It’s probably an overstatement to say that I loved playing with Legos when I was a kid.1I enjoyed them, to be sure, and I wished at the time that I had more models. I would open the outer package, dump all of the tiny bricks together into the inner box and start building. My eyes would bounce back and forth like tennis balls from the instruction booklet to the box of bricks to find the pieces I needed and back again to complete each step. I would pore over the instructions, making absolutely sure that I had placed the pieces correctly before pressing them together. I would sit, sometimes for hours on end, constructing airplanes, medieval castles and woodland fortresses.
But then I would leave them alone.
I treated my Legos like art. I positioned the different Lego people to create still shots of action scenes. The EMTs were loading the stretcher into the Red Cross plane to fly the injured skier to receive proper medical attention. The guards on watch were preparing their catapult to defend the keep. Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men had robbed a knight and had stashed their loot in the chest in their secret hiding place at the base of the tree. My Lego models depicted a moment in a larger story that was in the process of being told, even if I never quite got around to telling the rest of it.
I was never bothered by the idea of the story being incomplete. Each set presented a glimpse into the characters’ lives and there was room for interpretation to fill in the blanks before and after. The thrill was in the process, analyzing the way each piece fit together to form a larger design. I would try to anticipate each next step, noticing oddly shaped bricks along the way and looking forward to seeing how they would contribute to the whole. Then, once I had finished, I could let the pieces speak for themselves and people could draw their own conclusions about how the one woodsman had managed to get up into the tree or why the pilot had to help the EMT instead of focusing on flying the plane.2My brothers played with Legos differently. My middle brother would actually play out some of the scenes with the figures. He enjoyed playing with action figures in general and approached the Lego sets with the same attitude. He would launch the catapult and drive the race car and conduct conversations between the characters. Pieces would go missing here and there as a result of their increased use but he took general care of the sets. He kept them intact, for the most part, and usually put them back in the boxes or up on their display shelves.
My youngest brother, on the other hand, had no such interest in the models keeping their forms or in maintaining the divisions between the sets. All of the Legos ended up together in one large bin, tree branches and race car wheels mixed together with airplane wings and castle walls. Anytime I would see the bin in his room I would feel a combination of nostalgia and irritation with a hint of “Well, I guess they’re his now” thrown in for good measure.
That’s how it goes for eldest siblings, I suppose.
I’m bringing all of this up, of course, because Eitan has caught Lego fever. He had a set of Mega Bloks when he was little and then we bought him two Duplo sets – a zoo and a fire house – but he never seemed to be as interested in them. Then we bought him his first real Lego set around his fourth birthday – a police helicopter that also included a robber stealing from an ATM machine. He and I built it together and then I spent the next half hour trying to help the robber escape from Eitan and the cops.
We bought him a few other Lego Junior sets over the next few months – superhero sets, mostly – and he would play with them for a while and then lose interest. At some point, though, the switch flipped. He became addicted, constantly requesting new sets. Superheroes, vehicles, Star Wars, it didn’t matter; he wanted to build and he wanted to play.
There have been a few times since Eitan was born that I’ve felt somewhat separated from him. His features have always resembled Trudy’s more closely than mine and he’s been more attached to her since he was a baby. I see myself in him, though, when he’s building his Lego sets. He focuses in on the instructions, his brow furrowing just like mine used to and his eyes pinballing back and forth between the diagrams and the piles of pieces nearby. His facial expressions while he’s building, his fascination with creating new things, even his beaming smile of accomplishment when he has finished – those are all mine.
I’ll admit that I still wince every once in a while when I see him throwing some of his already-built Lego models as he plays. I flinch when I see the models crash to the ground, pieces occasionally flying off. I have to bite back the impulse to tell him to stop because he’s going to ruin all of his hard work. Then I remind myself, just as I did when my brother would toss all the Legos into one big bin, that they’re not mine. Building is no longer something I do to enjoy myself; it’s now something I share with Eitan.
And, honestly, his way is more fun.
I was not compensated financially for this post, but I did receive a free Lego Technic model (not pictured) for Eitan. As always, the opinions included here are fully my own.
1. I know the technical, correct language should be “I loved playing with Lego bricks” because Lego is the manufacturer and the objects are the building bricks. I don’t care. I’m calling them Legos.↩