So yesterday, like so many other parents across the country were doing, I decided to take my boys to see the Lego movie. The three of us were ready and looking forward to an afternoon of laughs and good times, as we eagerly anticipated this movie’s release. We of course loaded up on all the essential (and overpriced) popcorn, while taking great care to hide our $1 Wawa water bottles and candy I had stuffed into my purse. The boys asked, “mom, what if we get caught? will we get arrested?” I quickly shushed them and asked them to hold all questions until the end of the movie.
We maneuvered through the insane crowds to find our seats, pushing through gobs of parents who appeared at their wits end. They, like me, were suffering through a school holiday after weeks filled with snow days, two hour delays, and unbearable unpredictability. Seeking some level of normalcy and routine, we had all succumbed to the tv trailers advertising the movie, followed by endless begging and pleading from our children. “can we go, please, mom, please?” Little did I know what I would take away that day.
The movie began as most kid movies do. A cheery song claiming “everything is awesome” when you work as a team and follow the rules. It was eerily frightening as I saw these mini figures so colorfully depicting the daily grind that we so easily fall into as adults in America. It was sad to see and began to make me feel a bit uncomfortable. Next, the movie identified the types of people in the movie. There were master builders, who were a kind of superhero. Mini figures that were able to take any combination of Legos and build something wonderful and creative. There was Emmit, who was also a hero, but did not feel he possessed much creativity and imagination. All of his construction happened only by following directions. Finally, there was the villain, who was hoping to use Krazy Glue on all the towns, figures, and buildings to micro-manage everything and keep Lego world in the same configuration permanently.
I began to think of the strategy of the Lego company, which markets these extremely expensive and elaborate sets for building very specific things, each box accompanied by directions. They only have a handful of products that offer a bucket of bricks for building whatever you like. Furthermore, with those giant sets, once you loose a piece, it’s like getting a giant mud or coffee stain in the pair of crisp white pants you had to have – it can never be used again! (I should add that we have at least 5-7 large boxes of such sets lining the walls of our basement storage). In this day and age, we see that the most successful and often happiest people are the ones who have followed their own paths. The ones who have thought and acted fearlessly and courageously. Isn’t that what we all want for our children? Yet, the Lego company is a multimillion dollar business that thrives on the idea that people want and will pay for creativity with an instruction manual. Further, we (myself included) have bought into the very idea that the sets are done for if we lose the instructions or a piece is missing.
In the final scenes of the movie, a father and son dynamic is depicted, where the father has an elaborate and permanently constructed Lego world in his basement. There are signs everywhere encouraging his children to stay away and keep their hands off. His son, however, begins to experiment with the bricks and creates from his own imagination. The father, realizing the error of his ways, changes the basement into one of free Lego expression for the whole family.
I walked out of that movie so incredibly horrified with myself. I am just like that dad. I spend money for these elaborate sets, and then become annoyed and irritated when all the pieces spill out of the box, or the directions are missing. Then what happens? My boys turn to video games, iPods, etc, because I have created a belief that you cannot pick up the pieces, use what you have, and have fun with your imagination. What have I been showing them? Nothing great, I decided. Play, at any age, is imaginative. It does not have order, it does not come with directions. As parents, it is our job to battle constantly against the status quo and teach our children to do the same, questioning everything. Even if it is out of order and gets messy sometimes.
Well, I’ll tell you that my boys were not prepared for the After School Special lecture they got in the car on the way home. What did happen, miraculously, is that they ran around the house scooping up all of their Nijago, Indiana Jones, and Harry Potter Lego sets. They poured all the pieces together in one big pile. One made a spaceship. The other made a fort and hiding place for the Magneto mini figure. They played together. It was a total mess. And for the first time in a long time, I did not mind.