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Spring Gillard
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The Art Box

I had this cool box left over from my bike tree project and thought it should have a special re-purpose. It was shaped like a hat box, with a lid and handles. Then I saw a great idea one day while leafing through the Metropolitan Museum of Art – “ an arts and crafts box filled with felt, sponges, pipe cleaners and pretty sparkly things. A perfect birthday gift for my nephew who was turning six in March. It was $25 and would have cost that much again to have it shipped. So I decided to make my own.

I dug around in my sewing box and my junk drawers. I gathered buttons, felt, rick rack, elastics, twist ties, chop sticks, scraps of pretty wrapping paper and ribbons, fabric, foam and upholstery batting. This was truly a recycling exercise! I found surprising things: a bottle of old silver glitter, some shiny stick-on stars, beads and gold wire left over from my own craft era. Some of the things I put into little boxes and bottles. So that each opening would be a surprise. I had so much fun putting the box together. I did buy a few things. Glue, some child scissors, stick on eyes, and some of those little umbrellas you get in drinks. Odds and sods that caught my fancy. Then I packed it all up and took it to Penticton with me on a family visit late February.

When Cruz first opened the big bag that contained the box, he wasn’t sure what it was. But as I began to pull out each item and explain what we could do with them, his face lit up. He said in a hushed tone, “It’s just like Mister Maker – a TV arts and crafts guy!” Or the new Mr. Dressup.

We were sitting on the floor between the living room and kitchen. The box contents spread out around us. He said, “Amma we need paper.”

I told mom to bring us newspaper, thinking we needed it to protect the carpet from the glue. But Cruz had other plans for it. I began to make funny, three dimensional critters, but he started gluing objects to the newspaper. He was making a collage. And thus began a week long art project.

Cruz’s other grama was in town that week too. She hadn’t seen him since Christmas so I’m sure his mom would have liked him to spend more time with his Edmonton grama. She’d brought him a very expensive Wii system. Cruz loved playing Wii games. My brother had bought the Wii for him first because Cruz had been complaining that daddy’s house was boring. One visit home I blew an arm playing baseball, bowling, tennis and various other sports I am not good at in real life let alone virtually. Now he had one at both homes.

That first day we spent nearly three hours making the collage. I thought that might be the last time I saw him. But the next afternoon, the phone rang and this little voice said, “Can my mommy bring me over?”

“Oh, do you want to come and play with me?” I asked.

“No, I want to play with the art box and you,” he said. And over he came. Video games forgotten.

All my ranting to my family about the evidence linking short attention spans and hyperactive behaviour in kids to too much TV and video games had done nothing to reduce the amount of time Cruz was spending in front of a screen. All I had to do was make an art box and make time to play. And that special time with my nephew was just as magical for me.

Everyday that week we spent two to three hours playing art box. He made art out of strips of elastic and old yellowed foam rubber. He glued the colourful beads right onto the newspaper. I strung them onto the gold wire and somehow lost the wire in all our mess one day and never did find it again.  At one point, Cruz looked up at me and said, “Everything in here is totally awesome!” And sometimes he would just hold one of the sparkly things, like the roll of plasticized material I had used to trim a shower curtain. “Some of these things I don’t want to use because they’re so beautiful,” he said.

I had thrown an old coiled binding from a notebook into the box. We made a joke about spring and Aunty Spring and he told it over and over again to his adoring family members. We had an exhibition at the end of each day when mommy or daddy came to pick him up. And everything was left out on Amma’s floor for the next day. Another day of creating.

“Hmmm, what should we do today?” he would ask me, then go into thinking mode by pressing two fingers to his temples.

After I left town, my brother and Poppa were driving around with Cruz looking for a birthday present for him. He wanted a particular Wii video game. They tried three stores and none of the staff would sell it to him, because it was for older kids. Thank goodness for responsible retailers. Cruz was not happy and was having a little fit in the back seat. My brother told me he suddenly had a moment of inspiration. He looked at his unhappy son in the rearview mirror and said, “How about something for your art box?”

There was silence. And then, “Well I could use some coloured foam chips and some gold wire for stringing beads,” he said. And off they went to the craft store.  Ten dollars later compared to about $300. Priceless.

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