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drowning in legos

Growing up, my brother had a blue plastic box that was filled with Legos. It was the size of a small shoebox, and it had stickers on the outside and a handle, and he carried it around everywhere.

My kids have approximately eighty times the amount of Legos my brother had. I don’t know how it happened. Insidiously, over time. You buy a set or two, you have a birthday party and you receive ten sets, Grandma sends some through the mail. I don’t know. I just don’t know. I think about it a lot. How did we get here?

My older kid covets Legos, but then, once procured and built, could care less about them. Tate, however, really digs on Legos, most especially the people figures, which he calls “my guys.” He wants to take his guys everywhere, at really inopportune times.


At New Year’s, we were late for a family party in Vancouver and I hustled to get him ready. “My guys! I need my guuuuuuys!,” he screamed. Increasingly with Tate, I understand why governments negotiate with terrorists. At that moment, I gave in, because giving in was less painful than listening to Tate sob for an hour while I munched on a handful of Advil. I ran to the play room, dumped out a box of Legos onto the floor, raked through them with my fingers, and picked out four figures, all missing heads or arms. I threw them into a tin lunchbox and ran back to the door.

As I hurriedly pulled on my shoes, Tate opened the lunchbox, and eyed the contents. And then he put on his angry face, which makes my heart clench up in terror. “I want Kendo Kai!!” Kendo Kai? Sounded like a Ninjago figure, but I couldn’t be sure. The only Lego figures I can consistently tell apart from any of the others are the R2-D2 figure and the Batman figure, who helpfully wears a bat mask. More crucially, I had a better chance of running into Christian Bale right there in my entryway than I did of picking out Kendo Kai from the metric ton of Legos in the playroom. I exhaled an impatient breath. “Tate, we’re late. You have one minute to pick your Legos, and then we have to go.” Tate strolled to the playroom, picked through the Legos, and made a selection for his lunchbox, a process that took approximately three hours. We finally made it back to the entryway, and put on his shoes. When he stood up, his lunchbox opened over the heating register and all the pieces fell through the grate. And that’s when the real screaming began.

Legos cause a lot of drama in my house. For instance, the three panicked hours on Christmas Eve when Tom and I drove around Portland in separate cars trying to find a Ninjago set for Tate. Annoyingly, the only thing I could think in my panic was that, being 3, Tate wasn’t even close to being in the recommended age range for the Ninjago sets. At this rate, he’d be stealing scotch from Tom’s cabinet when he turned 8. What kind of crap parents were we? But all the anxiety faded when Tom texted to say that he’d located a Ninjago set at Barnes & Noble. Anyway, all the drama was worth it, for this moment, on Christmas morning.

The Ninjago incident was nothing compared to the Falcon debacle. When the Millennium Falcon came in the mail from Grandma Johnson, Tom took one look at the box and put it on top of his bookshelf. “WTF, it has 1254 pieces. I’m waiting for Matt,” he told me. Tom’s brother-in-law Matt is the kind of guy who wears shorts year-round and knows how to de-bone a chicken in 12 seconds. He is McGyver. This year he glued on a cabinet door in my kitchen, fixed a broken doorknob, sharpened all my knives, and pounded my misshapen mixing bowl back into round with a wooden spoon. Anyway, when Uncle Matt arrived a week later for the holidays, he and Tom began the process of building the Falcon. It took about six hours, on and off, to complete. The finished product was a beaut.


Once built, the only thing Tate wanted to do is play with that Millennium Falcon. To open the flaps at the top, to put his guys in it, to take his guys out of it. But having expended considerable energy on its creation, Tom wasn’t about to let Tate touch the Falcon. Instead, he put it up in our bedroom, out of easy reach. Every morning for three days, Tate would come upstairs at the crack of dawn and try to touch the Falcon. And Tom would gently swat his hand away and tell him that the Legos—the Legos were not for playing. It sounds heartless, but if you’ve ever built a large Lego set, maybe you can sympathize. The Falcon was built layer by layer, with hundreds of pieces you can’t even see comprising the framework. It looked to be virtually impossible to reconstruct once taken apart. What drove Tom was not cruelty, but fear.

On the fourth day, I woke up late, to an ominous silence. I blinked my eyes to adjust to the dim light in our bedroom, and made out a fuzzy shape at the foot of our bed. I put on my glasses and realized it was Tate, standing with a gray roof flap from the Falcon in his hand. Oh shit oh shit oh shit. How long had he been in our room while we’d been sleeping?? I jumped out of bed and ran to the sitting room to assess the damage before Tom woke up.

In the next room, Tate and I both stared at the Falcon, now missing half of its top and much of its battle gear. Tate looked freaked out, as if he’d sleepwalked to the kitchen and woken up to find himself eating a package of uncooked bacon. I wanted to repair the damage and protect Tate from Tom’s wrath, but where to begin? To me, even in its finished form, the Falcon had looked unfinished. Now, I had no idea what parts were complete and which had had pieces torn off of them by Tate. “Buddy,” I whispered to Tate as I began sticking random Lego pieces onto the Falcon, “it’s not looking good for you.” Tate whimpered.


When Tom eventually lurched into the room, he grabbed his hair in two handfuls and gave a silent scream. Then he took the Falcon and hid it, in the closet in his man room, where it sits to this day, giving joy to no boy or girl.

This morning, Tate asked if I wanted to play with his “pod racers.” I looked at the toy in his hand, and did a double take. I recognized those gray pieces: the roof flaps from the Falcon. And as I looked at his charming little creation, I remembered that this—spontaneous creativity—was why we put up with all the Legos. I gave Tate a snug and threw a mental fist bump to the Lego gods in appreciation.


20 Comments Post a comment
  1. The dreaded Millenium Falcon – we have two. If we didn’t have two my 12-year-old would have dismantled my 16-year-old’s model and, well, you can imagine. Both of my boys loved LEGOs. We have so many LEGO pieces that we have multiple 6-foot long bins filled with LEGOs under their beds. And even though my boys don’t play with LEGOs anymore they refused to break apart the larger models so I had to have shelves installed in my home office to display their creations! I do love LEGOs though – it provided hours of quiet, creative fun for my kids (and hours of frustration for me as I helped them build things – why are all of the pieces so little and all the same color???) Great post!

    January 30, 2013
  2. Miri #

    My 9-year old son, all he ever wants are L.E.G.O.s, and since he is in the same category as your Finn, the number of Lego sets in his room roughly equal that of Toys R Us.. I kid you not; among the 5 sets he received for Christmas from various relatives (I refuse to gift him anymore Legos), two were the same, so we went to TRU to exchange and there was NOTHING there he did not already have. ’nuff said.

    I am more intrigued by uncle Matt. Is he available for home-improvement services in the Chicagoland area?

    January 30, 2013
  3. I sympathize with Tom. Of course, I’m a mother who regularly purchased her toddler daughter “play with” dolls (Barbies and other crap) and “look at” dolls (Madam Alexander and other collectibles). I have a “friend” (who, interestingly, was NOT the mother of a daughter) who sharply criticized me and said “Oh, it’s the ‘look at’ dolls” in the most acerbic voice she could muster when she came to my house. (Needless to say, I grew to hate her.) In any case, the dolls are still pristine, ready for my daughter’s daughters, should she have them. I figure Karma will dictate that my granddaughters destroy them.

    January 29, 2013
    • or karma will reward you for your patience, Joan. your post touches on a topic so foreign to me that I can’t help but be fascinated. dolls. without weapons or accessory packs? sounds lovely.

      January 29, 2013
    • My great uncle gave me a Madame Alexander doll every year for Christmas until I was a teenager (but I can’t remember my exact age when I got my last one). They were definitely “look at dolls” Fortunately, for my mom, I have a terrible imagination and therefore never took to playing with my dolls and my Madame Alexanders remain in perfect condition with their original boxes. Haven’t thought about them for a while… thanks for reminding me of those pretty little dolls, Joan!

      January 29, 2013
  4. My brother also liked to play with the minifgures. He was usually too young to put a set together by himself, so my dad or another sibling would do it for him. It would inevitably break when he tried to play with it, usually doing the same thing as your son- trying to cram the guys inside of it or take them out. And pieces would get lost and the chances of ever getting it back together the way it was supposed to be diminished. So my dad started gluing all of the sets together so they couldn’t break or be taken apart. My brother thought that was fantastic at the time, but now he’s 13 and no longer “plays” with Legos, but “collects” them and is upset that all his older sets have been ruined with glue.

    January 29, 2013
    • i feel badly for your brother but this is very funny.

      January 29, 2013
  5. mettemia #

    I use to hate legos, my boys where hangup with lego thrue all years, untill they got iPad for Christmas. Lego is no longer in use, they don`t like it anymore. But now I`ll miss the little people. In a way they where gentle compare to iPad games! So enjoy lego, it`s sooo goood for little boys……..So nice post…..Iike it…….mettemia

    January 29, 2013
    • Yes, Legos are a very gentle toy. Even when they are part of the death star there is something benign about them

      January 29, 2013
  6. Love it….its so hard to just let them be with the toys sometimes. We haven’t experienced the very large sets yet, but I truly think my boys just like to see them put together once for a minute or two and then they immediately begin dismantling them and recreating their own inventions. My oldest received a set for Christmas and we’ve never finished putting it together because every time we try he starts creating something else.

    January 28, 2013
    • that’s awesome. it is interesting to see how Legos have become so set-centric, especially with all their cross-marketing (batman, sponge bob, etc.). probably a troubling development there but I’m too tired to think about it today

      January 28, 2013
  7. Every individual discovers their own set point for chaos vs. order when it comes to The Toys with (so very many) Tiny Pieces. I eventually simplified my demand list to one item: they must all be kept up off the floor after dark.

    Legos in particular (so strong with sharp corners). Personally, I’d rather step on a scorpion than hit a Lego with an unprotected instep. I stand an even chance of smashing the scorpion…

    January 28, 2013
    • I agree wholeheartedly that stepping on a Lego has to be one of the most painful occurrences that a parent might expect to experience in their every day life. you are so right that the pieces are so strong that they never break

      January 28, 2013
  8. An #

    couple things:

    Concerning lego overflow: This is where I live.

    We have a system. No piles, not even boxes with random pieces. There are tackle boxes where Jonah sorts his legos. No joke, by piece and size. This is more my OCD than his Montessori need for order (but that does NOT hurt). That being said, he LOVES it when all his legos are organized and his space is clean. Building stuff is SO much more enjoyable when you don’t have to search high and lo for a particular piece. Other people may enjoy the sound of fingers dragging through a shoe box of lego pieces, but it drives me insane.

    There are kits that he does not care whether they stay together or not. Most of his star wars kits he wants intact, so it has a designated place on a shelf where it is kept and ALWAYS returned, or we hang it on the ceiling with fishing line. Our downstairs is no longer 6-foot-people-tall friendly because of all the stuff on the ceiling. He will occasionally want to take something down to play with, but its always returns.

    Get a plastic organizer/tackle box – maybe just for the mini guys if they are the most important. It will change your life.

    Concerning Millenium Falcon: My older brother will actually glue his kids lego kits so they stay together. No joke. My opinion? Have you guys even SEEN TOY STORY? They are meant to be played with. Tom needs to get his own M. Falcon.

    And if you really need someone to help with the M. Falcon, Jonah can put it together in his sleep 🙂


    January 28, 2013
    • an, I have seen these shakers/sorters but had forgotten about them. also had not thought about how building with Legos might be easier once the pieces are organized. I will be exploring these ideas

      January 28, 2013
  9. OMG! I’m laughing so hard at your story! I LOVE the way you write. I felt like I ws actually there! You’re right, the Christmas morning reaction to his new Nija “thing” lego set was all worth it! Good job on not going crazy over his deactivating the Falcon! lmao I would have probably made a big deal about that but it’s good to see a mom who understands what’s REALLY important!

    January 28, 2013
    • i very often seem to understand what’s important until after the fact, but better late than never. the millennium falcon story was much better in real life, but i tried… 😉

      January 28, 2013
      • Oh, it was good just the way you wrote it, trust me. I saw the whole thing! lmao

        January 28, 2013
  10. I always thought the beauty of Lego was the ability to make and dismantle things so it became a different toy every day. A house one day, a rocket ship the next, if you have enough to build things and “guys” to go into your creations then it was endless fun for an imaginative child. I have always tried to encourage my children to become dreamers, giving rise to their imaginations and not be afraid to tell others because a fledgling idea can become a reality with input from our peers.

    January 28, 2013
    • yes, i appreciate legos for the reasons you name. clearly there’s a reason they are still as popular today as they ever were

      January 28, 2013

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