Keep It Simple

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I'm working at my desk when my five-year-old son comes in asking for cardboard and tape for an airplane he's making. I tell him let's get the tape first, then we'll go downstairs for some cardboard. He says he's going to need lots of cardboard because he's building a jumbo jet and it will have to be able to fit lots of people.

Then it hits me: My son is not planning to make a model airplane. No. In his mind he has designed, and now plans to build, a real airplane. Using cardboard. And Scotch tape.

On the one hand, I feel bad for him when he learns he won't be able to construct a four-engine jetliner capable of transporting paying passengers at 600 miles per hour at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. On the other hand, I envy his imagination and can-do attitude. Design a passenger jet? Done! Build it out of cardboard and tape? That's the idea! And who will fly this aircraft? I will, who else? And what's aircraft?

In my son's world, in that wonderful childhood place, everything imagined can be cobbled together using those tried-and-true materials: cardboard and tape. Imagine, the Triangular Piles of Boxes at Giza. The spaceflights achieved using booster rockets made of paper towel tubes. And while we're at it, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that flimsy partition."

Rome wasn't built in a day, but only because my son wasn't running things.


Yet his endeavors make me rethink mine. In the grown-up world, every job is hobbled by constraints. Limits. Building codes. Gone are those simpler days making two-room forts out of washer and dryer boxes, and whooshing down hillsides on sleds made from a single cardboard sheet.

But are they really gone? After all, I give my son cardboard and tape, and in return, he gives me the chance to revisit that place where the act of creating is simple and free of rules and limits.

Recently my son, now six, has been talking about upgrading his materials to wood and Super Glue. I say, Let's go get 'em.

With a Perspective, I'm Lane Parker.

Lane Parker is a writer and editor in San Francisco.