Friday, May 27, 2016

Brick By Brick

The story goes like this: When I first came to California to visit the woman who would become my wife, we went to Disneyland. This set a precedent that has been proven difficult to shake, but it also provided this insight into parenting that has hung around while we were busy making other plans. After a day of rushing about having the happiest days in the happiest place on earth, my incipient wife began to fret that she hadn't bought a souvenir for her young cousin. We spent the last hour and a half of our stay scouring the Main Street gift shops for just the right thing. I was admonished time and again as I picked up various toys and swag, "No weapons! His mother is worried about bringing more guns and knives and swords into the house." I pretended to understand why a five year old boy shouldn't have a gun or a knife or a sword to play with, and kept looking.
Finally, she found it: A Mickey Mouse slide rule, with Mickey's head as the slide that could do addition and subtraction and convert Fahrenheit to Celsius. We tucked it away and raced back to the north end of the state where we made our presentation. This clever young man inspected the gift for a moment, then pushed the slide all the way to the end as a hilt and held it up over his head, "A sword!"
Later, when we had a boy of our own to fret about, we heard from his preschool teacher how natural it is for boys to invent their own "power extenders." Tree limbs become light sabers and rifles. It's a matter of fact.
Still, we tried to buck the trend as much as we could. We were heavily invested in Legos, and each time our family made one of our pilgrimages to the House of Mouse, there was a stop planned to the Lego Store just outside the Monorail stop at some point during our visit. Building things, not blowing them up. That's where we sunk our fun funds. Turns out we needn't have been so fussy. A new study from New Zealand's HIT Lab at the University of Cantebury tells us that Legos have become more violent over the past few years. Well, not the blocks themselves, but what they represent and connote. They counted the ratio of bricks to weapons in packaged sets, and in the case of the Death Star set, the whole thing becomes a giant planet-destroyer.
I remember making my own catapults and missile launchers back in the proto-eversquare-days of Legos, and I did this without any of the very specialized pieces. If I wanted a sword, I had to build one. A machine gun? With plenty of straight edges, sure. And I did it all without a slide rule.

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