Lego was a big thing in my house growing up. I distinctly remember a room in the basement, nestled under the stairs, a variety of sets proudly on display, begging to be played with each and every day. It was a toy, back then, that I didn’t fully appreciate for all of its creative expression and imagination building. At the time it was a bin full of colourful bricks that I could use to build castles, submarines, tree houses, puzzle boxes and train sets galore. Following the instructions was fun but by no means was it a necessity. These bricks existed in my world simply to have fun and, today, in 2022, very little has changed.
Granted, I do now appreciate the price tag that comes with each set, as one can very easily invest a small fortune on just a few of the more popular kits and one could also criticize that the build time really doesn’t seem to match the monetary cost. That’s not to say that I can’t find ways to justify spending a couple hundred dollars but it does make my selection process a tad more thoughtful. Perhaps the biggest justifications I can give to these little plastic pieces can be broken down into two categories: Joy and bonding.
The personal joy it brings me to snap together a set is rooted primarily in nostalgia. I remember that room in our house, playing with my brother and my friends. I recall the countless hours I spent taking apart and rebuilding things in new ways, making towers taller and stronger by learning form my previous failed attempts. Secondary to the memories is the “zen sense of accomplishment” I end up with as I move through the pages. As I am building, I tend to have some form of jazz playing in background, and as Charlie, Glenn or Miles soothe the room, I am no longer thinking of anything else. I’m just in the here and now of enjoying a few moments of something that makes me happy.
The bonding experience, is something that began when Nora took an interest in what I was doing one day. I can’t remember the kit we put together, to be honest, but I do remember being at the coffee table and she wanted to be a part of the experience. The rest, as they say, is history, and she and Audrey both enjoy when a new box comes home. It means that, at first, we get to spend time together on a project; that part is obvious. What’s so cool to me, though, is watching them grow from struggling to click the pieces together, exercising patience in finding the right pieces, and then flexing math and logic skills that I hadn’t considered or realized was a key component of our core task. See, I’m investing in their education…
As an adult, once I finish building a kit I am satisfied. I’ve accomplished what I set out to do and I proudly display it on a shelf, where it sits pristine and gorgeous for anyone who cares to admire. As a parent, however, once we finish building the kit…wait, what are they doing? Why are the taking it off of the shelf? The girls actually want to play with it?!? But, it will get destroyed! Pieces will come off! It won’t look like a finished project anymore! No, don’t touch it, don’t take it into your playroom, and certainly don’t mix it in with…what it is that? PLAYMOBIL?! My world comes crashing down.
As ridiculous as all of that may sound, it sadly does represent many of the true emotions I was shocked to have to confront. When did I turn into such a curmudgeon? When did I stop recognizing that building the set was only a part of the experience and that you could actually play with it afterwards? When did I stop recognizing it as a toy? When did I ‘grow up’?
I was both confused and disappointed in myself for these reactions but quickly came to peace when I saw the imaginative play that was taking place in front of me. that peace turned to happiness when I realized I there was nothing preventing me from joining in, except my own conceptions of what a ‘model kit’ is meant for.
As it stands now, the girls and I build all kinds of sets together, still listening to our jazz soundtrack as we go (the girls see to love Maceo Parker the most). We take turns on each step and we pace ourselves, spacing the project out over the course of a week or a month or even longer. Every night piecing together a few more bricks or opening a new bag as the instructions indicate. It is an exercise in patience (on sooooo many levels) but when it’s all done we are proud at the hours we’ve spent taking something together. They race to show mom their accomplishment and in that moment, I am once again whisked back to that basement room in the house I grew up in. Let the play time begin.