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.


Art of Lego at the Franklin Institute

Our original plan had been to let our Franklin Institute annual membership expire and then take up an annual membership to something else.  However, not only did we get a great deal on a renewal of our membership but we have found that we enjoy popping into the Franklin Institute so much that it was worth continuing our membership.  The place is basically an indoor playground for our brood which has been a particularly worthwhile investment this winter will all the cold, ice and snow.

This past weekend, we had out first non-family-member house guests.  They only just qualify as non-family since Nacho is Mr Pict’s oldest friend (in terms of longevity, not age) and is pretty much part of the family whether he likes it or not and that means his partner gets co-opted too.  Looking for something that would occupy the kids while also engaging the adults, the Franklin Institute was the obvious choice.  Plus they are hosting a travelling exhibition all about lego named The Art of the Brick.  It was a must-see for we lego fanatics.  We were not disappointed by the exhibition.

The first section of the exhibition was famous works of art reproduced using nothing but lego bricks.  Every single painting or sculpture was instantly recognisable despite the unusual medium which not only testifies to the flexibility of those little plastic blocks but also to the power of certain works of art to become iconic.  Our oldest son had wondered if there would be the entire Bayeux tapestry made out of lego, thinking back to our visit to Bayeux a few years ago, and lo and behold there was a small section of the tapestry.  There was also the Mona Lisa, a Rembrandt self-portrait in his distinctive murky, shadowy tones, the Girl with the Pearl Earring, her earring standing proud from the rest of the lego, and the Vetruvian Man, almost monochrome yet still immediately identifiable.  There were particular highlights among the many reproductions of two dimensional works.  The colours of the bricks in The Scream were spectacular and the screaming figure had been rendered as a sculpture emerging from the landscape.  My kids loved re-enacting the Scream.  The textural paint of Van Gogh’s Starry Night had been recreated through use of lots of little studs swirling across the sky.  The graphic quality of Hokusai’s Great Wave was perfect for the geometric lego blocks.  American Gothic had been turned into a sculpture.  My personal favourite, however, was the lego version of Klimt’s Kiss which had been turned into a full size three dimensional sculpture.  The lego bricks were used to create all the luscious pattern in the figure’s clothing and I was impressed by the way the curves had been sculpted out of a material so blocky.





The second section was devoted to famous sculptures.  There was the beautiful bust of Nefertiti, Michelangelo’s David, complete with pert brick butt, a Degas ballerina, the Willendorf Venus, a Chinese Imperial Archer and even a massive Moai.  I know how long it takes my kids and I to build a lego set so we were staggered by how long it must have taken the artist – Nathan Sawaya – to build these full size sculptures, especially without instructions.

The final section was a showcase for Sawaya’s original works of art.  They were amazing, not just in terms of the engineering involved but also the imagination and creativity.  Many were human figures that seemed to suggest some sort of emotional state.  There was a kneeling figure whose hands had broken down into individual bricks which represented the nightmare of the artist no longer having the use of his hands.  There was a figure swimming, half submerged.  There was one peeling off its blue brick skin to reveal a grimacing skull beneath the face.  Two plump figures walking hand in hand.  A gigantic red head.  A hunched green figure emerging from a wall.  There were massive colourful skulls, a huge dinosaur skeleton, a series of props built from lego which featured in an accompanying gallery of photographs.  Finally – as a nod to this particular locale on the exhibition’s tour – there was a liberty bell with the crack created out of brightly coloured bricks.










After the exhibition, we then had a jaunt around the rest of the museum visiting the boys’ favourite haunts, including sitting in the aeroplane cockpit, making circuits in the electricity section, several runs around the heart, a pedal on the sky bike, surfing and wall climbing in the sports section and a scramble around in the brain climbing frame.  Another great day out and very good value for money.  We definitely feel confident in our decision to renew our Franklin Institute membership.


New Year’s Eve at Legoland Florida

Hogmany (New Year’s Eve for non-Scots) was our day for Legoland.  The kids had been to Legoland in England twice and completely loved it so their grandparents had gifted them tickets to Legoland for Christmas.  We were all pretty much theme-parked out by that point so were hoping for a day of smaller crowds and shorter queues.

Part of the joy of Legoland is just the fact that anything and everything has been Lego-fied.  Since three of the kids and I are all massive lego fans, it adds to the fun.  There were Lego Christmas decorations ornamenting the park including full-size snowmen, Santa with his sleigh and reindeer and an incredibly tall Christmas tree made out of lego and adorned with lego baubles and candy canes.




First stop was a double decker carousel containing galloping lego horses.  The horses were designed to be just like the ones the kids have from their lego ‘Lord of the Rings’ sets which was cool.  Then there was more lego animal action as we boarded cars to go on a lego safari past such brick-built beasties as lions, hippos, elephants and meerkats.  The ride was simple but the pleasure came from seeing the thought and effort that had been invested in creating the detailed, full-size models.



Next up was the Lost Kingdom Adventure, which seems to be inspired by old-timey adventure serials.  Set in an Egyptian pyramid, wagons carried us through darkened rooms filled with treasures and money and baddy treasure seekers as we used laser guns to shoot at various targets.  Sticking with the Egyptian theme, the adjacent ride was called Beetle Bounce – inspired by scarab beetles – which involved being strapped into a bench that was lifted higher and higher and then being gradually bounced back down again.  Mr Pict and all of the boys wanted to go on it but no sooner was he seated and buckled in than our 7 year old started to whimper and wail.  It was another case of him wanting to push himself into doing something he was actually not comfortable with.  Despite it being a fairly straightforward and gentle ride – which everyone else enjoyed – he screamed and cried his way through it.  My hope is that after all of these theme park ride experiences, he will realise that he just does not actually enjoy rides involving height or speed – just like his mother.




We then headed to the Medieval area where there were more lego horses, this time for jousting.  The 7 year old, who is daft about horses, and our youngest both queued up so they could have a turn riding on the horses.  They looped around a track past various targets and were all smiles all the way around.  Once again it was simple but effective.





The dinosaur area was where those who wanted to do something more adventurous could experience some thrills.  There was a wooden roller coaster, which perhaps made it look a bit rickety and ropey, named the Coastersaurus.  Mr Pict, his father and our oldest son went on it while the rest of us nibbled at our packed lunches.  As rollercoasters go, it was a manageable one for all concerned.  It had one steep ascent followed by a sudden descent and some speedy undulations.

The Lego Theatre was showing a 4D show called ‘Spellbreaker’.  It looked vintage with very basic animation and soundtracking but the characters were appealing, the story was sweet and the 3D moments were really good.  That’s the thing about Legoland: its simplicity, just making everything fun and toy-like, is where its charm lies.  It doesn’t need to be loud, brash and frenetic to be appealing.After the film show, it was time for a live action show.  Legoland had taken over the site of an older park named Cypress Gardens.  Mr Pict and his parents remembered visiting the botanical gardens and viewing water skiing performances from an auditorium.  It turned out that Legoland had taken that model and just adapted it to their theme.  We were ushered into and seated at the same auditorium, overlooking a stretch of water.  The theme was pirates so we watched as a group of good guys, led by a stunt water skiing woman and supported by a group of lego soldiers, went into combat with a group of pirates who also performed stunts on their water skis and speedboats.  The villain of the piece was a peg-legged pirate named Brickbeard who was dressed up as a minifigure.  The quality of the show was impressive and the rate of stunts had us applauding almost constantly.  The kids loved all the jumps and leaps and the minifigure characters.  Afterwards, the little ones were stoked to be able to meet one of the lego soldiers.




My kids are not remotely interested in “real world” lego.  They like the stuff that sparks more fantasy type imaginative play, such as super heroes, ninjas and ‘Lord of the Rings’.  Lego City, therefore, is not their bag.  Regardless, however, we headed into the Lego City section.  The queues were ridiculous by that stage in the day except for an emergency vehicle experience.  Mr Pict were one team out of three.  They were loaded into a police van and they had to pump a lever – like an old time railroad handcar – to make it move.  Once they got to one end of the area, they had to jump out, pump water from a fire hydrant and aim the hose that was blasting with water at a target in a window area.  Once that target had collapsed from the force of the water they had to jump back in the van and pump it back to the start line.  They were all exhausted at the end of it and it was fun for them to have to work as a team.

My favourite thing about Legoland is not a ride at all or even an event.  It is just an area.  What I love is the whole area dedicated to just lego models of different parts of the world, different cities and landmarks.  I love the creativity, the imagination and the skill involved. It’s inspirational.  The Legoland back in Britain showcased models of different European countries.  Instead the one in Florida had models of representing bits of Florida and a few other US cities – Las Vegas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Washington DC – all of which I have visited.The casinos of Las Vegas are weird and wacky enough without being in lego version.  The boys loved the volcano, the Venice casino and the little wedding ceremony.  Mr Pict and I have a half-baked plan to renew our wedding vows in a tacky Vegas ceremony, maybe even officiated by an Elvis, followed by a road trip second honeymoon (with the kids) along Route 66.  Maybe we should have a lego themed renewal.  The boys loved seeing all of the bits of lego New York because it was an American city they had been to and because New York is the setting for some of their lego video games.  Favourite bits were Times Square, the skyscrapers and Rockefeller Plaza and Grand Central Terminal.  We loved all the little people bustling about in the train station, especially the people going up the escalator.  I had just finished reading the kids a book set during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 so they enjoyed seeing that city, including the sea lions at the bay.  O course, mini Washington DC was where all the mini monuments were.  As we were just in actual Washington DC in April, the boys had fun recognising the sites they had visited, the Lincoln Memorial and White House in particular.







As Star Wars nerds, we were delighted to find that there was a whole model section devoted to scenes from Star Wars movies.  In Britain, the Star Wars sections had all been indoors but in Florida they were out in the open.  That made it easier for the detail to be observed, since they were not in darkened rooms, and the models could also be set in beside the foliage where appropriate, as with the Endor models and the Kashyyyk battle.  Being a fan of the classic Star Wars movies myself, I liked the scene of the rebel base on Hoth and the wampa cave and the scenes set on Tatooine, especially all the detail in the cantina scene.  The boys loved seeing the Millennium Falcon taking off from Mos Eisley and the full size lego models of Darth Maul, Darth Vader and R2D2.





Sadly that was as many rides as we could go on.  The queues for the rides we had not been on were ridiculously long and – after so many days of theme parks – we were all up to our eyeballs with queuing and had little tolerance left for it.  It was not helped by the fact that the park was incomplete and construction work meant that some paths were dead ends and there were bottlenecks.  Therefore, the last thing we did during our daytime excursion of Legoland was also a throwback to the park’s Cypress Gardens era.  The Island in the Sky ride was essentially a rotating UFO on a metal stick.  We were seated in the UFO and it then slowly ascended 150 feet in the air and rotated 360 degrees affording us great views over the park.  I am not great with heights but somehow I managed it.


After leaving to get dinner off site, we returned to Legoland.  It was completely dark by this point and the park had been lit up with festive lights everywhere.  We walked to the mini America area to get as clear a view of the fireworks as possible.  We were each handed a pair of glasses, just like the old fashioned 3D ones, to put on.  As soon as I did so, I noticed that the bulb of the street lights had turned into lego bricks.  Woah!  And then my 9 year old noticed that the focus light on my camera had also turned into a tiny lego brick.  Woah!  Every point of light in the park was a lego brick.  Incredible!  There was something built into the lenses that was turning all of the light into lego.  Then the fireworks started.  Ah-May-Zing!  It was inherently a pretty awesome fireworks display in any case but with every spark and burst turned into a shower of vivid, colourful, bright lego brick it was extra special.  My kids exclaimed, bubbled and brimmed with excitement throughout the display.  Afterwards they kept the glasses on so that they could see all of the fairy lights and decorations turned into lego bricks too.  Then on the car journey back to the villa, they oohed and aahed as each car headlight and taillight, each glowing window, each neon sign was also transformed into a lego brick.  Way beyond cool and a fabulous way to end our family fun in Florida.





Spring Break Day 5 – Cinema and Lego

We decided to have a mid week slump in terms of level of activity so we spent the morning at home base so that the kids could enjoy playing indoors and in the vast garden.  Then in the afternoon we went to the cinema at Tyson’s Corner Mall.  Our oldest son was not bothered about the movie options so he stayed behind with his grandparents and played board games instead. Mr Pict and the two middlies saw ‘Captain America – Winter Soldier’ while I took the youngest to see ‘Rio 2’.  He and I had a bit of time to kill after our film ended but before the other film let out so we had a bit of a wander around the mall.  He liked testing poufs out in a home décor store called West Elm and he was fascinated by the sushi conveyer belts in an eatery.  We also spent some time in the children’s section of Barnes & Noble book store but the thing the littlest Pict loved doing most was just travelling up and down on escalators. 

Once the others had joined us, we headed to the Lego store.  The kids love to make their own minifigures up so they spent some time doing that.  Our 8 year old has read ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy a few times and is a bit obsessed so he wanted to make minifigures that represented characters from those books.  They have a new thing in the lego stores whereby you can hold up a set that contains over 500 pieces to a screen and it then shows a 3D representation of that model.  I asked a staff member to demonstrate how it worked and it was brilliant so my 7 year old and I tried it and nothing happened.  So the same staff member showed me how it worked again and I tried again and yet again nothing happened.  I was going to ask for another demonstration but the 7 year old said that would be embarrassing.




PS  Please excuse the quality of the photos – I am not very good at using the camera on my phone but I didn’t have my DSLR on me.