Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Legos, Like Life and Motherhood

Around Christmas, I was in Target shopping for gifts.  The Target employee next to me was price checking different items...plugging numbers into her hand-held machine and marking items down, rearranging the merchandise, etc.  Right as I was about to leave the Lego section, she shook her head and said aloud:  "Wow!" Then she told me that she thinks there was a mistake but for now, this huge Star Wars Lego set was being marked down from $60 to $14 or around there.  I knew my son five-year-old wasn't old enough to put together a set like this yet but I agreed with her that this was a deal too good to pass up so I put it in my cart and took it home to stash away for SOMEDAY.

I didn't do a very good job at hiding this Lego box so it hasn't been a secret that we had it but it has been understood that we would be waiting to open it until my son was closer to the suggested age of 8-11.  For the most part, he agreed.  However, he has continued to weakly ask for it every once in awhile even though he knows the answer.  The answer has always been the same NO, not yet.  I wanted to wait until I knew he could independently built and I didn't think that would be for awhile.

Boy oh boy did I underestimate him!

On Monday, I took him in the office/treadmill room with me so I could run while giving him math problems to work out at the desk.  This lasted a good fifteen minutes before he was asking to do something else and proclaiming his BOREDOM.  Desperate to finish my run, I looked around for other  activities to suggest.  Then we both spotted the Star Wars Lego box.  Why not?  I opened the box for him, pulled the directions out and told him to go for it.  I figured this would at least buy me a few more miles with him engaged and enjoying his time. I had no idea, he would then spend the rest of the day following along with the instructions, intently focused on placing each piece where it belonged and  nearly completing the Lego set that I not only thought would be entirely too hard for him but figured would take weeks, not hours!

The next morning, the first thing he asked to do was put the finishing touches on this Lego project.  Knowing that we had to make it out the door in time for school and that transitions can be rough for this little guy, I was hesitant to agree.  Pulling him away from the Legos when it was time to go might end up making for a not so fun start to the day but I agreed and he agreed that he'd stop building as soon as I said...with no fits!  Deal.  Then it happened...
Two minutes before we had to walk out the door...
I waited until the last minute again...
I called into the office to tell him it was time to go...
He wasn't done but happily got off like he agreed but instead of leaving it there, he wanted to show me his progress that he was so proud of so he picked up the ship to bring to me...


The Legos broke.  Meltdown.  Screams. The Legos weren't everywhere but certainly enough to where there was a significant mess up and we would have to go back many a step to fix it.  Even though there was a rational solution and it made sense to me, this was a huge crisis to a little boy who just spent hours working so hard on something like this!  Yes, there were tears.  Not just tears but INTENSE EMOTIONS.  This was a BIG BIG deal in his world.  "I can't fix this! This is ruined forever! I hate these Legos!  I won't be able to fix it!!"  Meanwhile, we were late and I had three kids to drop off at three different schools and one angry and sad and frustrated boy...

Many deep breaths later, lots of patience and reminders to myself to VALIDATE my son's feelings, and we only had one stop left before he was at his school.  In that short car ride, we had such a significant conversation that led to life lessons for both of us.  I didn't handle the situation perfectly but I did feel present and mostly calm with a way that brought us both to some big understandings about life.  At one point in the conversation, I went into lecture mode (never the best idea when you're trying to validate someone's feelings...ha!) and began to rationalize with things like:  "Sam, these are Legos.  You didn't lose your house to fire or have something really bad happen to someone you love or...."  Then he stopped me right in my lecturing tracks....

"Mom, it feels like that to me!  This is just like that to me!"

Ah, WISE WISE ...children are wise if we slow down to listen.  YES!  You are so right my sweet boy. This might not be a life or death crisis.  It might not be an adult problem or seem that big to me but this was HUGE for him...this Lego set meant for older kids that he built with his five-year-old mind and hands from start to finish was a big big deal in HIS world.  His words instantly pulled me back from frustrated, intolerant and exasperated to PRESENT and empathetic.  I had compassion and grace and was able to see things from his perspective.  I told him that I heard him.  I said I was sorry and I understood.  But then it turned into something even better: A lesson about life. For both of us.

This is how life is, isn't it?  A little like these Legos.  We work hard towards things we care about.  We have an idea of how life will and should go.  We take pride in our work.  Life can go so smoothly and bring with it some really stimulating, rewarding, and fun moments.  And then, just like this Lego can go terribly wrong.  Life serves us lemons.  We get knocked down.  Loved ones die.  Rejection.  Failure.  Disappointment.  Relationship struggles.  Life doesn't always go as we expect and when our pieces break apart, so often we feel just like this five year old who is so devastated and angry.  We can feel hopeless and fill our head with messages of "There's NO Point!  I can't! This is stupid!! I give up!" but when we take a step back, we can see that if we can rebuild and work through it, there's lots of good to be found on the other side:
  • Sense of accomplishment
  • Peace 
  • Empowerment
  • Awareness of our own capabilities
  • Understanding how to work through problems, crisis, challenge, adversity, etc.
  • Personal experience to draw from later in life
These are lessons and understandings I want for all my children so when I was tempted to go home and rebuild the Legos for him, I thought again... what would I be teaching him if I went back home and scooped up his entire mess and fixed it all so he came home to a perfectly built lego set? Certainly not a bad choice for me to do this.  He would have seen that I care and can help him with his problems.  He'd probably even learn the value of helping others in times of "crisis."  Maybe it would have made him happy and made things easier, yes.  But I wanted him to experience the satisfaction that comes from working through a problem on his own so he would have this to draw from later in life.  Sitting down with him and problem solving together rather than rebuilding the  set for him felt like a better solution in the long run.  And it was.

After school, he was in a better mood but still fixated on his broken Legos. When we got home, we sat down at the desk with snacks and patiently took pieces apart and looked back over the instructions.  We slowly solved the problem.  Not only did he see and take part in problem solving, he experienced the satisfaction and pride that comes from getting to the other side of something difficult.

Gosh, I admit, when my son was freaking out over the broken legos and the time on the clock was staring me down with "You're LATE!" and my girls were whining, I was closer to break-down mode than I was problem solving mode but I have to give myself a little credit for once (I'm making progress in my goals of kicking motherhood guilt to the curb):  I was (and not always able to be) present, calm and clear-headed enough to

  • HEAR
  • Understand
  • Validate
  • Communicate
  • Teach
  • Learn
At the end of the day, these broken legos meant more GOOD than HARM. They were an opportunity to LEARN about LIFE.  These broken legos, the intense emotions (on both our parts), our process of working through the situation with patience, self talk, and understanding, and the steps we took to solve our problem...all of this led to some pretty valuable tools to add to our life buckets!  

I love how motherhood continues to show me some of life's greatest lessons.  I have no doubts that this is a memory I will think back on at some point down the road when I'm reverted to my own inner five-year-old in reaction to something life throws at me.  And I have no doubts this memory will  be something my son thinks back on as well.  

Here's to broken Legos and the power of listening, understanding, validating (ourselves and others), and making the most out of the life we're given (good and bad).


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