Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I Feel Your Pain, John Henry

A few weekends back, I rolled out of bed and made my way down the stairs. I couldn’t tell you now what time it was, but I know it was after ten o’clock and before noon. This is a good window during which to wake up from a morning of sleeping in. The sun is bright, yet you haven’t missed too much of the day.

My sons had been up for a few hours already. They know that mommy and daddy catch up on sleep the days they don’t have school, so they hadn’t disturbed us. They know how to pour themselves some milk or juice and cereal without making a mess.

If they do make a mess, they know where the paper towels are. The drill is, the one who made the mess starts wiping while the other runs to our room to wake us and get us to help clean. Not the best way to be wrenched from slumber, but it beats waking up to one of them crying from having been punched by his brother or feeling a hand on your face and having one of them tell you the dog barfed on the kitchen floor. Then, you get up to see little footprints of dog puke leading backwards from the side of your bed to the scene of the canine crime. As you wipe it up, you try to determine what it was that caused this upheaval, seeing if you recognize any solid objects hidden within the goo so that you can make sure the dog didn’t get into the garbage. Don’t laugh, I’ve been there.

This particular morning, however, none of those horrific events had happened. It was a casual waking according to Circadian rhythm and I convinced my stiff knees to gingerly lower me step after step and get the coffee maker started. No mess was found and I could hear the discussion between my sons over the sound effects from Mario Party DS coming from the basement. Overall, a pretty pleasant morning.

It wasn’t until after I’d started the coffee that I returned to the living room, which I had already passed through, and saw something on the coffee table that piqued my interest. There was a ripped open Lego Star Wars box on the floor and a fully assembled Rebel Scout Speeder on the table.

I froze and stared at it for a minute in disbelief. That box had been sitting on the side, waiting for a day when I could sit down with them and build it. Our usual routine involved them helping me separate the pieces by color, finding the pieces needed for each step and then, if they felt like it, trying to put the pieces on themselves, usually ending with me shifting the piece a stud or two in a given direction to its proper placement or, at least, needing to push the block on more firmly and flush to the block beneath it.

I had not built this set with them. I knew this because I remember each Lego set I’ve built since I was a child. I’m a Lego veteran. I remember my first space set with its green tinted plastic faux-glass cockpits and its grey futuristic-through-the-eyes-of-the-80s style pieces that I haven’t seen in a set since. I remember assembling the town in my parents’ basement as a pre-teen with my custom made buildings, including the towering skyscraper at its center. I can recall nearly each step during the week I spent leading up to Christmas Eve constructing the Death Star and hiding it back in a closet at the end of each session. This set was not of my doing.

I also knew my wife hadn’t helped them. She has the patience to keep from yelling at them as milk covers every square inch of surface on the table. She is patient enough to stay silent and allow them to try and give an honest answer to the question of why they decided to draw with permanent marker on the wall. She was dedicated and patient enough to carry each of them around in her own uterus for nine months a piece. These are all trials that would have caused me to absolutely lose my mind, yet she remained cool. Following Lego instructions, however, seems to be the limit to her patience. That and listening to driving directions given by yours truly. So, again, I knew she hadn’t helped.

This left but one possible answer. The boys had built the set on their own.

I was filled with pride as I took the fully assembled speeder, complete with Rebel Trooper figures sitting in proper places, in my hands. My boys, my sons, had built their first Lego set by themselves and hadn’t come to ask me for a single bit of help. Sure, a few of the translucent red stud serving as warning lights had been left off and the Rebel Alliance symbol sticker on the front was a bit askew, but they had done it.

As I turned it over in my hands, admiring their work and occasionally pushing a few pieces together more firmly, another thought crept into my head. It moved in slowly and sinisterly, removing the smile from my face gradually and replacing it with a sort of sweaty palm feeling.

I was being phased out.

When they received Lego sets on their birthdays, particularly Lego Star Wars sets, I was usually just as pleased as they were. I knew I was going to get to help put it together. I’ve even had my eldest brother stop by after work just to have him help me with some of the more complicated ones. We assembled most of the Tantive IV over beers. Now what was I to do? This joy was suddenly being taken from me.

I tried to picture myself as a ninja master. I wanted to be happy that my pupils were taking my training and using it to their fullest potential. I tried to take pride in the fact that I had taught them so well that they would surpass even my talents. Their ability would be a direct reflection of my own mastery of the art form.

What I felt instead was the sickening threat that John Henry must have felt when his boss pulled the steam drill out onto the tracks. If this is how I feel now, how am I going to cope with the day they are able to beat me at basket ball, or the day when I can’t chase them down from behind in the park? They are supposed to be my window into acting like a child while having a cover under which to do so. Alas, I have discovered that my gleaming castle may have been built upon pillars of sand.

I’m going to have to start buying my own Lego sets. Either that, or I will need to hide the ones they get as gifts until I am ready to help them. I still have height as my advantage. New Lego set will need to be put on the highest shelf until I am ready to “supervise” their assembly. This should buy me a few more years to become emotionally ready.

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