Friday, November 01, 2019

A Knocking Down Building

The ethic around Woodland Park is that only those who build it have the right to knock it down. It's a particularly hard thing for two and three-year-olds to understand given that many, if not most, of them come from households in which the adults gamely build block towers specifically so their kids can knock them down. They've grown up in a world in which all block constructions are theirs to topple and those worlds collide at preschool, with those doing the building rarely sanguine about their work being knocked asunder before its time.

Most of the older kids have a handle on it, understanding the inherent fairness, although those coming in with less prior experience with living in groups sometimes still struggle. And while all children know that the ultimate destiny of everything we build with blocks is to, satisfyingly, come crashing down, some are better at waiting for it than others. Like the urge to help karma out when we feel it's taking too long to re-balance the universe, there is often an impatient tension surrounding any major construction project, with buzzards of destruction circling the still living carcass of a work in progress.

This is particularly true when we play with our collection of large plastic Lego-ish blocks that were formerly containers for a now-defunct brand of diaper wipes. Whenever these blocks are available to the older kids, teams of them assemble to build towers "to the ceiling." Recently, such a team was working together, constantly reminding their classmates that this is "not a knocking down building." The taller it got, the more it attracted the attention of children who loitered in a manner that looked suspiciously like they were on the verge of giving in to the impulse to launch themselves into it. "This is not a knocking down building," the builders cautioned whenever one of them came near. "We're building it. We get to knock it down."

It was a busy building team, one that was standing on boxes to help reach the top of the ever-growing tower. Each new block threatened to cause it to fall. Every movement, in fact, was causing it to teeter. One girl approached them with an offer of help, "I want to help you build it," but the habit of waving the other children away was by now too well established. "No, you can't help us. We're building it and we get to knock it down."

Somewhat crestfallen, the girl turned to building on her own, but rather than stacking upward, she began to construct a long, low wall.

Finally, the tower builders knocked down their initial tower with much noise and fanfare. They then agreed they wanted to do it again. Meanwhile the girl continued building her long, low wall.

The tower team built it up and knocked it down several more times. Each time they did it, the girl working solo quietly took some of their scattered blocks as her own, adding a second level to her wall. Before long, the tower builders tired of their game and moved along. Those who had been disappointed in their the hopes of being offered the chance to participate in a tower knock down without toil of help to build it up, moved along as well. This left our the wall-builder alone with all the blocks. She worked slowly and steadily, finishing her second level and adding a third, until she had used all the blocks. She then began arranging a row of small plastic rainbow colored human figurines along the top of the wall, carefully balancing each one on its feet.

I was sitting near her. She was talking softly to herself. At one point she looked up to tell me, "This is a castle. This is the living room. This is the . . ." and there she faded out as her focus returned to her project. Then she stood up, surveying her work as if with pride. She called to the room in a loud, clear voice, "I'm finished with my building. If you want to knock down come on over!"

She stood back as a surge of children descended upon the ramparts, noisily scattering its parts. The girl watched them with a smile, like a parent who had built something for her child to knock down. When it was done, she turned to me to say, "Now I'm going to have a snack." And that's what she did.

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