The Magic of Cardboard


I finally did it, and it felt so good!  After months of searching, I found the perfect present for my four-year-old son. One that made his eyes pop out, his jaw drop down, and a squeal of delight spontaneously burst from his lips… a cardboard toilet paper tube.

You see, my son’s name is Ben, and what with a one of the newest commercial heroes out there for young boys being “Bob the Builder,” my son has completely assumed the identity of “Ben the Builder.”  Last year, for his fourth birthday, we pooled our finances with his grandparents and went all out to give him a toolbox full of plastic tools, a sturdy plastic tool bench, and an authentic ‘Bob the Builder’ outfit including bib overalls, a flannel shirt, and yellow construction hat.

Unfortunately, Ben was not satisfied with his gifts.  No matter how cool he looked in his outfit, no matter how hard he pounded on his pretend bench with his plastic hammer, and no matter how hard he revved up his battery powered drill, he couldn’t actually build anything.  That’s when I remembered the gifts I had given his older brother when he was about the same age… cardboard in every shape and size imaginable, a few rolls of masking tape, some yarn, and a bag of rubber bands.

Now, not only is Ben more-than-satisfied with his new, improved set of tools, he has become a true builder.  For his older sister’s birthday he built a “catch-the-button-in-the-hole” game completely on his own, using one toilet paper tube, a length of yarn, a medium size button, and a bunch of masking tape.  She and he had great fun playing with it together.  As Christmas approaches, he is madly constructing a set of binoculars for each member of the family, again, all on his own.  With the help of a book called “Look What You Can make with Tubes,” Ben’s siblings have gotten into the act, too.  Toilet-paper-tubes have become so popular in our house that I have caught several family members, unrolling entire rolls of toilet paper and leaving the paper on the vanity next to the toilet just so they could be the first to grab a tube they “really, really needed.”

The experience was a good reminder that when is comes to giving great, educational gifts to kids, creativity and usability, rather than expense or name brand are what really count.  After getting such a gleeful response from Ben after presenting him with one small, toilet paper tube, the I can’t wait to see his response to all the empty wrapping paper tubes I’m going to put under the Christmas tree this year instead of throwing them away!


I must tell you that the short story you just read actually happened three years ago. After the story was published in our parish newspaper that year, a family from the parish decided to save for us every cardboard tube that came into their house.  The bulging garbage bag they gave us around Valentine’s Day was full of more creative cardboard shapes than you could imagine.  It was super fun!  Their kindness reminded me of the blessings of being in a community of Believers and of a Bible verse that says:  “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” – Hebrews 10:24-25

Having shared the rest of the “Ben the Builder” story with you and with this Bible verse in mind, I’d like to introduce the idea of creating a little community “meeting” space in this column where you could encourage others with your practical and spiritual ideas for raising families of faith.  We’ll start with a practical idea.  How do you keep birthday gift giving fun, yet useful and low cost?   If you have something to share, please send an e-mail of 30 words or less to  Please write “B-day Gifts” in the subject line and include your full name in the e-mail.  Thank you, and Happy Advent!

Copyright 2010 Heidi Bratton


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