Thursday, August 7, 2014

Building blocks

I mentioned yesterday that The Lego Movie is in heavy rotation in our house now, but apparently that's the first I've referenced it on the blog. So allow me to back up a bit and elaborate. The Lego Movie is the little guy's latest obsession, and (for once) I am not just throwing around verbs like "obsess" humorously and/or hyperbolically. It is well and truly all-Lego-all-the-time with him. Not that I am complaining about this, exactly.

For one thing, it really is a great movie. It's visually amazing, it's funny (for kids and for grown-ups) and it's got a lot of heart. I have no problem with the little guy watching it over and over and over again (and neither does he, obviously). I watched it with him the first time and have re-watched portions of it since, and I'm always noticing some new little throwaway detail or simply being impressed all over again with the movie's cleverness. It is also ridiculously quotable, and the little guy runs around speaking mostly in Lego Movie dialogue from the time he wakes up in the morning until well past lights out. I admit I get caught up in this myself, as well.

Before I had kids, one of the promises I made myself was that I would never treat my children as the functional equivalent of trained circus animals. I have known people (some of whom are my dearly loved close friends) who have invested time in teaching or training their kids to perform comedic bits on command, often as not exploiting the fact that the kid has no idea what they're really saying or what the context is for it, &c. And I do understand that appeal, not to mention the fact that there is something highly satisfying, especially when you are a pop culture junkie, in randomly tossing out a set-up line of dialogue from a movie or book or whathaveyou and then hearing someone else nearby return serve with the following line of dialogue. But while I get the temptation, I swore to myself I would never go out of my way to condition my offspring into playing along.

You can imagine my delight, then, when it just kind of happened spontaneously. The little guy was particularly amused by the part of The Lego Movie where Emmet starts dropping the beat, singing "oontsa oontsa oontsa everything is awesome" to distract the Octan robots who are about to blow his and Wyldstyle's cover. So the little guy has been kicking out the "oontsa oontsa"s pretty frequently. The next line is one of the robots saying, "No way that is my jam!" in a mechanical voice, and I am more than happy to jump in with that. But the line after that is another robot saying "This is also my jam!" and who do you suppose piped up with that rejoinder after exactly zero prodding? Yes, my daughter does a pretty mean robotic voice herself, as it turns out. So the three of us can and do run through that extended exchange at the drop of a hat. I really thought I would have to wait a lot longer before finding out if my kids had any kind of affinity for that quirk, but such is the power of The Lego Movie, it's got its hooks in my children's brains but good.

As I alluded to on Monday I took the two bigger kids to Brickfair this past weekend, and that was fun. The were plenty of references and homages to The Lego Movie, as expected (and at least one to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which was unexpected, but pretty funny) but by and large it was still an incredible showcase of creativity and the kids were fascinated by basically all of it, not just the stuff they recognized from movie night. Both the little guy and the little girl were well-behaved enough that I reasoned they deserved a reward at the end, and I went ahead and bought them each a Lego set. (My wife and I had of course conferred beforehand and agreed this was kosher.) The sets were Lego Movie tie-ins, to be sure, because I'm not that mean when all is said and done.

The rules are that the Legos have to stay in the basement, because that's the one part of the house that the bino doesn't (and really can't) go unsupervised, and thus the potential choking hazard risk is as minimized as possible. When the kids got home with their new toys I helped them get the minifigs put together and then left them to their own devices. The really interesting thing about The Lego Movie is how balanced it is, how unlike many children's stories it doesn't try to have its cake and eat it too by saying that everyone should be an individualist. The film demonstrates that sometimes it's good to be creative and throw the rules out the window, but some other times it's important to be a team player and follow the rules. All the same, there's a bit of a stigma in the movie attached to The Instructions. And honestly that's a genuine conversation my wife and I have had, long before any of us saw The Lego Movie (or such a thing even existed) back when the little guy got his first set of chunky toddler-friendly Mega Blocks or whatever: I used to love collecting Lego sets and building the kits exactly according to the enclosed directions; my wife was a proponent of just giving kids a bucket of loose bricks and encouraging them to use their imaginations. So which way, if at all, would we steer our kids?

As it happened, I asked the little guy if we should try to build one of the sets the way it looked on the box, and he said he wanted to try, so I showed him how to read the instructions, how to match the actual bricks up to the drawings, how to count the little studs to make sure you have the right piece in the right place, &c. We got about halfway through building the set before we had to stop for dinner.

The next day I went to work and when I got home I asked my wife if the little guy had shown her how far we got. She informed me that actually he had shown her the completed set because he finished building it on his own. Apparently he got the hang of the process well enough to take it and run with it, which is of course fantastic. It actually gives both his mother and me a slight glimmer of hope, since his biggest issue in school last year was focus and concentration. Clearly he is capable of both, it just has to be oriented around something that interests him! Or at least those are the conditions that bring it out of him naturally, but knowing he can do it at all indicates that with more practice, he can do it under different settings, including the relatively rote drudgery of schoolwork. Or so we will keep telling ourselves.

So, we all have "everything is Awesome" stuck in our heads but we're having fun with it and all in all things are good. Fingers crossed when I have to break it to the little guy that it's a really bad idea to take all the teeny-tiny Lego bricks on vacation to the beach, he'll take it in stride.

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