Saturday, November 29, 2008

We Built This City

As a child, I was given boxes of Lincoln Logs, Robotix, Erector Set, and LEGOs. I had so many objects that I could create a scene. I once built an army of robotic moving Godzillas to smash metal construction cranes that had been set forth to complete 18th century log cabin restoration. I built cities, wars, worlds (with a little help from rock n' roll - name the band).

However, it was my massive LEGO collection that I prized. My brother and I both had sets, and we'd often combine them, unbeknownst to him, in order to fabricate Civil War battles with GI Joe action figures who always seemed to pick on midget green army men. The green army men always lost - considering their distinct disadvantage of immovable arms and plastic fixed feet, their troop deployment was sorely predictable - yet never seemed to mind the carnage ensued on their behalf. The scope of these battles were not held within the bounds of my room, as often the secret flank maneuvers trespassed into the hallways and down the stairs. I probably left holes in my poor mother's feet.

And if she'd had the right type of holes, I'd most likely stick her on a LEGO platform to rule over a fleet of starships I built to resemble Robotech forces. I could get carried away for hours.

Of course, I didn't start off big. I began modest, the American Dream of Manifest Destiny before me, plying my skills building objects that had no names. I began with small platforms, walls, and towers. I began without a basic architectural understanding of strength, and eventually figured out that if you overlapped the pieces, they'd stick together. From that simple discovery, entire projects unfolded before me.

L'Arc de Triomphe, la Tour Eiffel, the Parthenon, Brunelleschi's Dome, Tacoma Narrows Bridge - these had nothing on the skill and grace with which I crafted my intellectual comprehension of statics, dynamics, and applied physics.

During Christmas time, my family would take a trip to the Toys R Us store in Santa Rosa, only a good 30 minutes away. I'd dodge swollen faced boys with bulging eyes gripping onto the leg hairs of squat men with bellies that'd make Santa jealous, begging for the newest Transformer or Star Wars figure. I had enough allowance money for these things, and thus, objects I could procure for myself were in essence, worthless.

My feet would guide me past the Huffy bicycles hung on rafters over my head, past basketball nets tied and filled with rubber balls precariously teetering on the edge of orange rims and waiting for victims to pass beneath, and past the girl isle which always caught my eye because it remained virtually the same from the time I was 4 to today.

There, somewhere between the aisle for Hotwheels and Matchbox, and the aisle for GI Joes and Star Wars, was the LEGO aisle. An entire aisle of choking hazards that should've had Bruno the club bouncer holding the red velvet rope while asking for ID.

"You look kind of small, boy," says Bruno. He holds up a blue LEGO piece to my nostril. "You won't shove this up there will you?"

Packages and packages smiled back at me, covered with photographs of toys you could build from the tiny wrapped joy. But, my thoughts were already elsewhere, looking at what I could unite with the home-front in order to build a fuller tableau of my mind's eye.

Even today, as I pull my LEGOs from the attic of my youth, I imagine what other amplitude to achieve. But, I put away this grandeur for the sake of my daughter.

I watch as she builds towers, walls, small platforms. I watch as she struggles to understand laws of physics, dynamics, statics. I chuckle to myself as she desires to show me "wall of color."

Yet, she is already more gifted than I at color coordination and layering. Despite her lack of spatial awareness - no, Noodle, that piece won't fit there exactly - she can build.

I want to stop her and tell her she's doing it wrong. I want to say, "this is how you build with LEGOs." I've tried to get her to picture what she wants before she just stacks. But, she's six. I can only give her guidance.

I'm the teacher, who in the classroom asks the questions until the students find the answer to the original question they posited to me. I'm the one who insists they discover things on their own. Work through their thoughts until it comes to a logical and viable position. Self-discovery.

I've caught myself saying, "but you need to build things, not just stack them."

I think back to if my mother was there to help me, and she wasn't. I think back to if my father was there, but he wasn't. They were busy with their lives, to no fault of their own. I can only recall a moment where my brother showed me how placing pieces from different sets together could stretch the horizon.

And, so I'll build with her, let her watch me build, and let her try and figure it out for herself. When you leave a child to her own imagination, things more beautiful than objects appear ~




Noodle's First Spaceships


Noodle's First "Platform"

1 comment:

Vincent said...

I struggle to prioritize what fascinates me more: (1) the structures that my kids build or (2) the uses they envision for the structures they have built. I agree with you, the best thing to do sometimes is to refrain from comment and like children build their own understanding of their manipulatives/toys. Without the limitations we adults place on them as to what "this" or "that" is, children are unfettered in their exploration of the world around them including the objects they manipulate.