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.