Thursday, February 2, 2012

Is My Kid Too Old For Legos?

I was chuckling to myself the other day as I pushed back from the computer and surveyed my work.  I had just completed a list of the Lego sets I have acquired since graduating from college (6 years ago now).  I knew the list was going to be long but I was still shocked at its length as I passed my eyes over the finished product; it contained 50 sets.  And most of these were not small, 18 sets were over the $85 mark and another 8 (so over 50% total) were over $50.  What made me laugh though was not the fact that I have spent more on toys for myself in the last 6 years than many of my coworkers have on their multiple kids combined (is that funny or sad?) it was remembering back to 1997 and the turmoil that had engulfed my home. 

In 1997 I was 13 years old and my parents were worried.  For the previous 10 years, since my dad brought back my first set in 1987 from a business trip, I had had a single passion: Legos.  The problem was that my parents were getting worried, wasn’t I getting to be a bit old for these children’s toys?  Wasn’t it time for me to start pursuing more “big boy interests”.  As the oldest (and therefore the guinea pig as all first borns are) my parents were not sure if I would ever snap out of it and was therefore setting myself up for ridicule as I moved into middle school and high school.  To their credit they came up with a clever way to handle it.  They imposed a limit, $100 a year, which I could spend on Legos.  Their thought was that as my money from mowing lawns was freed up I would eventually explore other interests.  I was horrified when the new rule was announced.  $100 a year was one big set or at most two medium size ones.  What other interests would I want to pursue anyway?  My dad suggested I get a guitar and work on learning music (that also makes me laugh now, I am many things but a musician or even one who can pick out good music from bad is not one of them).  There was palpable tension.      

In hindsight  none of us could see what was already in the works.  As I had grown my skill with building had steadily increased.  Even as the rule was being imposed I was in the process of disassembling my collection, gathering their varied parts for some serious large scale building.  What none of us perceived at that time but saw clearly within just a couple short years was that the Lego habit, although not going away, was morphing.  What my parents were ultimately afraid of was that I would keep playing with Legos, zooming M:Tron and Blacktron ships around my room, and that my growth into a mature adult would be stunted.  For most kids they stop having an interest in playing with Legos about the age I was, so what was wrong with me?  The answer was nothing; I was losing interest in playing with Legos right on schedule but this was hidden by the fact that unlike my peers for whom no longer playing with them meant no longer being interested in them at all the nature of my addiction to those small plastic bricks that inhabited every corner of my room was changing.  I was shifting from playing to modeling.  I disassembled my sets in 1997 and only recently embarked on reassembling them in preparation for my own kids to be old enough to play with them.  But for over a decade they were parsed out into a variety of containers.  Why?  Because I needed the parts.

Over the next five years until I left home for college at 18 I embarked on a series of increasingly more complex projects.  I constructed robots and programmed them.  I built a Rube Goldberg machine for Science Olympiad.  And I modeled, first a pirate ship then an even larger and more detailed modern tanker, followed by my Mona Lisa: a colossal space ship. 

The Olec my tanker, she was finished throughout with a full working interior

At the time this was the most detailed model I had done

Every florr was finished out, this was the bridge

My pride and joy: over 4 feet long and 2.5 feet wide
This thing was so big the back of it is out of focus
She was fully finished out, this was the hanger, yes it had a monorail in it
What had been the staple of my play as a child became my respite, my detox as a maturing adult.  While my peers relaxed by playing video games or watching sports I exchanged my childhood Lego table for a work bench and shelves full of my sorted bricks.  To this day almost nothing relieves my stress better than modeling with Legos.

So I laughed because I remembered my mom and dad’s concern that I would regret all the money I had spent on Legos when I lost interest in them.  I can honestly say after 25 years of collecting Legos (and still going strong) I have never regretted a single purchase.  As I have matured the Legos roles has continually morphed but in each new stage they have found a way to remain part of my life and activity.

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