ByEric Ess, writer at
Eric Ess

My favorite toys growing up were not action figures that could shoot projectiles, or cars that could light up, or even those dolls where you pull a string and hear a distinctly 90s-sounding sentence, usually something beginning or ending with 'RADICAL!!!'

They were 1200 unassuming LEGO bricks of varying sizes and colors, contained in a blue plastic tub with a snap-on lid. My parents had very little money then, and thought that this tub, compared to all other LEGO sets I asked for, was the best bang for their buck.

The tub was labeled "Special Value," and how apt would those words come to be. My 1200 beautiful building blocks were an introverted, Chinese immigrant boy's only source of solace. I had very limited language skills and a threadbare awareness of American culture when I was 11, so I had much difficulty with speaking my mind in elementary school . I couldn't stand up to those who made fun of me, or could I make coherent points when I raised my hand in class. Nor could I ask my peers for help.

My family was also very poor, and while in my middle-class school district I was reminded of that every day. But when I went home and I sat my tiny Asian butt on my carpet, then sunk my hands into that blue tub of infinite possibility, everything else on my mind fell into the background. I'd feel the pointy LEGO pieces run through the gaps of my fingers, and hear the sound of these plastic bricks spilling on top of each other, and I'd be overcome with ideas--the kind of ideas I actually had an avenue to express, ideas that through these square and interlocking could be actualized and not suppressed by my fear or shyness or lack of language skills.

Once my hands had simmered long enough in this pool of pointy LEGO bricks, and my mind had set upon what I'd build, I couldn't feel shy, or shut out, or poor anymore, because I was too entrenched in the present of creating. I couldn't feel scared anymore, because I built as a form of boundless exploration, and there was no for perfection or belonging. Sometimes I'd build with no predetermined design in mind, and just let the very abstraction of my thoughts manifest themselves in my creations. I made shapeless constructions out of rigid material, and for once didn’t care that others wouldn’t understand or accept me.

But as helpful as LEGOs were during my times of childhood depression, they served even more purposes when I overcame my troubles. When I was having middling test scores in 6th grade, my dad used the promise of buying me a Bionicle to successfully motivate me. When I finally had a good grasp on English and socializing near the end of elementary school, it was over competitive games of LEGO soccer and LEGO Racers races that I cemented new and lasting friendship bonds. When my family’s wealth grew and we finally had an apartment my parents weren’t ashamed to show others, I filled the shelves in my room with new, more awesome LEGO sets.

Even then, I always dug into my good ol’ the blue tub, for a few extra red square bricks to better equip my new Life on Mars rover, or a pair of 1x8 green bricks to adorn a LEGO city tower with more plant life. In my teens, on my desk sat both an exclusive, not-available-in-the-US LEGO Formula One Ferrari car and one of my old, shapeless, masses of pieces from the blue tub. As much as I had in the later part of my childhood, I couldn’t take that one box of random bricks for granted. It kept me free-moving and random when I felt constant pressure to conform.

I recently gave that tub of LEGOs to the 12 year old child of a family friend, who is also Chinese, and who also feels maladapted to his American surroundings. I hoped that those bricks in that blue tub will help him get through her rougher childhood years, through expression. I hope that they help him preserve his youthful vivacity, so that he will be in the right spirits to enjoy better days and better LEGO sets, later.

If Moviepilot awarded me the prize pack, so that I could then give the toys to this young boy after taking him to see The LEGO Movie, then Moviepilot would be helping make this boy's later come sooner.


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