A year or so ago Blowfish and I were out at a gathering where the conversation turned to "are you what you wanted to be when you grow up" ? For most of us the resounding answer was "NO!". It was interesting to hear where the dreams started and why they ended and how each came to be in their current careers.
As we made it through the first bottles of wine the conversation sequed to ,
"If you could reselect your career path what would you be doing? Would you try again for the original dream or have life experiences and maturity directed you elsewhere"?
Apparently I missed the maturity part because my response was, "In my next life I want to be a Lego Master". You can imagine the responses. I did try to defend my position. It is a career which pays well for creative problem solving, which also serves a purpose in child development for all age groups, it generates huge market shares for investors and it is a job which does not require you to wear pantyhose.
Not long after that gathering Blowfish and I were out shopping together, an event which happens about once every three years. In our travels we came across a large display of Lego offerings. Space ships, monsters, big trucks, hospitals, battleships, fighter jets, houses, farms ....all offered as kits with the exact number of building components needed to assemble the item pictured on the box.
Blowfish stopped and stared at the huge display and asked,
"Would you like some of these?"
I studied all the boxes carefully, and slowly shook my head. I did tell Blowfish I really appreciated his offer but what I didn't want was a prescribed path. What I did want was a huge box of all sorts of Lego components with which to create. No such offerings were available, so we left.
Months later,Blowfish presented me with a huge birthday festive box and a big silly grin. Yep, inside were divided suitcases of bright, colorful, diverse Legos of every description! He had gone forth and pursued a way to provide me with a toy of my dreams. That boy was proud and could hardly wait for me to create something fabulous. In the beginning I didn't "build" anything, I arranged and re-arranged those components into graphics of all sorts. It was fun,it was quick and I did learn some stuff but I wasn't meeting Blowfish's expectations of something wonderful.
Then, just before the holidays, I was having lunch with a client and her 10 year old son when I mentioned the Legos. Her son immediately and eagerly asked which "sets" of Legos I had. My "none" response resulted in his confusion...what did I do with them? Ultimately we made a playdate to explore that very question. But it was the holidays and everyone had busy schedules and he kept asking his Mother when was he having his paydate with Fishy? She says he kept a calendar and marked off the days. He called the night before our date to make sure it was still "on" and I would't be canceling because of "grown up stuff".
He came early, eager, smiling and ready to play. He impatiently waited through his mother's need to see the "designers" house which I kept as brief as possible. I had prepared for our date and had a big space ready for assemblies, had snacks at the ready and had laid out and opened the suitcases of Legos. He pawed though them like a dog searching for a misplaced bone. He made lots of excited comments and finally said, "What will we build"? We had discussions about that which resulted in a visible, ever increasing, anxiety in this child. He looked very worriend, sucked in a deep breath and asked, " Where are the instructions"? I explained there were none. His anxiety increased and finally he blurted out," How do you know what to build"? I explained the not knowing was the thing I liked the best. His brow furrowed deeper , he was the picture of acute disappointment as if to say how could something so eagerly awaited be so horrid? He struggled through his moment, looked the very definition of dejected and miserably said,
"I don't know what to do".
I suggested we start with a drawing of what we wanted to build and with his expertise in Legos and my expertise in building we could probably make something grand.
He looked horrified!
He looked even more stressed.
I fetched markers and paper and tried to minimize his worries.
So we drew, we discussed, we edited, we started to build. We found our way through the challenges and restructured as necessary. We creatively problem solved our way through the afternoon. My young play mate became ever more enthusiastic, ever more eager, ever more confident as the paper vision evolved into an awesome three dimensional object. It took hours.
Somewhere along the line his Mom had gone into another room and revised the remainder of her days schedule. This normally very chatty woman was a quiet, non-participating obsever of this play date. Blowfish came home, chatted with the Mom, recognized there was no dinner coming and, retreated to his sanctum.
When the good byes were said and done this kid was half way down the sidewalk when he grabbed his mothers hand and asked could he come again?
She laughed at his enthusiasm and drove away. Before I returned from the mailbox they were back, he needed pictures, AND the drawing. My camera was at the office so they took pictures from Mom's new phone, and waved good bye again.
Blowfish was proud. He came out of the sanctum and praised the production.
He'd been on the phone with Mermaid and had described the Lego activities at the Pond. He said she was distressed. I called her, she sounded unusually quiet. I asked if there was something amiss. "No, not really," she replied, "It's just that being grown isn't as much fun as I think it should be." I inquired why? Her response was she didn't know any of her friends who would enjoy an afternoon
playing Legos or making sidewalk chalk pictures ala Mary Poppins, or crafting paper bag puppets from favorite storybook characters or use a giant cardboard box to satisfy grafitti urges with the spray paints. I suggested she expand her friendship groups or volunteer with kids or theatre groups. She sighed and red phoned me.
The next morning the play date's Mom was at my office before I was. She was grinning big and started talking before I could exit my car. She could not wait to tell me her news. Seems her son had been having a rough spell; disapproval by a teacher had lead to disapproval by his father which had led to weighty self doubting in the soul of this 10 year old . She had been worried about him for weeks. She said as she watched us work our way through the legoing she could see him "change before her eyes". That he was excited all the way home and bolted out of the car before it was in park to rush into their house with the drawing and her phone to tell his father, " Dad, I am really smart cause I am a creator!"
So my answer to the what is wrong with America question?
Too much packaging
Too little choice
Too many boxes
Too many instructions
Too little creative problem solving
Too few play dates