When I was a kid, playing with LEGO bricks was my life. I had a chunky red bucket filled with the things, mostly the basic shapes like cubes and flat pieces. But I’d dig through those bricks like a beachcomber through sand, because I knew I had the hidden treasures, those special pieces: the ones with angles and curves, the axels and wheels, and especially the ones with greebles. For those not in the know, greebles are basically little details added to make something look cooler, like a little computer screen painted on a brick.
Then there were the more complicated special pieces, the ones I really had to dig around for. Those were like the horse figure, for example, the one that could move its head up and down. It also had a slot on its back for a Minifig to sit in, those little guys with yellow faces and hook-like hands. Now Minifigs (short for miniature figures) could be some of the choicest pieces. I especially liked the ones modeled after cartoon or movie characters, like Spongebob or Anakin Skywalker. Minifigs themselves often came with special pieces, like Anakin’s lightsaber (which could easily fit in Spongebob’s hand).
But maybe my favorite special piece was what looked like a LEGO tumor, the one called by the fandom the “Little Ugly Rock Piece” or LURP. I’d get those in all sorts of sets, from pirate to castle to space ones. But when those bumpy, complicated bricks came out of the box, I felt I was getting a treat. Sure, I could make my own tumorous shapes out of individual bricks, but the prefab blob had a special charm about it and, now as an adult, its own brand of nostalgia.
But the joy of LEGOs isn’t in owning pieces, whether the basic four stud cubes or the battery powered engine. The joy comes from putting them all together to make something. And it’s also in finding the right piece for whatever you’re imagining, whether the Millennium Falcon’s satellite dish for Chewie’s Disney+ or the Death Star’s cash register for its cafeteria and gift shop. The joy is in creation, whether by following the instruction booklet, by just looking at the box, or by bashing pieces together until you form something awesome. Then again, everything is awesome, right? And finally there’s a certain, squealing kind of joy in smashing your build against the wall, in watching the pieces fly all over and behind the bed, in imagining the Minifigs scream for their little, plastic lives. (Yeah, I was a funny kid)
Now I hadn’t played with LEGOs for a very long time. But this past Christmas, I took out a LEGO gingerbread house set I’d been saving for the past 5 years. I’d been waiting for my niece to be old enough to play with it, but I couldn’t wait any longer. Though the box said age 7+ and so far she’d only been using DUPLOs, the toddler form of LEGO, I figured she should get her a head start on the real thing. She was smart enough to put it together, after all. And with minimal help from me, she did put it together by following the pictures in the instruction booklet.
It took us a couple hours, but those are hours I’ll always cherish. As the house began to take shape, I watched her eyes lit up in anticipation. And already she was pretending there were gingerbread people living inside. But what brought me the most joy was how engrossed she was while building it. It was a purposeful focus she had, in which she made her mistakes but quickly learned from them, for she had a goal in mind to reach.
When we were done, she looked proudly at her finished work. Though she had wanted to give up several times because it was “too hard,” she had persevered when I’d given her hints on what pieces to use or how to click them together. She grinned at me now and said thank you for the present, and then she looked lovingly at her Christmas-y house. And was I happy, for I’d passed on the joy of LEGOs to my niece. I then took out my phone and said, “Let’s take a picture. Hold it up so—”
But she was already taking it apart. “Let’s make it again!” She said joyfully.