I’m treading on shaky ground here, I know.
It’s generally not a good idea to associate an all-American pastime like Legos (even though they’re anything but American—they’re Danish) with freakishness of any sort. It’s akin to commenting on the sanctity of motherhood or apple pie.
Oh, but I’m more than qualified to comment. You see, I mother one of those freaks. And I mean that in the most loving way possible.
My eldest could be a Lego poster boy.
Since his tiny little fingers could grasp a Lego and he had enough sense not to eat it, he has been building with the Bricks. And building. And BUILDING.
We progressed from barely recognizable stick figures to rudimentary cars and trucks. Then, on to the inevitable for any red-blooded American boy—tanks, battlefields and military forts. I don’t know where my Dove genes went, but this boy is all Hawk.
The setups have gotten taller (touching his bedroom ceiling) and wider (three-quarters of said bedroom) with many layers—each of which he could explain to you, in copious detail. Nothing is built without a specific purpose and the synergy between the pieces always amazes me.
So when I took my boys to the city this weekend, eager anticipation was a given. As we viewed the Chicago skyline from 95 floors up, their question was, “When are we going to the Lego store?” As I pointed out the bits of history embedded in the Tribune Tower, “How much longer before the Lego store?” And needless to say, as we watched street performers dazzle the crowds—well, let’s just say it wasn’t the Lego store.
When we walked into nirvana (aka—you guessed it—the Lego store), my boys flew to their respective favorite sections, so I had plenty of time to observe not only them but every other family in the store. It was a packed house, being a holiday weekend and I was amused to find I could decipher parent/child conversations, regardless of language barrier.
The Russian boy pleading for the Star Wars Death Star (clocking in at roughly 3,800 bricks) seemed to have a convincing argument (if arguments are based on vehemence) but his parents were obviously not appreciating the $400 – $500 price tag. He was on the losing end of that battle. The French child seemed to fare much better with his selection, given his father had on a Tolkien t-shirt. There was no way he wasn’t walking out with an entire slew of Hobbit Lego setups. All smiles there.
Which led me to look around. Not at the under-age-eight set. Little boys seem to play with Legos regardless of their other predilections. But anyone over eight years old was letting his freak flag fly. I counted at least 15 Star Wars shirts, eight with some sort of Tolkien trilogy reference and at least a dozen Minecraft shirts. Then I looked at the fathers—and it was easy to see the apple had not fallen far from the tree.
These kids were not just wearing the emblems of their favorite fantasy world, they were waxing poetic, creating their own fantasy lands. For instance, my son spent at least 30 minutes building his version of a fighter jet and wanted to spend at least as much time explaining to me what every part on it did, as well as how they functioned together as a system.
The boy across the aisle from us spent copious amounts of time explaining to his nanny why Star Wars’ Grand Admiral Thrawn played things out the way he did. It included a generous treatise on the characteristics of Thrawn’s race, his upbringing and any hardships he had encountered in life. I’m not sure this same boy could have told us the same regarding Thomas Jefferson.
And a third young gentleman was explaining to the store clerk why they needed to add something similar to aqueducts or sewer systems to the Lego City collection. I’ll spare you the graphic details.
What do these children have in common? In their world, it’s not enough to just build the set you buy. You are not truly a Lego aficionado until you can look at that set, build it in short order and then tear it down to create something even BETTER. Something no Lego engineer has thought of yet. This is the unspoken code of Lego warriors. Ssshhhh. Don’t tell them I told you.
I have a feeling that many of these boys tend to be the geeks, the nerds and the bullied. But I have to admire their passion and tenacity for what many would mock them for at an age when “toys” like Legos are no longer cool.
There’s a reason most of us have heard: “Be nice to nerds. Chances are, you’ll end up working for one.”
These Lego kids are going to make something happen. I don’t know whether it will be a new 3D animated series, the first truly electric sports car that can drive days without a charge, the indestructible fighter plane, or—in more philanthropic fashion—school environments that foster better learning or more energy-efficient homes. Whatever it is, it will come to life because of their passion. Who knows what David Beckham could have brought to the world had he indulged his love of all things Lego? (A Lego spokesperson said sales of the Lego set he mentioned rose over 600 percent in the day after his admission.)
The point is–without the freak flag, not much of note occurs. These boys are not the ones who will peak at age 16 on the high school football field and then spend the next 50 years telling their Homecoming touchdown story. They’re usually not the kids picked first in gym to be on a team. They’ll get mocked for their excitement about “toys” and may keep their designs a secret to avoid embarrassment. But sooner or later, usually in high school or college—when their particular brand of smarts becomes a commodity that is appreciated—they will fly. Many of these children will become engineers, designers, architects and inventors because of the combination of their smarts and passion. That’s a freak flag worth flying.
Which is why I wait patiently as they build, listen patiently as they share every detail and applaud enthusiastically when they create something new on planet Earth.
If only the rest of the world could do the same . . .