Building Castles on the Ground

Belfast castle against blue sky

Sometimes I think about the things people have built, the skyscrapers and bridges and homes, the planes of glass, the sheets of metal, the stones stacked on top of one another so carefully, and I am enthralled by human accomplishment.  I am fascinated by the architect’s brain, the math and science of it all, the perfect calculations leading to unparalleled heights.  And cathedrals.  Oh, cathedrals, with their spires and stones and stained glass, mirroring and almost touching God.  The ability to plan and create a building from nothing, from scratch, from rock and glass and metal that would otherwise erode and corrode and crumble into dust, astonishes me.  In part, I suppose, because building things is not in my skill set.  I am not very good with straight lines—can’t hang a picture without a level and at least one other person.  The curved line, now that’s the stuff for me.  The winding road, the unexpected twist—I can hang on with the best of them.  Oh, I can plan a straight line, and I understand the principles involved, but I have to concentrate like nobody’s business to make it happen as straight on the page or the wall as it does in my mind.

Not so my son.  This kid was built to build.  Wooden towers, Lego houses, an architect’s dream inside my child’s head.  I love to watch him puzzle it out—which piece goes here, where’s that door, how tall can I make this tower, how does that machine work?  I love his questions, his enthusiasm.  Maybe one day, my son will build something that would otherwise have eroded, corroded, turned into dust.

Because building is an interest of his, we own blocks and Legos.  And we have recently decided to attend a program at Lowe’s—a Saturday morning workshop for kids—with regularity, at my son’s request.  In this workshop, parents are handed a wooden kit—a racecar, a castle, a train—and all the materials to assemble it (small nails, kid-sized hammer, brightly colored and slightly cryptic instructions).  My husband took both my son and daughter to a previous workshop, during which they built matching school buses.  But last Saturday, as my husband was working, it was my turn to build, so I took both Nicholas and Audrey (who likes to build but rarely requests the activity) to Lowe’s.  The day’s project was a castle.

I went with some trepidation.  Because, you know, I’m no good at building things.  And sure enough, as I was helping Nicholas with his castle, I got the walls turned around and built the castle upside-down, which was a problem because the drawbridge depended on the walls being installed correctly.  Since Audrey was following my lead, she also built hers upside-down.  A very nice man across the table helped us undo the damage to one castle, and I fixed the other one—at the end of the program, we had two solid, right-side-up castles.  But I have to admit to feeling embarrassment at my mistake, some of it gender-related.  I know my lack of building prowess has nothing to do with my gender, but does everyone else?  Does my son?

When I was struggling with a particularly stubborn nail, Nicholas leaned over and asked, “Mom, do you wish Dad were here?  Because he’s good at building stuff?”

Of course, his sister was building right next to him, and doing a fine job of it.  Building was not a natural interest of Audrey’s at a young age, but lately she has been playing with Nicholas’s Legos, experimenting with shapes and possibilities.  When I noticed her newfound interest, I asked Audrey if she’d like some Legos of her own.  Her reply was an enthusiastic, “Yes!  I want Harry Potter Legos!”

I was deeply relieved to hear this answer, as I was a bit concerned that she would request Lego’s new “girly” line—a set of pink Legos that features girl characters primping before a mirror.  This take on Legos is so upsetting that a 14-year-old girl, Ann Garth, has written a letter to the company protesting toys that promote the idea that “…if you want to market a line to girls, it cannot involve any movement, adventure, or activity.”  (Please read this girl’s letter if you have time—I don’t know her, but I love her, and I am so proud of her.)

The message that this astute and articulate girl wants the world to hear is this:  toys that are meant to expand a child’s imagination shouldn’t limit it.

I don’t want either of my children growing up thinking that they—or the people around them—are supposed to be good or bad at something merely because of their biology.  We shouldn’t let a toy dictate whether or not a girl gets to explore her building potential, or instill the idea in boys that they are the only ones with the imagination and ability to build a tower, house, cathedral, or castle.

So my daughter shall have a set of Harry Potter Legos.  And I look forward to watching—and helping—her build Hogwarts, one plastic brick at a time.  I love her curiosity, her imagination, her willingness to do something she hasn’t done before.  Maybe one day, my daughter will build something that would otherwise have corroded, eroded, or crumbled into dust.

4 thoughts on “Building Castles on the Ground

  1. Stephanie says:

    Your daughter sounds awesome! Give her all the Legos she wants. 😉

    I had no idea that “girly” Legos were a thing. That’s awful. I played with Legos when I was younger, too, and whether they were girly or boyish was never even an issue to me then, nor is it now.


    • Elizabeth Hall Magill says:

      Thanks, Stephanie!

      The “girly” Legos are new, part of a growing trend that a lot of people are protesting. I am hoping they won’t last long.


  2. Christy says:

    It was great to see you on Saturday. My kids, who generally love to go do the clinic, were in a bad mood that day. So cranky and fussy. We barely managed to finish all three castles before someone had a breakdown (it was me!).
    Don’t get discouraged about this particular project, it was one of the harder ones. We go regularly and it was difficult for us too. Several were disassembled and rebuild.
    My oldest is a imaginative builder/drawer. He loves to create new worlds or inventions that he thinks can help improve everyone’s life. Fostering that gift is always a thrill and when my daughter decided she wanted to start expressing herself that way I was equally excited. I haven’t noticed the “girly” Legos yet, but I agree that there are too many manufactures out there that when creating a girls line of typically male oriented toys they dumb it down. Thinking all a girl will use them for is making herself prettier and not worthy of the creative projects that a BOY will use them for.
    So disappointing.
    I am giving a loud applause to the 14 year old who decided to vocalize her opinion. I don’t like the boxes society tried to put our children in and limit there abilities. I try and let my children express them however they see fit. So when my youngest wants to paint his nails, we do it. When my oldest wanted to take dance, we signed him up. He loves it and is very good at it. Yay to those moms who don’t try and limit their children!


    • Elizabeth Hall Magill says:

      Thanks for commenting, Christy–it was great to see you too! We do the same thing with kids’ activities–sign them up for whatever they’re interested in. I think lots of parents do that, and lots of moms help build while dads help cook or clean–real life people are much more adaptive, flexible, and interesting than some toy manufacturers allow.


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