My living room is rarely what I would consider clean. The floor isn’t always vacuumed immediately, books aren’t arranged neatly on the shelves, and those shelves are rarely dusted. There are always textbooks, notebooks, book bags, pens, pencils and my daughter’s toys covering the floor and any other available surface. Currently, along with the normal mess, hundreds of little blocks are also littering my living room. I’ll make her help me clean them up later, of course, but for now it’s a miniature minefield.
I love building things with my daughter. For every major holiday and birthday this past year, her grandparents have purchased Legos at my request, and so she has Legos. Not just Legos, but she also has Megablocks and a variety of interesting wooden cubes from when she was even younger. Some are covered with the symbols of elements from the periodic table; Ag means silver, Au means gold. Because her father had entertained the idea of attending grad school in Germany, we have others that are embossed with various numbers, letters, words and animals in German. We built towers and pyramids when she was younger, stacking blocks while counting off eins, zwei, drei, vier, fünf. Building with these blocks has always been a learning experience for my daughter as well as me since neither of us has taken German. Affe means monkey, Strauß (pronounced Strauss) means ostrich. We sit, we build, we learn.
“Mommy, play with me!” she says while I’m busy doing homework on the couch. Always eager for a distraction, I acquiesce and slide to the floor.
“What do you want to make?”
“Umm, a castle!” she says.
Her voice is bright with enthusiasm, but she doesn’t even look up at me when she says it. She is busy building. Sometimes she wants a castle fit for a princess, while other times she just wants a house. Sometimes she wants me to make animals. “Make a lion, mommy!” or “I want a giraffe!” or “Make a monster, Mommy, but a nice one.” Every time she asks, I try. I create these pixelated 3D structures lacking any sort of color grade. Two black, brown or blue blocks mark a creature’s eyes, and one or two protruding blocks make up whatever nose, beak, or jaw it should have. Its body is diverse, as my color options are limited. A lion’s mane may be yellow or orange, but its body could be green, red, or blue out of necessity. The colors don’t matter much since her imagination is able to fill in what I can’t adequately build.
“This needs a tower,” “That needs a tail,” “Not like that Mommy,” she says. “That would be silly.” Why did we teach you so many words? I wonder as I struggle to build things to her expectations. Though the more obscure the animal or structure she demands, the happier I get. I love the challenge, as well as the fact that she can name so many animals. The structures are never to be finished in her eyes. Whenever something is close to being complete, she breaks it all apart. Everything is perpetually changing. The building never stops, and so we keep playing.
I often think about the many other things I want to build for her, the things that I think might make her happy. Mommy, build a house, a house with a nice yard, so we can get a puppy. Mommy, build a career, a good one, so you don’t miss my growing up. So you can make it to open houses and parent-teacher conferences and recitals. Mommy, build a good life for me, one that allows for fun extracurricular activities and a college education paid for. Mommy, build us a life without financial worry. A life so unlike the one you’ve had. Since becoming a parent, I’ve worried about these things and have been working hard towards a steady life for her.
“Mommy, build an airplane,” she says. She doesn’t care about houses, careers, college, or finances right now. Right now, she cares about playing with me. Like me, she cares about building, but not building the same things as me, or in the same way that I do. While she cares about building castles and creating little Frankenstein’s Monsters out of mismatched blocks, I care about creating an acceptable life for her as well as myself. My mom missed so many open houses, parent teacher conferences and school events out of necessity that being present in my daughter’s life has become my ideal.
“What did you say, honey?” I ask.
“Please, make an airplane.” she answers.
“Okay, baby. Then I have to get back to my homework.”
I construct a plane for her I’ve seen before, the type that dog fighter pilots would fly. “It’s called a biplane,” her father informs us.
“Hmm, biplane. Daddy, play with me!” she says.
Now it’s his turn to take a break from school work. He sits down next to her while I return to the couch and continue doing my homework. We sit, we build, we learn.
About the Author
Crystal is a twenty-five-year old student at New Hampshire Technical Institute and is graduating this May with a degree in Health Science. She plans on continuing her education and pursuing her Bachelor’s in Medical Laboratory Science in the coming fall