“Daddy, come see what I’ve built.” Zee called from his bedroom. He did this quite often: retreat to his room for a few hours, set all his toys out in some sort of outrageous, fantastical, galactic empire war, and then show it off to me.
I arrived at his open doorway to find it blocked off. He doesn’t have a door on his room so he improvises to keep Kai out.
“I can’t get in sweetie,” I said from the other side of a half-height cupboard.
“No problem.” He walked over to the hanging shelving unit which was also partially blocking the doorway and gently pushed on the bottom of the unit. It slid easily out of the way, giving me access to his room – he’d already thought that problem through.
As I walked in, I was stunned. The entire room had been completely rearranged. Ryder’s mattress had been removed from his bed and placed against the window. Boxes of varying sizes, colour and composition were stacked up against every wall. Planks of wood, some long and thin, others more square, were placed on, under and between the boxes. Arranged inside, on top of, underneath, between, behind and around the boxes and the wooden planks were hundreds of small toys: Lego blocks, Hot Wheels cars, toy soldiers, figurines – some famous, some not – and other items that I couldn’t immediately recognise.
“Wow, Zee,” I said, “what is it?”
“It’s a galactic war.” He answered. “See, here are the Kings men, they’re good, but they’re in trouble, because here are some alien baddies, and they’re shooting at the Kings men.”
He started pointing out every item; it’s name, it’s role and it’s capabilities: whether it could fly or not; shoot or not; did it have a shield or not; could it be invisible or not; and specifically whether it was a good guy or a bad guy – a Baddie. I soon lost track and stopped trying to remember, but he carried on, narrating from an internal catalogue that he’d built up in his head, as he’d constructed and placed each item.
“And the mattress on the window, what’s that for?”
“To make it dark, the Baddies always live in dark places,” he replied matter-of-factly. I couldn’t fault the logic.
“Oh no, Zee, what have you done to your room? It’s a mess, again!” Miki’s voice sounded from behind me. She always got upset when Zee built one of his empires. With Miki, what’s happening in her internal world effects her external world, and what happens externally, effects her internally. Being surrounded by the chaotic array of boxes and toys effected her like loud music, or strobing lights. It upset her internal world, created chaos where she was trying to keep everything calm and ordered.
But it was only chaotic on the surface. As Zee explained everything to me, I saw through the chaos, to the underlying design that he’d been working against. Every item had been carefully selected and placed, exactly as he wanted it. There was no chaos involved. It was a perfectly executed Empire.
“Look at this piece,” he said, directing my attention to a large, intricately constructed Lego spaceship, populated by no less than six Ninjago figurines.
“Here are the engines, here’s the control panel, these are the forward turrets, here’s the invisibility shield.”
“Watch this,” he said, and proudly started to dismantle the spaceship. Each figurine came off attached to it’s own smaller spacecraft. He’d built six small spacecraft which combined to form one large spaceship.
The creativity, imagination and concentration required to build his empire astonished me. I wanted to reach out and capture that creativity, that imagination and make sure that he never lost it, tie it to him somehow or other. I wanted him to always have it, and always be able to enjoy it. I wanted to explain just how enthralled I was, not by his Empire, but by his creativity and execution. I wanted to tell him just how special that was. But he’s only eleven, he wouldn’t understand what I was trying to tell him. I hardly understood it, just felt it.
Instead, I knelt down in front of him and gave him a big hug. “It’s fantastic,” I said, “I love it. We’ll neaten up before bedtime.”