I decided to build my daughter a house yesterday—an indoor one with which to hide in, play with toys, etc. After all, she loved her other box while it lasted. And it was doing this unpleasant snow-slash-rain thing outside. What better day to forage for unused cardboard in the attic and make an abode fit for a child of less than discerning taste?
I didn’t have a long time to construct it. Maybe two hours while Audrey took her nap. I could have, perhaps, built it during her waking hours, but that would have resulted in dangerously elevated levels of fatherly frustration. Plus, I would need a utility knife to cut out doors, windows, and such—something not typically found in children’s toy boxes. So, with her down for her midday nap, I sprung like a rabid barn cat into action!
Finding the right cardboard box took more time than expected. We have far too many of them in our attic, most being saved for things like Christmas presents, or that unseen day far in the future in which we must move to brighter pastures. I foraged through small ones, long ones, squat ones, ones with lids, and more. All the while my lunatic cats—Ike and Monty—were bounding around the place, in and out of all the boxy nooks and crannies. Doing my best to ignore them, I finally settled on two boxes: a sturdy but small one for the floor and walls, and a diaper box for the roof.
I won’t bore you with the next ninety minutes, but it involved a great deal of duct tape, many cuts and slices, a sad realization that I don’t really know anything about construction, and Braveheart on TV.
Thank you, Mel Gibson, for giving me the strength of will to carry on.
When Audrey woke up the house was mostly finished. Not decorated in any way, and it could have used a few more windows, but it was standing and had a “working” door. Good enough. I immediately told her I had a surprise in store. Her reply? “No.” Not exactly the answer I was looking for, but I pressed on, changing the wording to a “present” instead of a “surprise” in the hope that her recent birthday and Christmas experiences would have solidified that word in her mind. “No.” She wanted to look outside at the snow and rain instead.
Dammit child, I just spent two hours slaving over a hot cardboard box! You will do as I say and cherish my surprise with all your heart until your dying day!
I did not say that, of course, but these are the sorts of sentiments that poke at your brain when your best-laid plans go immediately off course. Nevertheless, I nudged her toward the living room where I had placed her one-of-a-kind cardboard house. “House!” she promptly said. Good! This was going better. At least until she edged closer to it and added, “Too small, Daddy.”
Sigh. Yes, I knew it was on the undersized side. But it’s not like my attic is Box Town or anything. I did the best I could with what I had. So I once again stifled those nasty thoughts that bubble up inside and encouraged her once more. “Go on inside,” I said. And she did, closing the door behind her. “It’s dark, Daddy.”
SIGH. Yes, the house needed more windows. But I wasn’t about to bust out the utility knife again. What I did to rectify the situation, however, was a mistake. A big one. I lifted the roof off the house to let the light in. Her face lit right up, both literally and figuratively. The fact that the roof came off was far more interesting than anything else about the house. Realizing my crucial mistake, I flew into action once more and put that roof back down in swift, dramatic fashion. Didn’t matter, Audrey popped it off in two seconds flat, followed by a mischievous giggle. I tried again. And failed. And again. More failure. One last time then. Fail fail fail. It was like I had opened the Necromonicon. Now that it was open and I had let out all the evil, I couldn’t close it. What was done was done.
With the roof off, Audrey proceeded to try to tear the thing apart. Not intentionally, of course, but now that she could stand inside the house, she was pulling on the walls and straining the house’s less-than-impressive structural integrity. I tried patching things up with more tape but that just resulted in a bloodthirsty look on her face that said, “ME TAPE WANT!” She said “Sticker!” in actuality, but the bloodlust had started. I had tape—big shiny tape—and she wanted it. This did have the effect of taking her mind off of tearing my shoddy construction apart, but I had merely swapped one source of frustration for another. Thankfully my cat Ike, who had grown tired of the boxes in the attic and wanted to explore this one instead, saved me. Ike and Audrey spent a good long while after that in the house, along with a handful of her favorite stuffed friends.
Peace had momentarily settled back on the house. Both of them.
I still plan on adding windows to her house, as well as decorating it. I should probably attach the roof permanently too. But for my first foray into cardboard construction, I think I did okay. Not perfect by any means, but I know what to do better next time. And who knows, I might build a bus instead. Or a lemonade stand… Or even a pirate ship! Because when it’s nasty outside you’ve got to do something to keep you and your child occupied. And this is a much better option than parking her in front of the boob tube all day.
Despite the elevated levels of fatherly frustration, of course.