There are many lifelong benefits to playing with LEGOS.
The LEGOs were everywhere, strewn in careless swaths across our attic’s cream Berber carpet, in a color palette as narrow as any I might find when agonizing over whether to paint the living room Sherwin Williams Exciting, (rather than Outgoing) Orange.
The kids’ newest LEGO set, all in muted shades of tan, each plastic brick exacting in its required placement, each irrevocably important, had something to do with a story of lost mummies and intrepid adventurers. While it’s true that SW 6641 is only three color blocks away from SW 6647, when you step back and take it all into serious consideration, I suppose the differences can be monumental. I mean, how exactly does Sherwin Williams distinguish between an orange that is Exciting, if it is not in fact Outgoing? To a critical eye, Exciting is a “lighter shade of pale,” a less dynamic semblance of Outgoing. Both are equally satisfactory shades of a sort of salmon-pink, anemically tangerine color I could slap on the walls of a room that we have labeled “Forbidden,” because it houses a mostly-unplayed piano and uncomfortable furniture. The room has a formal tenseness, one of carefully selected period pieces appropriate for a Neo-Georgian house, with breakable antique porcelains, and unapproachability.
It is in direct contrast with the mess upstairs in the attic, where two children reign supreme. They couldn’t give a damn that there are full LEGO sets from Star Wars, with X-Wing and Y-Wing Fighters, an Imperial Cruiser, and Queen Amidala’s shiny Nubian Royal Starship. There is a set from Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, a Fire Station, Underwater Explorers, and two castles, one appropriately Medieval Gray, the other in Belville’s pastel girlish pink-and-blue, the outrider of puberty yet to come. That one even has winged LEGO fairies, and a fountain forever immobilized in glittery plastic. Every set arrives from the manufacturer with each classic brick hermetically sealed in plastic bags, separated by color, shape, and size, to be aligned according to the minutely detailed paper instructions the children eagerly unfold so they can build their next miniature masterpiece. They do build each and every one. The pirate ship, the Gungan Sub, Harry Potter’s beloved Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, all grow, brick by millimetered brick, snapping into sturdy reality. Here is childhood, here is fantasy, all created in 3-D, to be viewed and admired.
The Legos were not always admired. They were used for many purposes, probably not intended by the Lego creators.
Once built, with hours of painstaking labor and agonizing reference to the instructions, they are just as quickly destroyed.
The bricks are torn apart, and quickly repurposed. What was once a fire truck now finds itself the central character in a Barbie movie, piloted by a tan mummy, where it will be attacked by vengeance-driven, screaming Beanie Babies riding X-Wing Fighters hell bent on a mission. Beanie Baby Command Central is a beautifully painted, stuccoed, and shingled masterpiece of a dollhouse, built with precision and direction by Dr. K over his minions, the two brats who dominate the attic. They alternate with the video camera, taking turns filming the action which will later be a feature movie, set to music.
Based on all this, it shouldn’t surprise me by how Harrison has taken charge of his Gap Year, a time of re-evaluation while he applied to grad school.
With his younger sister off to college, we enjoyed an entire year of Empty Nesting, and then he was back. I looked forward to his return with a mixture of anticipation and dread. We hadn’t seen much of him for the last four years; even during our college visits he was either running a race, or willingly sequestered in a lab, engaged in some sort of study. What sort of person was he now?
I soon found out that the kid we visited at school in Iowa was one who was driven to excel in every area of his life. He had become a whirlwind of activity, spinning, leaving no corner untouched. In between filling out applications for grad school, he ran for endless miles. He volunteered at a local healthcare facility, and coached distance running and pole vault, because, “Running,” he explained to me, “defined him.” The pursuit of the sport had taught him discipline, endurance, and how to focus on a longterm goal.
“I am a runner because it pushes me to go past the pain when I don’t think I can give any more,” he told me.
And he played the neglected piano, sitting there in the “Forbidden Room,” for hours at a time. He revisited the classical pieces he’d learned when he was thirteen, and learned new ones, listening to his iPod, messing with the fingering on the keyboard until he got it right.
He complained often of a relentless backache, but continued to run, until one day he decided there was no choice but to stop, at least for a while. Competitive running takes a toll, one that is hard to admit when you are only 22.
When you are twenty-two, life is an unfolding LEGO map of instructions, and there are endless sets yet to be built and admired. He mourned running; it had become the definition of who he was, and without it, what was left? A friend encouraged him to sign up for an organization called Bike & Build: Pedaling for Affordable Housing. She had ridden with them twice, over the past two summers, making a cross-country trek with two wheels, and boundless energy.
“Biking — that’s for old people,” Harrison informed me. “You and Dad, that’s fine for you, but it’s not the same as running. That’s just me and my legs, it’s all I need to get places.” But it was his gap year, and he had little else to do, so he signed up.
Part of the requirement of getting ready to ride from Nags Head, NC to San Diego was to raise $4,500, a daunting amount for someone who had never ventured into fundraising. The other part of demonstrating readiness was to log saddle time — better known as “conditioning,” prepping his body to ride 3,592 miles across the country. He dragged his feet, procrastinating. Was it that he felt there was still plenty of time to ride the necessary 500 miles before he hopped a plane to North Carolina? Or was it fear of capitulating to maturity, that there was an understanding that with each mile he would pedal, he was no longer running by himself; he was becoming part of the world, joining the cadence of adulthood.
During his gap year, he began cycling, brick by brick, mile after mile.
As he prepares for his journey, we sometimes pedal together, and now he is the life coach, and I am the student. He studies cycling skills, passing his increasing knowledge to me. As my teacher and coach, we are both growing. After college graduation, he had returned home, back to his familiar room upstairs. He knew there would be a period of downtime, a time of searching while he reached for the next step up on his life’s path. There was frustration because it lacked immediacy, there was no definable shape — he wanted the answers now, because he knew what he wanted next.
Or so he thought.
And then, in that time vacuum, there was a silence, initially enforced against his will, one that made him stop moving, if only temporarily. That was when Harrison discovered that even when you’re standing still, the mind is in constant motion, working its way forward, taking a person to the next level. It may not happen if you’re only building the blocks according to the manufacturer’s directions. It can happen if you let it, when you look between the spaces in the bricks, or build them into new shapes, based on a design of your own making.
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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished, https://www.facebook.com/EmilyKemme, or on Twitter @. Life inspired. Vodka tempered.