Lego as a Metaphor for Immigration

In the Summer of 2013, when we knew for sure that we were going to be emigrating from Scotland to the US, I had to go through the process of selling, donating and ditching loads of our possessions and packing up what we were keeping in order to prepare it to be shipped across the Atlantic.  One of the more tedious jobs I did was to spend an entire day packing up my sons’ very many Lego sets.  I took each set in turn, broke it down into individual bricks and pieces, placed those bricks into ziplock bags, and labelled each bag according to the information on the building instruction manuals.  It was the perfect job for a control freak mother like me but goodness it was laborious and my thumbs were throbbing by the end of the day.  Still, all the effort was worth it as it meant all those Lego sets could be safely transported across the ocean, taking up as little space as possible, and could be easily rebuilt set by set once we were settled in Pennsylvania.

That was the plan for the Lego.  It was also the plan for us.

We were packing up our lives in Scotland, breaking things down into fragments, compartmentalising, putting things in order, imposing a system on the chaos.  I assumed there would be a difficult transition period, a settling in phase full of stress and glitches and the odd set back, a need to feel our way through the jumble just like all those loose bricks jumbled in their labelled bags.  But we would be rebuilding a new life on another shore, piecing it all back together again in no time at all.  Lickety split.  Tickety boo.

That’s not how it turned out with our transition period.  It’s not how it happened with the Lego.

Not long after our shipping container finally arrived, a visiting child took it upon himself to rummage around in all the plastic storage crates full of toys.  One such crate contained all of the ziploc bags of Lego.  The child opened up every single one of those ziploc bags, about 50 in total, and emptied them all out onto the floor.  My kids were incandescent.  I felt bereft.  And stressed.  And overwhelmed.  A full day’s worth of work, my attempts to impose order on the chaos, to make rebuilding easy and fun, were all completely and utterly undermined.  All my hopes for an easy rebuilding project were dashed.  I looked at that Lego all over the floor, thousands of bricks in a tangle of mess, and I felt deflated.

Settling in and establishing our lives in a new country did not go to plan either.  There were big things I expected to be much more trying but which were pleasingly easier than anticipated; however, there were other things that proved much more difficult to navigate, things we did not anticipate.  We had been focusing so much on the challenges of living in a new country that we overlooked the challenges born of changes to our family dynamic, the schedule and shape of our everyday lives.

That transition period has still not concluded over two years into life in America.  We are really only starting to come to grips with everything immigration has involved now.  I had to be gentle with myself, accept that things were going to be rocky for a while, that we would stumble a bit, and give myself permission to feel frustrated and annoyed and stressed and anxious.  I had to give myself the gift of more time.

Likewise, I left those Lego sets for a while.  My kids played with the few we had already built and the rest of the bricks languished in a huge storage crate waiting for me to feel ready to tackle it.  It was too stressful to contemplate rebuilding from that scale of chaos.  I had to gift myself more time.  A few months ago, I decided to tackle the issue.  I decided that I would organise the bricks differently, there being no possible way to recreate my first approach.  I made up a bag of red bricks, a bag of blue bricks,a bag of barrel shaped pieces, a bags of wheels ….It took me a couple of days but gradually order was imposed on the chaos.  It still takes us a lot longer to rebuild a set since we have to look at each instruction and rake through the bags to find the right piece but at least now we are only looking in the bag of small grey bricks to find the required small brick rather than raking through the entire huge tub, a lego needle in a haystack.  The new approach is working.  We are rebuilding the Lego sets again.  Progress is being made.

I had to change my expectations, develop a new approach to problems, and accept that it is going to be a gradual and slow process.  For Lego.  For immigration.


31 thoughts on “Lego as a Metaphor for Immigration

    • I only discovered what he had done once he had left. That’s when my children reported the crime. He’s persona non grata to them now. I am more forgiving since most kids would just see a box of Lego and think they could do whatever they wanted with it. I mean the labelled bags were a bit of a clue but I’m working on my forgiveness skills so I let him keep his limbs.

  1. I have really enjoyed reading your posts! I am a Pensy resident also, I live in Easton which is about 75 minutes from you. I can only imagine how stressful and strange it must be to move to a new country. If you need any help at all just let me know. Welcome! I’m glad you are here and that I found your blog.

    • Thank you very much for your kind and supportive words. As my post suggests, things are starting to settle into a rhythm now. It helps that my kids are settled and happy here now. I just find it tricky that in so many areas of my life all my adult experience has been reset to square one because I don’t have knowledge and experience of how things work here in the US. I am getting there though, slowly but surely, and every day life is certainly trotting along in a groove now. Thank you again for reading and commenting.

  2. I’m simply amazed that your kids managed to keep the bricks of the sets altogether even before living Scotland!! 😀 Here we have bought lego sets (a fortune was spent on a Batmobile, a Delorean and all sorts of Star Wars fancy (and very expensive) x wings, star fighters, etc… who were built over entire days and smashed into pieces in the blink of an eye… Last Xmas, Santa brought something called Mos Eisly place (I just had to look it up, I couldn’t even spell the thing :), I was told it’s the name of the bar on Tatooine where Han Solo and Luke Skywalker meet… Anyway His dad spent all of xmas day to build it with him and on boxing day we found the entire set in pieces all over the floor, mixed with many, many other pieces… because we were told :”C3PO is a really bad driver”… I suggested a ban on lego sets which was ignored a few more times… and this xmas I urged a complete Lego Ban because his bedroom looks like a bomb site all the time, even after hours of tidying 😀 So I admire you and your family for keeping lego sets altogether! you guys are Saints! 🙂

    • Well we have a big tub of what we call “random Lego” which is the stuff that can be used over and over again for building and breaking. However, my kids regard the specific Lego sets as toys in themselves. They like playing with the sets with their ninifigures. That’s not to say that I haven’t erupted over finding the Bat Cave has fallen into semi-ruin. It happens. However, by and large they look after the sets. What is true is that my 10 year old son’s bedroom floor is covered in Lego figures and bricks. I dare not step into that room in the dark or I will feel the searing pain of bare foot on Lego.

      • Oh yes! stepping on lego barefoot is excruciating 😦 My kid badly wants sets but in his play, things often crash and break into pieces 😦 or he wants to customise the set and start mixing other bricks. I have kept all the instructions religiously, hoping that when he is older he will try to rebuild them himself… but so far I have been spending many afternoons rummaging through a mountain of lego pieces trying to find what’s needed to rebuild a set… some of them, like the batmobile or the Delorean will never be rebuilt because it’s just insane to find all the missing tiny bits 😦 but you give me hope! perhaps he will be more careful with his lego sets one day…

      • When that day comes, try the system of ordering them into categories. It’s so much easier to know that the little black brick for that instruction stage will be in the bag of small black bricks. That said, we’ve had to abandon a couple of rebuilding projects as we can’t find the very specific part required. I’m keeping a list of those and if they don’t turn up then I will just order replacements from Lego, most of which are provided free of charge.

      • That’s a good idea 🙂 He wanted some Lego Pirate ship (the Brick Bounty and the Black Pearl, which cost like £400!!) but I showed him playmobile pirate ships instead…. as I found a whole fleet of them second hand in pristine condition on eBay for very cheap…. 😉 I think he will have to rebuild that Delorean all by himself before I spend anymore ££ on Lego! 😀

      • Oh an affordable option for pirate stuff is Mega Bloks. It’s Lego compatible, just not the same quality, but much cheaper. My kids have a ghostly galleon, a couple of pirate islands and a bunch of pirates.

        We have lots of Playmobil too. I sold a few sets before we emigrated and the boys have still not forgiven me. We still have plenty though.

      • Thanks! I’ll look into Mega Blocks 🙂 I think I saw the Titanic made by a similar company and it was very cheap indeed, thanks for reminding me 🙂 yes I think Playmobil maybe a nice change, and he can take them in the bath or to the swimming pool without all the bits being scattered in the water (imagine in the pool!!!!! what a nightmare :D)

      • Yes, the great thing about Playmobil is how robust it is. Mega Bloks don’t break down into as many pieces. It’s more like panels and sections. I guess that’s one oft he reasons it’s cheaper. Those pirate sets no longer resemble the instructions but it doesn’t bother me because I didn’t spend a small fortune on it.

  3. I was told when I went to the UK to live to expect to feel constantly discombobulated for a period of at least two years. As the third year ended, my adviser said, that would be the time to make a trip home and experience where the heart was. It turned out to be fairly accurate advise for me. Sounds like it is maybe working that way for you too. Time is the thing!

    • Thank you. Yes, I definitely think it is a case of waiting for enough time to pass. I think I had unrealistic expectations of myself which translated into pressure to be feeling completely settled by this juncture.

  4. That is a fantastic analogy Laura 🙂 And I’m sure the kids appreciate the lego being sorted.
    It was a huge move/change in your lives to move to the USA, it’s amazing how well you have adapted to your new way of life. I expect you will still be developing new approaches to problems a decade from now, massive changes take a long time to settle out completely, but you seem to be doing it in the right fashion, one step at a time 🙂

  5. Ugh. How awful re the Lego, Laura. A day of your life you’ll never get back & sounds like the red tape means these days are multiplying. Slowly, slowly, catchy monkey as my husband often says to me when I’m in a funk. Hope all is well in Pict-Ville otherwise and that you are all enjoying the festive season state side. Loved this post, enjoyed the sentiment X

  6. Moving to another country must be tough, I studied and then worked abroad for a couple of years when I was younger but it never felt really permanent and I had no responsibilities then so it was also a great adventure. Now though, I don’t think I would cope very well at all so I think you and your family have achieved a tremendous amount Laura, much admiration!! The Lego scenario – well I am completely OCD and like everything (including Lego bricks) organised and in their right places. My son features right on the opposite end of that spectrum and wore me down years ago….. It still bugs me though when those sets get mixed up but long ago I have had to admit defeat. I feel your pain!!

      • I can relate to that. I used to be a complete neat freak. I then moved in with my husband and had to drop by standards a bit because otherwise his messiness would drive me crazy. Then I had four kids and I pretty much gave up trying to keep things looking spiffy. It was either that or I lost my sanity.

  7. Pingback: From Surviving to Thriving | A Pict in PA

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