LEGO your conscious mind: Zoning out with kids

Sam Davies and his daughter get lost in the mindless, repetitive world of LEGO, and it feels pretty awesome.

Why is it so hard to find LEGO pieces? My eldest daughter has a birthday coming up and really wants a new LEGO set. In preparation, we’ve been working together to rebuild some of her old sets that have fallen into disrepair, which has led us to reconstruct Olivia’s House.

For those of you who haven’t done a LEGO set in a few years, the larger sets come with numbered bags, so that you don’t get overwhelmed with pieces. For example, in Olivia’s House, each section of the house might come in its own bag so that kids can a) have “save points” to take a break and still feel like they’ve made progress and b) so that you don’t spend your entire time looking for the next piece.

On a rebuild, there’s no such luxury. All of the pieces you’ll need are in the Bin, a giant plastic tub filled with all of the LEGO in your house that’s not hiding under a couch. Some pieces of Olivia’s House are nominally intact and can be reused, but other pieces have become detached or incorporated (as they should be) into other projects. This is perfect for creative play, but makes a reconstruction more difficult.

We start from the beginning of the instructions, which seems perfectly reasonable until you can only find three of four needed flat, smooth, light-green 1-by-4s. So we sift through the Bin. We move LEGO around, producing the distinct LEGO bin noise. We move the LEGO gently. We move the LEGO forcefully. We get in each other’s way. We grab handfuls and let the LEGO fall through our fingers like water like we’re panning for gold.

Occasionally we find pieces we might need later and we put them aside, or we discover Princess Leia hair on a Storm Trooper and play with that for awhile, but most of our time is spent looking for elusive single pieces. We could move on to the next step, but that feels like letting the Bin win. So we look, and look. Once, I glimpse the needed bendy piece in my daughter’s section, but it’s too late, the pieces were moving too fast, the bendy piece too wily, and it descends to hide amongst it’s sisters.

When we do “move on,” I can’t let it go. I may say that I’m looking for a white 2-by-6, and I’m not not looking for it, but I’m also still looking for that yellow pokey block that I know I saw in there 20 minutes ago. I’m not sure the human brain (well, definitely not my human brain) is capable of looking for two LEGO pieces in the Bin at the same time. It’s a constant shift between looking for one, or looking for the other.

I also find myself trying to “trick” my brain into finding the right piece. I say, “OK, subconscious brain, do your thing,” and I stop trying to look for the piece (even though I’m looking for the piece) in the hopes that the LEGO noise and my mind-like-water will just happen to find the piece when it’s ready to be found. I’ll also try to trick myself by saying to myself that I’m really looking for the next piece, but am actually looking for that teal bastard that I’ve been trying to find for an hour.

And, sometimes, all the pieces are found, and I don’t know what to do with myself. We’ve found all the pieces so far. We’re up-to-date with the instructions. We’ve even replaced the “placeholder pieces” with the ones in the instructions. But, even though I know that I don’t need to keep moving the LEGO around in the Bin, the world seems eerily quiet without that WOOOOSH WOOOSH in my ears. My hands can’t stop moving the LEGO back and forth.

It all works out though, because very shortly thereafter, we can’t find another piece we need.

Finding a missing LEGO piece is a lot like playing a computer game like Civilization. My brain gets addicted to the “just one more turn” mentality. There’s always a next step, with a small little reward potentially just seconds away. Just one more piece. WOOSH. Maybe I’ll find it soon. WOOOSH. Just five more wooshes then I’ll stop. WOOOSH. OK, for real this time, just one more piece. WOOOSH. “Time for dinner you guys!” I’ll be right there! WOOOSH. “Are you guys coming?” WOOOSH. “We’ll start without you.” FINE. Let’s go eat.

And suddenly, I realize I’ve just spent four continuous hours playing with my kid.

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Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the father of two daughters (ages five and eight) who lives in Northside Richmond. He and his wife Kat are trying their best to not raise sociopaths.

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