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Why our best family time happens with Legos

My husband catches me Windexing the windows on the Lego police station. I worry he might tease me, especially since I don’t even wash the windows on our real house, but he’s too distracted. “Who put the Prince of Persia camel in Spongebob’s Pineapple? That’s ridiculous.” He doesn’t even waste time changing out of his suit and tie before joining me at the Lego table – a monstrosity of Ikea wardrobes connected at the ends by shelves, forming a four-foot high square that takes up all the space where normal people would arrange living room furniture.

We sit inside the square – me cleaning all the tiny windows, him rearranging where all the characters belong. Our five- and three-year-old sons push their Lego fire engines on the “road” we’ve worked hard to connect around the perimeter of the square. They pull them into the fire station and “talk guys”: “Good job putting out that fire, dude.” “Thanks. Oh, no. The alarm.” Cue the siren noises.

Before they douse the new fire, my three-year-old jumps on me, wrapping his arms and legs around my body orangutan-style: “Yay! All four guys!” My five-year-old hugs my husband around his neck: “Thanks for helping me build the City Corner.” Then the boys are back to the fire. Playing together. Using their imaginations. Not fighting the way they usually do. I watch my husband snap tiny pieces together, fixing the police helicopter. I smile at him. What a dad! He’s never looked hotter. How great – no TV, no phones, no computers, no extra distractions. I join two pieces of the Trash Compactor Escape and realize this is as connected as all four of us have been as a family. Sitting together – planning, building, playing – at this table (regardless of how insanely ugly and huge it is) has really helped us snap together, too.

Our Lego mania all started when we visited my cousin. In his basement, he’s constructed the most magnificent Legoland, on which a virtual Lego city stands. Even I, a former what’s-so-great-about-Legos person, was impressed. When my boys saw it, I knew they’d both be begging for a Legoland from Santa.

I resisted. “They’re too young. The stuff will be too hard for them to build. And no way am I going to clean up all of those tiny pieces.” But like always, they wore me down. And so Santa delivered our very own variation on Legoland.

Sure, it hasn’t all been fun and games. My husband and I nearly killed each other shopping for and building the dumb table. We’ve learned the hard way that spending too much uninterrupted time in Legoland results in a sore back. Fingers can actually hurt from snapping too many bricks together. No matter how well the boys play, tiny pieces do end up all over the floor. “They’re pretend garbage! The Toy Story truck dumped them. They’re pretend arrows! The knights attacked the pirates who tried to take the princess from the castle.” The boys break apart each other’s Legos on purpose when they’re mad at each other. And we have pretty much stopped having friends over, because a) we don’t want anyone to mess up our Legoland, and b) we’re embarrassed that we don’t want anyone to mess up our Legoland.

The really crazy part, though, is that even after we finally wrestle the boys into bed, my husband and I find our way back to the Lego table. Why? What the heck are we doing? We pour wine and settle in. How fun to build something new together, anticipating how surprised the boys will be when they discover it in the morning. But the bigger surprise is how much we talk to each other, really talk, while we work – again, without TV, phones, computers, or extra distractions.

“Did you hear The Farewell Drifters’ ‘River Song’ yet?”

“What was your favorite toy when you were little?”

“If you could go back to college, would you still pick the same major?”

It’s a no-pressure environment, a safe zone for sharing secrets or just dumping stress from the day. Sitting close, sharing the same activity, but not staring right at each other, provides a relaxed way to communicate.

“Wait – why are the gargoyles from the Prison Tower Rescue on the Apple Tree House?”

Okay, fine. We need to let go a bit, too. It’s just a Lego table. And it’s not even for us, technically. The boys like to put Woody’s head on Spongebob’s body, and that’s alright (kind of). Lotso and Stinky Pete can eat Krabby Patties with Squidward and Gary, if that’s what the boys want. It’s even great if the boys decide not to follow the Lego building directions so they can invent a new spaceship or bad guy hide-out of their own. We don’t need to “fix” everything and make it perfect. In Legoland, it’s liberating to realize there’s no “right” way. We need to let the boys explore and have a chance to be unique and creative – great lessons we can also apply to non-Lego life.

We acknowledge that we’re dangerously close to heading into weird, obsessive territory with our Lego love. But we also acknowledge that being together at the Lego table serves some bigger purpose. Maybe it’s the satisfaction of starting and actually finishing something tangible. Maybe the whole working together thing gives us a boost. Maybe dreaming about buying tickets to visit the real Legoland in California gives us something fun to think about besides work and school and laundry. Or maybe, just maybe, spending time together is the real ticket to being true Legomaniacs.

“We need to bring this thing to life!” my husband announces, concentrating on his latest creation, “Go order the Western Train Chase.” It seems our real windows will remain unwashed, and our friends will have to keep missing us. We’re just too busy playing with Legos.

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