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The Scotch-Tape Trenches

Mom and I didn’t fight over a lot of things, but there was one battlefront that saw plenty of action: the Scotch-tape dispenser.

In addition to raising my six other siblings, Mom had to look after me—the veritable toddler mix of Frank Lloyd Wright, Pablo Picasso, and The Tasmanian Devil. I was creative and artistic, and while that has since given my parents some sense of pride and satisfaction years down the road, it sure made for one heck of a childhood. I devoured reams of paper, painted murals on the corkboard in my bedroom, moved from project to project faster than a hoard of crickets moves through a field of ripened wheat. I collected an arsenal of paintbrushes, crayons, pastels, scissors, and the granddaddy of them all: Scotch tape.

You could build anything with it! Paper chains, model airplanes, puppets, wreaths, dream catchers, dioramas—Michelangelo had his marble, but I had Scotch tape.

And what do you do when your own supply of tape is exhausted? Stop being creative? Stop making things? Trust me, tornados don’t stop for anything, and artists can be temperamental at best—just ask Van Gogh’s other ear. Besides, I had a permanent account at the Maternal Federal Reserve of Art Supplies, and Scotch tape was always in supply. There it sat on her desk, the little roll neatly tucked in its sand-filled dispenser. One quick swipe and the painting, whirring, whacking, taping tumult could resume.

Mom liked to see us busy. She liked that we were learning, expanding, and developing our talents.

But she didn’t like it when her tape went missing.

The shrill hunting cry would echo from upstairs. “DAVID! Did you take my tape again?” And I would scurry back up, tape in hand, much more willing to confront Mom on her own turf than for her to witness the warzone in my room downstairs.

So it went on for years. But Mom didn’t give in so easily. In a shrewd act of cunning and desperation, she glued the Scotch tape dispenser right to the top of her desk. The wood glue oozed about the base of the dispenser and dried into a yellow rock. It didn’t slide. It didn’t budge. I was foiled, and was forbidden to take it EVER again. And so I did what any self-respecting kid would do…

I popped the roll out of the dispenser and went back to work.

The battles continued. Tired of me taking her scissors all the time, she tied them to her desk.

I flipped them around and cut the string.

Frustrated with the amount of TV we were all watching, she padlocked the TV cord to the top of the entertainment center where it couldn’t reach the outlet.

We rigged up an extension cord.

Against her usual frugality, she bought herself an Amish doll, the kind that has a plain, wooden face without any features.

I gave it the best eyes and mouth a typical toddler could muster. With thick eyelashes. With a Sharpie.

On and on it went, Mom vs. her seven clever, intelligent, incorrigible children.

Round One: the homemade crossbow. Winner: Mom.

Round Two: the French bread duels. Winner: the kids.

Round Three: the spaghetti on the ceiling. Winner: Mom.

Round Four: the doorframe water trap. Winner: the kids.

Round Five: the foot through the glass door. Winner: the hospital.

Round Six: the urine in the bucket. Winner: no one.


It was a battle of wits that continued through all seven children, a 30-year campaign for which Mom should have received the Congressional Medal of Honor. We lived in a happy, chaotic blur, but we loved each other, and we loved Mom.

At the time, it probably felt like no one was winning the war. But years later, it’s clear we all emerged the victor. Through her patience with all of our follies, Mom allowed us to grow and to create. She taught us that our actions had consequences (and believe me, she was downright clever when it came to fitting a punishment to the crime). Life was a loving laboratory of controlled, collaborative chaos, and we learned more there than anything she could have told us directly.

The dust has since settled, and now Mom and Dad can enjoy the fruits of those difficult labors: a biotech scientist son (31) creating breakthrough technologies; a brilliant manager (29) that doubled the size of the home business; a professional musician (27) who became Soldier of the Year; an autistic son (25) who exceeded all expectations and takes college classes; a valedictorian and entrepreneur (25); a budding writer and homemaker (22); and an aspiring engineer (17) who, alas, is in his last years in the Scotch-tape trenches. 

If you ask me, a roll of Scotch tape is a small price to pay for the kind of childhood Mom gave us. But since the wood glue still hasn’t come off the desk, Mom may beg to differ.



For more funny stories and seasoned advice about life in the family trenches, check out Christopher Robbins’s book Living in the Trenches.

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David grew up in rural Pennsylvania. He attended Brigham Young University where he pursued a degree in Business Management. But through all the classes on cash flows and price elasticities, David was still in love with art. He worked several years as… Read More


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