I could play with LEGO brick with kids and adults every single day! That may sound like a bold statement given that I’m barely into my month’s stay at Herkimer Diamond Mines in Herkimer, NY. But in my heart, I know this isn’t just a dream. I designed five 1 hour classes for this month, “Building My Story” and “Building My Future” for kids and teens, “LEGO Art” and “LEGO Architechture” for all ages and “Building My Bucket List” for retirees. I also included a two hour free-build (no set agenda) session each day.
My first two days were this past Saturday and Sunday of the July 4th holiday weekend, when I worked from 1pm to 9am, later than I’ve worked in decades. But it was incredible and invigorating! On the first day, I probably had a total of 90 kids and parents over the 8 hour day. I never took a break and barely remember nibbling on my peanut butter sandwich when the kids worked independently. I laughed and chatted with ease, even with the youngest kids. Participants had a blast choosing colors and shapes of the LEGO bricks as they decided which ones would best “tell their story” or “represent their future” or “explain their bucket list”. The stories they told about what they built were a variety of happy, funny, serious, sad, energizing, and brutally honest (one pre-teen shared that he had to give up his bedroom after his 16 year sister had a baby and needed his room and he now sleeps on a couch). I tweaked my lesson plan a bit after that revelation family dynamics revelation. Two siblings stood out on day one. They were an 11 year old girl and 13 year old boy from Utica, NY. While they did do other activities like making patriotic pins and tie dye t-shirts, they spent almost 6 hours with me.They shared family stories with me during the times we were building alone and it was immedaitely obvious to me that they have had difficult lives.
On Sunday, when I arrived in the activity center at 12:30 to set up for my 1pm class, the siblings were sitting at the table waiting for me. We had bonded so well the day before that I was happy to see them. So instead of making them wait until 1pm, we started early with their building. For the second day in a row, they stayed with me for almost my entire shift, taking just a couple of breaks to check in with their mom and her boyfriend. They told me they had shared with their mom that I was their favorite activity leader. She apparently told them to behave and not to get on my nerves since I was allowing them to stay all day. In addition to those two siblings, two other sets of siblings participated in LEGO building for several hours each day. We all made art, shared stories, created architectural masterpieces and pondered our futures. Some of the pieces they created or we created together were simply stunning! Approximately 60 participants happily built something on day two.
Then on Monday, my favorite pair of siblings didn’t show at 10am as they said they would. I figured their mom had other things for them to do. But at 12 noon they appeared, running over to me happily waving and hugging me. The girl immediately started working on the two story masterpice (her future home) that she’d started the day before and she began adding two additional levels to the home. They told me their mom was going to come to meet me later and to see their masterpieces. I helped other kids finish their masterpieces too, mostly by providing guidance and suggestions and letting them do the work for themselves which gave them great pride.
Right before 2pm the sibling’s mother appeared. I took one look at her and could immediately tell that we were going to have a problem. The first comment she made was “that’s enough with the LEGOs you’ve been doing this for two days straight, go find something else to do.” The young girl was mortified and said “but you didn’t look at the house I made, we are going to live in a house like this when I grow up”. What was Mom’s reply?? I wanted to slap her when she said to her daughter “it looks stupid”. She ignored the fact that her daughter was near tears. She demanded that the kids get their stuff and go back to their tent. I’m guessing you may understand what the issue was, but her kids didn’t really get it, at least not at first. The daughter argued that she wanted to stay and play with the LEGOs and her mom threatened to “slap her in front of all these people”. I felt horrible for them, but they followed her out of the activity pavilion.
I think the old Loretta would have been pissed by that event… and it would potentially have ruined my day. But I kept right on going, enjoying all the kids who were there with their parents or grandparents who loved the activities I was doing with the kids and didn’t care what I looked like. The only awkward part came before 4pm when the two siblings returned to the pavilion to attend another actiity with another leader. The leader hadn’t arrived yet, so they wandered to my table and without sitting down began putting together LEGO pieces. I quietly and calmly reminded them that their mom didn’t want them to do any more LEGOS over the weekend. They pleaded a little, but then understood and moved on to wait for the other leader. Thank goodness I insisted that they not play, because the mom looked into the pavilion about 30 minutes later I’m sure to check that they weren’t doing LEGOs with me. I left at 6 and headed back to Memory Maker. I unfortunately didn’t get to say goodbye to my young friends, but I had to be accepting of their mom’s wishes. I went to bed focused only on the kids who had a great time with the LEGO activities.
Today may have been the best day of all!! The morning with pretty quiet now that the holiday was over, and I only had a few toddlers in the morning, but they were a Hoot!!! Then a family of four kids and two parents came and we had so much fun!! The mom helped the oldest 3 kids build, and dad chatted with me and rocked their youngest child. They stayed about 90 minutes and it was their first time camping! They told me what a joy it was to have LEGOs outdoors, something her kids already loved!
The highlight of today though was another set of boy / girl siblings. They showed up right on time for the LEGO Art class. These kids had SKILLS!! We laughed and talked, searched for the right color pieces for their masterpieces. When 6pm came and it was time for the class to end and me to get off duty, neither of the kids were finished with their projects. I said I’d stay until they finished. At 6:15 when the kids didn’t return from class, their mom and grandmom walked over to the Pavilion. But what a difference a day makes. This mom was warm and friendly and thanked me profusely for allowing them to finish their pieces before ending the class. We had a ball talking and they browsed through my many LEGO Art books as the kids finished up. They took pics of both kids project and oohhed and ahhhhed over the kids work. It was a great feeling seeing the kids pride in their work and their family members affirming them! That’s why I love what I do. Parents are all different, and the rest of us have to continue to be the Village to help raise them in whatever way we can!
This week so far I’ve learned that I can work with kids all day, and communicate well with them. I’ve learned that I can extend patience to parents who may not deserve it. I learned that nothing can deter me from doing what I came to Herkimer to do. I’ve learned that I most certainly can live my dream… I know that I’ve grown in ways that I can’t even articulate yet. In spite of my dreams, I’m also keeping a close eye on Tim and his work here, ensuring he has everything he needs to stay healthy. It takes a village to keep a family on the right track too! Loving my life!