“NOOOOO!” came the death-or-mortal-injury-signifying scream from the kitchen, concurrent with a CRASH, and followed by the sound of a million little pieces skittering across the floor.
I ran to the kitchen to take stock of the pandemonium. My five-year-old son, Zack, sat on the floor, holding what was left of the LEGO police boat he’d been constructing. On the bright side, while it was a bad moment for Zack, it was a great moment for seafaring LEGO criminals.
“I was almost done, and now I have to start all over!” Zack screamed.
Somehow, a global toy empire has been created by selling little models that shatter if you look at them sideways. The target audience for these toys is not well known for its sure-handedness. Gravity weighs heavier on children than on regular people. Whenever one of my children is carrying something of value, like a camera or a slice of pizza, I have to remind myself that kids need to build their confidence, that things are just things, and things can be replaced. Unless they’re prohibitively expensive. Or unique. Or it’s the last slice. On second thought, why don’t you let me carry that.
The shattered LEGO boat could have been a good lesson to Zack that things aren’t that important. It’s people that are truly irreplaceable, except for tollbooth operators. Those guys probably should have been replaced by now. Anybody who hasn’t gotten an EZ-Pass yet just shouldn’t be allowed to use bridges anymore.
But Zack’s police boat wasn’t just A thing. It was THE thing. The most important thing in the universe. Except, at that moment, it was more like 257 things.
“It’s okay, buddy, we can put this back together. Let’s just gather all the pieces and look back at the instructions to see where everything goes,” I said.
“That will take FOREVER,” he cried. I glanced through the instruction manual and concluded that he was correct. This thing wasn’t going back together without a fight.
When I was a kid, this never would have happened. LEGOs didn’t have to be put together in a certain way, which was the whole reason they were fun. We had rectangles, and squares, and we didn’t even know that we didn’t have WiFi, and we were fine.
Then one day, sometime between my childhood and my adulthood, someone in a board room somewhere said: “Sure, kids like LEGOs, but they keep reusing the same ones over and over. They only buy them once! We’ve got to do something about this.”
And LEGO model kits were born. Then my sons were born. While those events weren’t obviously related at first, there has been much interlock ever since.
My kids have never known a world in which LEGOs were stored in a denim bag hanging on a hook in the closet. To them, LEGOs are to be put on display, never to be touched again for fear of breaking them, like the kid version of fancy dishes.
It’s actually a beautiful thing, watching the kids absorbed in the creation of their models. Following instructions. Sitting still. Doing all the things their teachers swear they do on a regular basis in school, and we nod our heads as if we’re not surprised.
Once we put the pile of pieces on the kitchen table, we found that it actually wouldn’t be so hard to get the police boat back in shipshape condition. Zack’s face was still damp from the tears when he helped click the last piece back into place.
“You did it, buddy!” I said.
“Vroooom!” he replied as he motored the boat to the top of his toy chest in our living room, where it will stay dry docked for eternity.
You can sweep Mike Todd into a dustpan at firstname.lastname@example.org.