In which I am proven wrong about trash


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My daughter reveres Mr. Rogers. She comes by it honestly. So do I. He reminds me of my dad. No really. My dad looks just like him.

Anyway, recently my daughter saw several episodes in which Mr. Rogers discusses trash, the problem of trash, and what to do with things once you are done with them to minimize the environmental impact of trash. I forget the exact words he used, but they boil down to “Reuse if you can, recycle if possible, and only throw away if you must.”

My daughter takes this very seriously. It’s gotten so bad that I have to sneak out the trash and recycling after she is in bed to avoid triggering a vehement “but I have a purpose for that” response. She hoards cardboard boxes to decorate as dioramas, shoeboxes to use as mailboxes for her bevy of imaginary friends, stray feathers which she finds on the floor in craft stores (shhh!), even bits of sandpaper and steel wool left over from a certain mouse-proofing episode last fall, which do not seem to have a purpose yet, but are kept waiting for one in her treasure box.

I made a valiant attempt recently to keep her from hoarding the leftover tubes from used up rolls of toilet paper and paper towels. She insisted they were to be used to make a present for Father’s Day. It seemed highly unlikely to me that such scraps could be turned into something that anyone (even a doting father) would want, but “Ask the iPhone, Mommyo.”

I will allow you to imagine my chagrin (and my daughter’s glee) when my Google search immediately pulled up Parenting’s 7 Easy-to-Make Gifts for Father’s Day, which included this pen holder made of old toilet paper and paper towel tubes.

It turned out to be too complicated for my daughter to make, but no worries, “You can make it, Mommyo.” And so I did, using up a good bit of old wrapping paper, two of my daughter’s hoarded toilet paper tubes, the tube from some gift wrap ribbon, a piece of old rick rack that I inherited from my grandmother years and years ago, a bit of cardboard from a recently delivered package, and an embarrassingly copious quantity of glue. (Thankfully, Elmer’s really does dry clear. I just wish it also dried flat.)

One of the many very nice things about my daughter is that she has not yet learned the phrase “I told you so.” So when I finished the pen holder, she simply told me it was beautiful and ran off to her secret stash to find a crinkled gift bag and some used tissue paper to wrap it in.

About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book will focus on science, and how parents without a science degree can answer their curious child's questions without enrolling in a college level refresher course. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Eleven-Year-Old at, chatting about books and the writing life at, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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6 Responses to In which I am proven wrong about trash

  1. Sugar Peep says:

    She sounds fabulous, like my own 4 year old Babysaur. Who is also very much into the recycling, reusing, and remaking of objects. She even rinses her popsicle sticks, then turns them into something that makes sense to her but not to me because she explains it so quickly.
    Aren’t they fun?

    (Your blog is great!)


    • shalahowell says:

      Thanks for stopping by & commenting on my blog. Your little Babysaur sounds like a blast. Mine loves the popsicle stick art too — one time she came home from preschool with a popsicle stick that had a googly eye taped (in whirls and whirls of tape, you know the style) to its end. She calls it her “I’m watching you stick” and runs around the house pointing it at various things. It sounds creepy, but you see it, it looks like she’s pretending it’s a magnifying glass.


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