No, this is not about Harry Potter, but I must admit that I am proud of that title!

Sunday was Mother’s Day. We’re not a big Hallmark holiday family.  In fact, Dana and I don’t exchange gifts for anything – birthdays, anniversary, Christmas, …, nothing.  So I had no big plans nor expectations for Mother’s Day, which is good, because otherwise I would have been extremely disappointed.

I texted Bill Sunday morning with “It’s Mother’s Day.  Just sayin’” He called me about an hour later, groggy and probably hung over.  He wished me a Happy Mother’s Day, then talked about his problems for 15 minutes.  In mid-rant I handed the phone to Dana.  Let’s just consider Bill’s rant a pre- Father’s Day gift, shall we?

Katie asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day, and I said I wanted her to clean up her college crap.  She came home from her freshman year in the dorm about 3 weeks ago, and I’ve been afraid to look in her room ever since.  Clothing and books have been oozing into the hallway.  The bathroom floor is a giant laundry pile.  There’s a box of food (I think it’s food, I’m a little afraid to look) under the kitchen counter.  So for Mother’s Day, she promised to put all of her crap in boxes, where it can live until she moves back into the dorms in August.  Luckily, we have a lot of boxes, because when I was in third grade, I had to build a diorama.

My first diorama, like many dioramas, was part of a book report. I don’t remember the name of the book – probably because I didn’t actually read it – but I do remember coming home from school very happy about it, bursting with excitement as I ran into our apartment that afternoon.  My mother’s reaction was somewhat less enthusiastic, because we had none of the materials needed for diorama building, and she had no intention of buying them.

Since I took school and homework very seriously in third grade, I began searching for a shoebox.  I looked in the closet in the back of our apartment, which was crammed with all of the clothing belonging to the 3 of us. I found a box of Enrico Caruso 78s (“don’t touch those, they’re valuable!”), an ancient hatbox, and the only pair of snow pants I’d ever owned, and had outgrown 4 years previous. But alas, I did not find any shoeboxes.

Since there was really nowhere else to look, we walked to the shoe store on Washington Avenue. “Are we buying shoes?” I asked. “No,” replied mom. “You don’t need shoes. You have shoes.”  Which was technically true. I got 2 new pairs of shoes each year. In September I got Buster Browns, sturdy and practical and extremely old-fashioned and ugly. In June I got sneakers, either Keds or PF Flyers – whichever came with the better secret decoder ring. Since the diorama was assigned in neither in June nor September, we were not buying shoes.

Unfortunately, according to the man in the shoe store, this meant we were not getting a shoebox. So we walked to Ruder’s Department Store, where the nice old lady behind the counter offered me an underwear box – an article that was ancient then, and I believe extinct now. So I decided to call Daddy.

My father wasn’t the most involved parent. He had 2 modes – either he was worried about me and obnoxiously overprotective, or he was cranky and wanted me to disappear. But he always came through in a pinch. So we walked back to our apartment, back up to the 4th floor, and I called him at work, crying about my shoebox dilemma. He promised to locate a shoebox, and the next night, after 24 hours of (my) worry and anguish, he came home with one. Like I said, dad was really good when it came to the important stuff.

So I built my diorama. It had all of the requisite diorama details – cotton ball clouds, Popsicle stick people, and cardboard furniture. I’m sure it was total crap. Between my complete lack of artistic and creative ability, and our complete lack of art supplies, I doubt my diorama won any rave reviews. And I doubt that I learned anything from building it, except…

When I have kids, we will have shoeboxes in our house.

So when Katie was born, I started saving shoeboxes. And Xerox paper boxes (my personal favorite), and Amazon boxes, and appliance boxes, and moving boxes. If I saw a friend throwing away a “good” box, I asked if I could have it. I stored all of these boxes under the steps in the basement. The best part of this plan was that, when we found a good box, we could drop kick it down the stairs, which is extremely satisfying. And it scares the crap out of the cats.

Some of the life rules I have set for myself are: 1) don’t get my name in the arrest log in the local newspaper; 2) don’t get my picture in a People of Walmart video; and 3) don’t get my house in an episode of Hoarders. The cardboard under the stairs could prove problematic for rule #3.

But those boxes have proved very handy over the years, especially for building dioramas!!! Each of my kids had to do a Halloween book report diorama in first grade, and we used our shoeboxes. And since we have so much more stuff than my parents had – toys, art supplies, extra cardboard – we were able to produce reasonable dioramas.  Here is Katie’s Halloween diorama.


[Note: I am not ashamed to say that WE built the dioramas. In fact, WE made every diorama, and costume, and science project that ever came out of this house. Here’s the deal – if a 3rd grader has to do something requiring an X-ACTO knife, sewing machine, oven, hot glue gun, and/or spray paint, she can either do it in your house, or you can assume I will help her.]

The best diorama we ever built was Katie’s 2nd grade woodlands longhouse. (Google it if you want – suffice it to say she was studying Native Americans in school.) Check out our woodlands longhouse below. Isn’t it awesome?!?! Katie is still proud of it. And it actually required 2 shoeboxes and a Quaker Oats canister, all of which would have been terribly problematic back in Brooklyn.


To be fair to Bill, he made a beautiful tiger in 5th grade, which he actually sculpted himself out of clay. Turns out the stuff gets moldy if you leave it in the attic for 10 years, so alas we have no proof of his tiger’s awesomeness.

Meanwhile, every diorama had to live on the dining room table for a week, and required purchasing little crafty things, like glitter and spray snow and purple paint and fake fur.  All of which now lives on shelves in the basement, next to the cardboard under the stairs.  And every diorama had to be driven to school, since dioramas on the school bus tend to get smashed by French horn cases, soccer balls, and bullies.

But no matter how many dioramas we built, the pile of boxes under the stairs just kept growing. And now that the kids are grown, I don’t think we will be building any more dioramas. When Bill started college, he packed some of his stuff in boxes. Then I went on a cleaning spree and got rid  some boxes – scary to say that, with kids in high school and college, I still had baby shoe boxes in that pile.  And now the boxes are proving useful for Katie’s college crap, most of which will probably be stored in boxes, piled up in the basement, and forgotten for eternity.

I’m definitely worried about rule #3.