The Erector Set: Adapting to Others

The Erector Set

“[The abbot must] accommodate and adapt himself to each one’s character and intelligence ….”         – RB1980 2.32

I’m no abbot, but I am trying to adapt myself to my son’s character. Toby’s a little like a cat—he’s stubborn and private, and I have to coax him to get him to come to me. He loves the vast freedom of an open schedule, and he likes to figure things out for himself. There’s a gravitational pull towards play within him. He seems most alive when he’s at play, in the space created by what his heart can imagine and his hands can hold.

Beyond Expectations

Toby has always loved to build things, and he’s had opportunity to sample a wide variety of building toys—Trio, Duplo, Lego, K’nex, Toobers and Zots—and some others I’ve forgotten. I’m amazed at how he’s explored so many of them—he’s not afraid to mix-and-match systems—and he often adds in some cardboard and duct tape. He went through a vertical phase for a while, and things were all about height. Then he was into buildings with rooms, especially garages. Now he’s perfecting Star Wars guns and light sabers.

I expected that he would grow naturally towards complexity in his choice of building toys, but that hasn’t happened. Both his mother and I have noticed that he keeps returning to the simplest of these toys—the bigger ones. The down side to my son’s virtuosity with the Trio building system, though, is the inherent limit built into it. He’s taken it further than I could have imagined, but he’s not going to be able to take it too much further. He’s so comfortable with it, though, that he just won’t leave it behind. I suspect it’s a combination of size, familiarity, and speed for him.

Close to the Core

My son has stayed with things he can make quickly—things that he can hold and play with. He refuses to leave behind what his heart can imagine and his hands can hold. I’m convinced that when I bump into that part of him I am close to the core of his being and that it reflects the image of God within him. In addition, he refuses to release the satisfaction of discovering things on his own. I’ve had to recognize that when I see this I am encountering something of my son’s inherent nature. That’s just how he is, and he will follow that nature—with or without my help.

So, part of my role as my Toby’s father is cooperating with him—helping him expand what his heart can imagine and his hands can hold in a way that will work for him. He will play, and he will explore things on his own terms. My job is to help him grow into himself in a way that will bless him and make his life better.

A Bit Slowly

Part of what I am doing with my son involves literally putting things in his hands. I have a workshop where I do some leatherwork and woodwork, but even though I try to get him into the shop, things unfold a bit slowly there for his attention span right now. I recently found an old Erector set, though, and I’m hoping to use that to expand my son’s facility with materials and things. Nuts, bolts, pulleys, belts, batteries, motors, Ax-Man, Goodwill, Craigslist, eBay—all of these might be ways to open his eyes to a world of materials and possibilities that he might put his hands on. I hope that he steps forward a little bit with it, too, but not for my sake. I think he’d be happier in the long run with a world-sized building set to play with.

Whatever happens, though, it’s gonna’ be a long-game sort of thing. I brought home a wood lathe yesterday and I was hoping that it might spark a little curiosity for my son. I was excited about the new gizmo, and I asked my son what he thought about it. He replied, “It’s okay, but I just don’t think it’s the greatest thing ever.”

Did I mention that I have to coax my son a bit sometimes and that this all might take a while? It’s probably just as well I’m rescuing him from his sister’s sleepover birthday party by taking him to see Black Panther tonight … good prices on popcorn and soda with a free refill.

I love that boy.

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