Emily Parnell — Can’t we think inside the box for once?

09/03/2013 4:32 PM

09/03/2013 4:32 PM

“Everything I want to do is either illegal, or it doesn’t exist yet.”

This was my son’s lament on a particularly boring afternoon. His statement makes me giggle, and it also precisely sums up why I reject the popular parenting advice: “Let your kids be bored and encourage them to creatively find ways to entertain themselves.”

That’s all well and good if you wish to develop creativity in your child. But this particular child oozes creativity and excels in outside-the-box thinking, and sometimes I wish he’d just go ahead and pick something ordinary, straight out of the box. But he’s not one to settle for ordinary.

I’ve spent plenty of time helping him attain his grandiose goals. When he was tiny, he asked me to turn him into a crab. He wanted crab claws, and he was rather insistent about getting them. Finally, in an effort to turn my child into a crab before he became crabby, I cut some Pac-man shapes from red construction paper, stapled them around the edges, and showed him how to stuff his little hands into them. He wore the claws for days, pinching more than we liked him to, declaring, “I crab” with a crusty little grin.

But soon, his sights rose higher. No longer would construction paper suit his vision. He was into Star Wars, so my mom suggested he be a Jawa for Halloween. She had made my brother a very convincing Jawa costume when he was young and offered to do the same for her grandson.

He loved the idea. But soon, it grew. Jawas, you see, drove around their sandy planet in enormous vehicles called Sandcrawlers, in which they hauled junk and rehabbed androids. If he was to be a Jawa, he would need a Sandcrawler. At first, I tried to support his idea, envisioning a cardboard box with straps to hang it over his shoulders. But that, of course, would not be big enough. Or metal enough. He put his shoes on and demanded to be taken to a metal store, because we were going to need to buy enough metal to make a Sandcrawler as big as our house. With gears and caterpillar-type thingmabobs so he could actually drive it from house to house to collect candy.

The discussion, which started sometime in the summer and continued until several days before Halloween, was frustrating and exhausting for both of us. Well, I stopped discussing it early on, but he continued the plans and designs and relentless attempts to get someone to drive him to the metal store for months, frustrated to tears by our refusal to help him build a full-scale Sandcrawler.

These days, he’s maturing rapidly. He understands limitations and issues of practicality, although these constraints still sadden and frustrate him. I asked him what he meant by “illegal,” and found that he meant this merely as against the rules. Either age limits, monetary constraints, or plain old house rules (no, we’re not getting a cat) keep him from achieving many of his visions.

But as he grows and learns to operate within his means, I smile knowing that one day he’s going to break that box wide open. One day, he’ll find the means to make something new exist, and the good thing about that is it will probably be so new that it will not yet be illegal.

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