If you’re not around younger kids a lot or if you don’t have kids, you probably don’t understand the mind numbing quality of playing with them. My daughters are five and three and to play anything with them often leads to me picking up toys, multi-tasking with laundry, or being on my iPhone.
But sometimes I can put those things aside and just engage with them, on the basic meta levels. This happened at Christmas – 10 Things I Learned From Kids This Christmas – and again when playing with our Legos. These are 10 meditations I had while playing Legos with my daughters.
A. It’s easy to get upset right away.
Both of my daughters are new to Legos (we’ve just gotten our first new sets and a borrowed collection this month) and they don’t understand the fragility of the pieces. That things should fall apart is what makes Legos great, they need that quality to build with. My daughters don’t get this quite yet, they just see their tower fall down and not that we can rebuild it.
B. There are solutions all around you.
After the tower falls or the walls break or your sister uses the last propeller for her ship you can start to look for solutions. I remember this lesson often from playing Legos with my brother. We would both need a piece for our creation but in the end we always found something different that worked as good or better. With Legos it’s easy to see the choices in front of you, with Life it’s much harder. I can do this a bit with cooking now, if I don’t have the right ingredient I’ve gained enough experience to figure out a solution.
C. You just need to start.
The castle and ship in that picture above was made in about an afternoon of work starting from scratch. We had no idea what we would make or what it would like like. I asked my older daughter what she wanted and she said, “A Wall.” so that’s where we started. Then we added one piece at a time until we finished Captain Hook’ ship and a castle for the princess. It was one piece first and then once piece at a time.
D. It doesn’t need to be (the) perfect (color).
My brother and I got Legos as a gift for many celebrations and we ended up with a huge container of them. When building with my daughters yesterday I was just grabbing colors to make something – eventually. At first I was trying to get the walls to be a consistent brown, black, or grey. After excessively digging around the container, I noticed that my daughters were getting restless at this adult pace of play and like an anxious homeowner wanting the renovations done, they wanted the wall built. It didn’t need to be perfect, it just needed to be.
E. Things are cannot be delicate and bulky.
It wasn’t until I was 30 that I understood what You can’t have your cake and eat it too meant. A similar expression with Legos might be, You can’t have your indestructible tower and have it look pretty. Things can’t be both.
F. Say yes.
Along with getting the right colored blocks for our wall, I had an idea about what should and should happen. First we build, then we have the battle, then we build again. First we build the wall, then we build the tower, then the secret area for the treasure. These patterns are ingrained in me, not just for Legos but for life. Sometimes when my kids want to jump out of those routes I immediately say no, not thinking so much about the specific question, but about whether or not it follows my thought patterns. Yes we can have a flying horse. Yes our ship can have a propellor. Yes. Somehow in my five years of parenting No became my default response.
G. Help them along the way.
In the field of education there is an idea called scaffolding, that you want to provide just enough support for the students to try to grow their learning independently. That’s what my daughters need too, and it’s not just with Legos. They need me to pull apart tight pieces and help them think of what to build, but also to help them clean their rooms or do their homework. Sometimes I’m pushing independence without the right amount of support.
H. Don’t let them find limits.
One of my pet peeves is that my daughters see pink and purple and think it’s a girl thing. NO! This happened with our first Lego sets, they selected the Hello Kitty and a Horse Ranch, but while we were shopping I also saw a Super Soaker in pink and purple. There are no limits because things are boy things or girl things or too hard to do. There are no limits on what you can build on a green Lego board and there are no limits on what we can do on our Lego boards of life.
I. Just play.
As an adult I like structure. When I was in high school we played ultimate frisbee in the park. It was free form, with limited rules. Then I went to college and learned to play with rules and structure and now I would have trouble going back. When I play with my daughters I need to remember this. We don’t need rules or sides or teams, just play.
J. Tell stories when you play.
I remember reading in The Secrets of Happy Families, about the power stories have in our lives. We identify and find meaning in the past. When I was a kid, going to visit my grandparents guaranteed three things. Root beer, Kit Kats, and the dirt on my dad. My siblings and I couldn’t get enough of any of those things. It’s been the same when my daughters. When my wife and I tell them stories about our youths they love it. Whenever we play then I try to tell them something about our lives when we were younger, and their memory astounds me. I’ve told them to pick up their socks about 104,093 times, but have only once told them the story about getting root beer floats as a kid. Whenever root beer is around they remember that story.
Sometimes playing with kids is hard. After spending four hours crawling around the floor I had to sit next to my wife and have an adult conversation and stretch my legs. But it’s also a bit meditative.
It might be that the lack of mental stimulation from my company gives me time to meditate about my company.