One of DorkySon’s favourite playthings is what he calls his ‘random box’ – a large, lidded plastic container filled with an assortment of absolute tat. There are those dreadful cheap toys that you get free on the front of magazines – shaky little vehicles that lose a wheel the first time they go out on the road. There are golf balls that have been liberated from DorkyDad’s collection. There are pieces of tinsel and sparkly rosettes with small scraps of Christmas paper still attached. There are assorted collectors cards – Australian animals, Disney characters, Phillies players from the 2009 baseball season. There are slices of cardboard pizza that smell of basil – sort of. There are empty Kinder Surprise cases, and a couple of old phones with the batteries removed. There’s an egg timer and a magnifying glass, a plastic fishing rod with assorted sea creatures in lurid colours, a few pieces of doctor’s kit…
It really is stuffed with rubbish, but that one box can keep DorkySon entertained for hours. It fires up his imagination. He plays sorting activities and character games. He’ll fill a bowl up with water and splosh his way across the kitchen, before conducting an experiment to see which things from the box float and which ones sink. It is excellent proof that you don’t need expensive toys to keep a five-year old happy.
Last week, when I was doing a bit of rearranging upstairs, we stumbled across another box of delights – a cardboard container full of DorkySon’s old baby toys. We have already given away so many. Dozens of rattles, Bob the Builder trucks, plastic train sets and the like have made their way to charity shops and nurseries over the years. But there are a few that I’ve been too sentimental to discard, so I’ve kept them stashed in the back of a cupboard.
DorkySon was thrilled to find it, and even though he sees himself as very grown up these days he spent a good couple of hours rediscovering former favourites. He banged away on his rainbow-striped xylophone, shook his mini wooden maracas with great enthusiasm, and lined up all the animals from his red-roofed IKEA barn for a farmyard parade. His joy reassured me that it’s no bad thing for a nostalgic mama to hold on to some bits and pieces from the baby days.
The newest box-related ritual in the house does not involve me though. It is something that has started between DorkySon and DorkyDad – sprung up from nowhere, really – and takes place every night between bath time and bedtime.
DorkySon brings his secret box – a small wooden box with a decorative lid that he keeps on his bedside table – through to our room. He takes the contents – a gum nut, a rock, a favourite Lego minifigure and various other items of loveliness – and spreads them carefully out on the bed.
“Okay,” he says to DorkyDad. “You can choose one thing from my secret box to keep beside you tonight. Just one thing. Make it a good one.”
DorkyDad ponders this for a few minutes. He umms and ahhs about whether to choose a grinning Smurf or a miniature Norman Price, the bell from the neck of a Lindt bunny, or a raggedy looking pinecone. Eventually he settles on something suitably precious, and DorkySon hands it to him with a flourish.
“My turn now!” DorkySon squeals, bouncing up and down with excitement across the room.
DorkyDad brings down his own ‘secret box’. A treasure trove of cufflinks and old watches, badges, tiepins, buttons and rings.
DorkySon’s eyes light up.
“Hmmmm,” he says. “What’s it going to be?”
It’s tough to choose. Two green dice, or a beaded bracelet from Mozambique? A Dartmouth College lapel pin, or an old silver dollar?
After much deliberation, DorkySon makes his choice too. He clutches it tightly in one hand, runs through to his own room, and places the object on his bedside table.
“I’ll look after it,” he says. “Don’t worry. And when I look at it, I’ll think of you and all the fun times we have together.”
They hug each other good night. I watch a small, smiling tear form in the corner of DorkyDad’s eye.
The boy love keeps on growing.
One box at a time.