Legos can be…tricky. Like a blank page and all the words in the English language, a bucket full of pieces seems to offer infinite possibilities for creation. When you get into constructing your vision you start to see all the problems: how two pieces won’t actually fit, or how it doesn’t look how you imagined it or how it could fall apart at any second. It can be difficult when it looks easy.
My youngest had been working very hard and very frantically at building a spaceship with Legos. Because he wanted it to be something no one had ever dreamed up before, his older brother and I couldn’t help with its architecture. We couldn’t really point out where a wing could be reinforced or where landing gear could sit without being knocked off the first time it “landed”. He had a vision we couldn’t see yet.
I had been casually calling out to the living room, “Hey buddy, dinner’s almost ready,” while getting out dishes and turning off timers. As I brought one thing after another to the kitchen table, I could glimpse him with the Legos on the couch. I could sense him getting angrier and angrier, and I just assumed he was mad at me for interrupting his game. A little annoyed that he was getting annoyed, I tried one last time to get him to the table to eat. “Hey, come on now, you need to come to the table. I gave you fair warning that it was time.” At that he let out an anguished cry and threw his whole spaceship to the ground. It broke, scattering hard-edged colors in every direction.
“What on earth was that?” This is not a destructive kid. Except for one strange week near his fourth birthday, he has never thrown or broken anything.
He screamed back at me, “I couldn’t get it right!” With his eyes scrunched tight and hot tears coming down, I could see him as an adult throwing a thick manuscript into a fire. A bitter, worn, angry old man willing to call his work garbage because it wasn’t what he wanted it to be. Destroying every word, every sentence, every page all at once.
When he looked down at what had really become of his spaceship, he saw that not one part could be salvaged. The horror of what he had done overwhelmed him. I’ve never seen him sob so hard.
I held him for a while but I couldn’t really calm him down. I tried to convince him that maybe using the bathroom, eating, resting would help. Eventually he sat in his own chair in the kitchen, quiet. Even more quietly, he slid out of his chair and into the living room. He sat on the rug and for the next twenty minutes he rebuilt his spaceship. When he was done he came back to the table and ate his now-cold dinner without a word. His older brother and I ate silently, watching it unfold.
I’ve heard experts say please, please let your children fail when they are still children. Let them lose a game, mess up a friendship, fall off the playground without intervening so much. Their lives are going to be filled with problems and they need practice solving them when the stakes aren’t so high. Let them work through difficulty instead of rescuing them. This time, even if I had wanted to, I couldn’t rescue him from his creative frustration and I certainly wasn’t able to comfort him. I got to watch him decide what to do about that demon that told him his creation wasn’t good enough, wasn’t right. He wept over the aftermath of destroying it. He decided on his own that it was imperative to try again.
At bedtime, I told him I was proud of him. One day it might be an entire manuscript that he wants to hurl violently away. And maybe some memory of this, quiet and still, will make him pause before he can do it.