Monday, August 6, 2012

Another Lesson from Legos

I've mentioned before how much H loves Legos.  He used to be our only kid with them.  But eventually, J started enjoying her time playing Legos with H.  Z, O and even S would sometimes join in on the fun.  When we moved into our house here, we bought each of the four younger kids a small boxed set to keep them busy on move-in day (while all their other stuff was still packed) and they set themselves up in an empty room and played for hours that day -- till the TV got hooked up and then they zoned into that.

Keeping Legos separated (after boxes were destroyed or lost or turned into baby-doll beds) after that first day was nearly impossible.  So all the Legos lived in H's room for a while until he began to lord over them and obsess about them and they began to take the form of a proverbial golden calf, so we confiscated them for a time.

Eventually, when we saw a shift of focus and maybe we got tired of keeping the giant sack of Legos in our room (too expensive just to toss and we never planned to confiscate them forever anyway), we set up a Lego table in the loft -- the kids' shared play area (now) -- and gave the Legos back.  They went with an instruction that those were everyone's Legos and no one person got to be bossy about them.

I picked up some Dollar Tree sorting bins and gave the instructions that as long as Legos weren't on the floor, I didn't care how they got organized into the bins.  (And when I do find them on the floor, they are at risk of being vacuumed up.)

For a long time now, all of the kids (yes, on occasion, even S!) love playing Legos together.  J was telling me the other day about a system they have going up there at the table(s) (yes, now plural) where each of them has an area where they have a pile of Legos they are using in their individual projects and each of them has some Lego "money" and when they need a new part, they go to the other kids' "yard sale section," and buy parts.  They came up with this all on their own, but I love to hear when the kids systematically work education (in this case, economics?) into their everyday play time.

Plus, aside from the occasional in-fighting about who took whose wheels, the shared Legos provide hours of entertainment, which is great for me.

A few weeks ago, H decided to take it upon himself to sort and organize every Lego up there.  For three solid days, he shooed siblings away and he meticulously separated every Lego style into different bins.  I was excited to see him finally putting in an effort to get organized about something even though I was constantly having to make excuses about why the other kids couldn't play Legos at that time and why H was not helping with other household chores because he was just really focused on that project.

Then, sadness came.  A week or so after H poured his heart and soul into this organizational overhaul, J came along to play Legos and for those of you who know or are getting a sense of her organizational style, you can probably guess what happened.  Yes, she dumped several bins out ... mixing categories together ... on the floor!  This is how our left-handed, right-brained, very artistic and free-spirited child organizes things.  To the rest of the world, this looks like a heaping pile of mess.

Well, H was livid.  He said some of the most vicious things to J for a couple weeks after this.  The sight of her appalled him because of what she had undone.

Trying to make things better (which is not my strong suit, let me tell you), I said, "H, I am proud of you for doing that job, but honestly, no one asked you to do it ... you spent three days on that, not helping the rest of the house and we let you have that three days, but now you expect to go back to being lord of the Legos?  They belong to everyone and I will make her clean up her mess, but I can't make her put things back to the way you had them."

I destroyed one of our son's finest projects to date in one moment.  I'm a terrible mother.

Even H avoided the Lego table for a few days after that.  But eventually, he went back up and play resumed.

Now, I've mentioned to you about all this research I'm doing on the Human Study I'm creating for our kids' science curriculum this year.  I've put in countless hours and given up many things in order to work on this.  Working on it brings me great joy and I am learning a lot in the process.

Yesterday, I spent some time pouring over our human body books, trying to plug things in to the appropriate weeks (not that we'll use every page of every book ... but so that I can more easily identify which books are useful during which weeks) and S came in and said, "Mama, you are awesome.  I can't believe how much effort you are willing to put into creating a curriculum from scratch so that we kids can have the best education possible.  I want you to know how thankful I am for you."

Is that not the sweetest thing ever?!  I know!

Anyway, later, fears started creeping in.  I started thinking about the Lego table and H and all his efforts to organize it only to have it dumped on the carpet in a heap.  I started worrying about whether I'm going to this trouble to make a program here that has the elements I want to get across to our kids to teach them not just about human anatomy, but about important character qualities and an emphasis on God as Creator.

But, what if they hate this curriculum?  What if they dump all over it every day and complain that they have to do this and hate every minute that we spend together studying humans?  We did a small human anatomy unit a few years back and H did hate it.  What if this is no different for him?  Will all this time and energy be in vain?

And then I received a gift from the Holy Spirit at that moment and it came in the form of my own voice echoing in my head.  "No one asked you to do this."

I realized then that while the education of our children matters immensely to me, I am doing this project for myself and not for them.  And I am okay with that.  My time spent on this is valuable because it is making me feel happy and purposeful.  I do hope that in the end, I have a product they will appreciate and I hope that my example of dedication to research and the task will teach them something the way it is helping S see me differently.  But I have no assurances.

My reasons for doing this and the joy and knowledge I'm being blessed with in the meantime are enough.  It doesn't matter if I complete this project (though I'd like to) and it doesn't matter if the kids hate the results (still, I'll have learned from that as well).  What matters is that I felt inspired to create something and to work diligently at it and honor my God in the process by pointing all things toward Him.

And as a good mother would have realized (and this one eventually did), the fact that no one asked H to organize the Legos shouldn't matter.  The fact that he found absolute joy in serving our family in that way and practicing a good life skill in the process is enough.  I feel bad that all his work got dumped shortly after, but if I can help him see this point -- that his time was valuable and that the joy he felt at his accomplishment was enough -- then I've done my job.

I hope it's not too late to get our focus adjusted on what truly matters.  I need to go talk with H...


  1. It's interesting to read about the different family dynamics. I would have to say--I'd be super annoyed at J too. :P Didn't she realize what H was doing all that time?

  2. She did, but J doesn't value that type of organization. She appreciates organized chaos. We're working on helping her to appreciate those who think differently than she does ... and she's always helping the rest of us to do the same. :)

    She's waaaaay outside of the box, while I'm comfortably "in" most of the time. We're opposites like that and I think that's one reason God gave her to us. I needed to be stretched.

  3. Great insight R...needed to hear that today after I have been riding the boys about legos and their extremely messy room..girls for that matter too...would really love it if they could at least keep one area clean. I figure its summer and they have extra time to do that kind of stuff and it looks really really bad right now!

  4. Well, I'm sure that your kids will learn so much about the human body this year. The time you put in will not be wasted.
    You have learned during the process; you will be able to relay that to them.

    Love your efforts! Mom