunities!

    Liked by 1 person

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