Thursday, January 2, 2014

Walter builds towns

Sean and I both spent much of our childhood playtime building with wooden blocks. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that blocks were my favorite toy, and that I'd prefer building with blocks to any other common game/activity (playing school, playing with dolls ... dress up would be a close second, I think.)  It was something I liked doing with my Dad, although he's so good at it I'd mostly watch him while he built (this is still true ... Baba is ridiculously good at building with blocks. I just sit back and watch in awe.)

We got Walter a set of wooden blocks for his first birthday, and at his birthday party invited people to decorate the blocks with messages for him as a kind of guest book. Over the past year he's been interested in them off and on, in spurts.  First, he built walls, carefully lining up the square blocks end to end, creating a barrier across the living room floor.  Then, he built towers.  He got very good at stacking the tallest blocks higher and higher, far higher than I thought he'd be able to go.  You could watch him learning about balance and gravity, getting the feel right and figuring out how high he could go.

These days, Walter builds towns.  They are sprawling and expansive, incorporating every block-type object we own. They usually have steps and ramps up to different levels.  They are wider than they are tall--he's recently gotten nervous about the blocks falling, even though we've been encouraging him to take the falls in stride and see them as creative opportunities. "It going to fall a little bit," he warns me as I add a small block to the top of a sky scraper.  There are outlying suburbs in these towns, and downtown skylines.  He builds walled gardens and libraries.  He builds churches.  Lots of churches. He builds small, one-block homes for the people he loves, all right next door to each other.  "This is baby Sally's house," he tells me, putting down a square block.  "Look, Mama, I build you a house!" he says, putting down another square.

Walter talks to himself while he works.  "Right here. Over here just a little bit.  Just in case. OK. And another one."  When all available blocks are in use, he walks his fingers around the town, or takes his toy cars up the ramps.  He likes to find good parking spaces for his cars.  He flies his fingers from the top of one building to another, narrating his progress from church, to school, to park.  I ask him what he's doing at each place. Usually, the answer is "eating cookies." The other day he threw in some broccoli for variety (and to please me, I think.)

I asked Sean if he ever built towns with his blocks. "No, I built castles," he said.  That's what I built, too.  And simple, functional lodgings for my Barbies and My Little Ponies. Never these city scapes. Never these marvels of urban planning and civil engineering. It never occurred to me that a single block could represent a whole building.

I don't know what it means, that Walter has this big picture, zoomed out approach.  I just know it's a lot of fun, and liberating for me in a way that's hard to describe.  I always worried about the logistics of buildings: big and heavy blocks down first to create a foundation, windows and doors tall enough and spaced correctly to allow for roofs, etc. But when you build a town with Walter, you are free.  Any block can go anywhere and be anything. And we can collaborate without me taking over ... when we bake together, for example, Walter can participate, but he has to follow my rules.  When we build together, we work side by side, complimenting each other (literally and figuratively, "Mama! That is beautiful!  Is this beautiful, Mama?") and building on each other's work without either of us dominating or being in charge.

I treasure our time building together, and Walter does, too.  I've noticed that he works hard, these days, to recreate happy moments.  When something good happens to him, he tries to make it happen again and again. "Mama!  You sit on the couch here. Right now. You hold baby Sally.  Dada, you sit on the chair.  Walter here, with blankets."  As you may know, it's hard to re-create a spontaneous happy moment.  Even when we manage it, there are diminishing returns, there is disappointment.  A nostalgic two-year-old is a sad two-year-old, ultimately.  And there's some of that going on when we build together (he's remembering fun we've had building together in the past, which is always "yesterday," no matter how many days ago it was.)  But he's also learning how to live in the moment, I think, because each town is so different. And when our skyscrapers fall, there are tears, but there is also opportunity for building something new.

When he's bored and tired, Walter can be destructive.  He throws things, he deliberately hurts himself. It's not anything unusual for a two-year-old boy, but it's hard on all of us. My mom described it the best: "He's over the edge and having a hard time finding his way back."  So, we're always looking for projects, something he can focus his energy on in a positive way, so that he doesn't get lost out on the edge of destructive behavior.  Baking and cooking with us, play cooking in his own kitchen, Legos on a table in his room ... these are all good, but blocks are the best, I think.

He'll probably move on to something else, soon (I'm thinking playdough may be the new blocks, but we'll see.)  For now, I'm just happy to sit on the floor next to my boy, while he works and snuggles sweetly up against me now and then, casually reaching out to hold my hand for a minute or rest his foot on top of mine, doing something that is, really and truly, constructive.

1 comment:

Arden said...

I love this post. I built cities too.