Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Brick by brick.

Meet Frederick the Chef Robot.

The boys created him for the LEGO competition at the library this weekend. He was mostly Finn's idea, mostly Liam's execution and mostly my nightmare.

All week last week (Snowmageddon for those of you in our neck of the woods) the boys worked on Frederick. And by 'worked on' I mean 'dumped out all the LEGOs, talked about the competition a little bit, threw some blocks together, moved onto something else and left every single LEGO on the rec room floor for the rest of the week.' It looked like a Home Alone style alarm system in there. Bill took an injury to the foot he's still whining about and, while I escaped physical harm thanks to my socks and boots, I'm definitely suffering from PTSD.

Not because of the mess. I can handle a mess. It was the project that nearly killed me.

It started off great. The boys were so excited to get to work. They dumped out all the LEGOs so they could take stock of what they had, come up with a plan, and make something that would blow the judges away. Liam immediately threw out the idea of making a restaurant where Gordon Ramsay was the chef and Finn was totally on board. Things were firing on all cylinders. It was creativity at its best.

But then? They sort of ran out of gas.

"How's the LEGO competition coming along?" I asked.

"Good," Liam said. "We're done."

I swear it had been maybe 15 minutes.

I asked to see their work and it was...fine. Okay, I know that sounds awful. It's just...it looked like something they threw together in 15 minutes so they could play Master Chef. Great for playing, just maybe not so great for display.

Let me pause here to say that in retrospect I can totally see that this is where the story should have stopped. Who cares if it's great for display? It's a LEGO competition at the library! I know. It's just...they didn't seem to care very much about their work. Like, 'Is it done? I dunno. I don't want to work on it anymore if that's what you mean...' I was just getting a really lazy vibe. Which seems to be a recurring recurring theme around here...

So I gave a little push.

"Wow, guys! This is super fun. Look at the little tables and chairs...and is that a grilled cheese? So cute. It's just...well..." There was really no nice way to say it. "I'm just wondering if the judges will really be able to tell what this is."

"What do you mean?" Liam snapped.

"It's just. Okay. Try to think about what you're making as something you would see in an art gallery. Like a sculpture! It doesn't have to be something fun to play with, it's more like something cool to look at."

"This looks cool to me," Liam said cooly. Bruised ego? Check.

"I know. It's just... Maybe get out some paper and pencils and brainstorm a bit? See if you can come up with any other ideas to play with."

"Like a chef robot!" Finn yelled immediately.

"Oh my gosh, Finn. Yes! That's such a creative idea. And I bet it would really stand out and be easy to see like a sculpture!"

Liam was pissed. "But I like our restaurant."

"Buddy. I like your restaurant too. It's just...it won't hurt to play around a little. I want you to feel like you're giving this everything you've got, you know? You have all week to work on it."

This is such a tricky space for me. On the one hand, I am all about my kids doing their own work. Absolutely. 100%. On the other hand? What do you do when your kids don't give a damn? I am totally fine with letting them fail. But letting them be super lazy and not even try? I don't know how to do that.

I'm not gonna lie. I STRUGGLED with this. Bill worked from home most of the week and I must have asked him a hundred times if I was being crazy or not.

"I just told Liam his robot kinda looked like he had just stuck a few blocks together and HE TOTALLY ADMITTED THAT THAT'S WHAT HE DID! It falls apart every single time he touches it and he DOESN'T EVEN CARE! I don't know what else to say to him without hurting his feelings! PLEASE HELP ME!!"

This was all whisper yelled, of course. And, for the record, Bill was totally in my court. A so-so finished product is one thing but no effort is just not okay.

I tried to explain this to Liam by showing him a few Jackson Pollack paintings online. To the untrained eye his work might look like something a preschooler did to get time out. But to Jackson Pollack? Every little splash of paint is there for a reason. At least that's what I told Liam. To be honest, I really don't understand his work. But I don't have to! It's not the finished product that's important, it's the intention!

I just really wanted Liam to understand that it wasn't his work I was questioning, it was his work ethic. "Seriously, dude. If you stuck five blocks to a base plate but but had a reason for doing it? That would be a finished project! But to just kinda stick some stuff here and there randomly without really caring? I don't know. It feels like you could do better."

"Yeah. I see what you mean," he said honestly.

I was beyond relieved. It didn't mean his work ethic was suddenly whipped into shape but at least now I could be constructive without hurting his feelings. I helped the teeniest tiniest bit (just to make sure poor Frederick didn't fall apart at the library) and encouraged the boys to work until they felt proud of their work. I knew they were done when they both genuinely loved what they made.

(The mustache sealed the deal.)

Watching them submit Frederick into the contest was very sweet. And, honestly, even when they saw some of the things they were up against (INCREDIBLE creations from preschoolers all the way up to adults), they still felt proud of what they had made.

While we were dropping it off, we met a 13 year old who made a ship from the Avengers that pretty much blew my mind. It had lights and moving parts and, even though we couldn't see the inside, his mom assured us it was just as detailed as the outside.

"Wow," I said, practically speechless. "How long did you work on this thing?"

"About 127 hours."


On Saturday, we spent the afternoon checking out all the entries and voting for our favorites in each age group (in addition to winners chosen by the judges, there were also crowd favorites). It was nearly impossible to choose just one. Nashville, apparently, is brimming with master builders.

We skipped the awards ceremony on Sunday which just goes to show how good the guys felt about what they made (you don't need someone to tell you you won if you already feel like a winner). But when we went to the library on Monday to pick up our blocks, we practically got a ceremony of our very own.

The children's librarian led us into a room with all the creations that had not yet been claimed. As soon as we walked in, Liam said, "Oh, there he is!" and started toward Frederick.

"Is Frederick the Chef yours?" she asked from across the room. Liam looked up at her and nodded. I'm sure we all looked shocked. "I'm so excited to meet the people who made him!" she said enthusiastically. "I counted votes for crowd favorite and saw his name written down over and over again. He got a LOT of votes. Including my own!"

I was floored. And the boys faces were absolutely priceless. To see them get a well deserved compliment on something they worked so hard on and already felt proud of was beyond anything I could have hoped for them. It made me feel so good I almost stopped dreading the science fair...

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