When I asked my parents what they wanted to do during their two-week visit, they were vague. I suggested we go into London, or drive between quaint British villages, or bundle up and walk the St Alban's ghost tour. Well, sure, they said. It wasn't until my mother reminded me that she didn't want to miss Legoland with Z, that I heard genuine excitement in her voice.
We had our first Legoland experience in 1979 when I was 13 and my brother 10 and the family was camping across Europe in a VW van during my father's sabbatical. Legoland was in Denmark and devoted primarily to reconstructed small-scale cityscapes of famously recognizable monuments built entirely out of Legos. From above one could survey most of the human-made wonders of the world in high definition plastic. The best part of Legoland for us kids, however, was the Lego driving school. For a thirteen-year-old mildly mortified with having to spend every day for 9 months, in a confined space with her nuclear family, this was a half hour of heaven. My brother and I climbed into our own electric vehicles and placed a flag in the front window indicating our spoken language. We could then drive anywhere around the compressed town, about half the size of an American football field, so long as we didn't break the rules of the road. There was a traffic cop hunched inside a glass encased tower who could call out any infraction in your own language over the loudspeaker. This was the first place I performed my California Stop and is still the only place, my family should know, I've ever been caught. Nonetheless, I still earned my "driver's license", a printed document, complete with a photo of my rule-flaunting smirk, encased in plastic which was, to me, proof I would someday roam free.
Twenty years later Legoland UK was opened, aka Legoland Winsor Resort, about 25 miles west of central London. On a clear day the Queen can look down from her summer palace upon her subjects in their Legoland euphoria and rest well knowing the revolution won't happen unless the power goes out.
Perhaps places that hold memories of joy and liberation should not be revisited later in life, as the glow of the first experience is bound to succumb to the cynicisms of time. Here Legoland had given in to the frenetic amusement park mentality thought to be necessary for childhood entertainment. The rides were now the focus. I was anxious that Z would experience this as nothing more than another fun park and not appreciate the creative power of the simple Lego. Most of the rides didn't even pretend to be Lego-like. And though we had fun getting soaked and spun and dropped from high places, I didn't think Z was feeling amazed. He was too young to drive in the big Lego cars so he had to settle for the oval track about the size of a trampoline where the under-5's could drive mini cars at a mini speed. Most of them had to be redirected away from the walls and barriers. Z looked like a cat circling a litter of uncoordinated newborn puppies.
But then we entered MiniLand. Here were the Notre Dame, Mt. Rushmore, St. Peter's, and the Eiffel Tower. Now in the 21st Centruy, we have the US Space Shuttle, the London Eye and the London City Hall which looks like a stack of Pringles about to topple over. Alas, the rooftops were faded by UV, there was a green patina of mildew around their edges, and the towns all needed a wash. But this was where Z became transfixed. After an hour of pinging from the French village to Belgian spires and running alongside the Lego train travelling between the capitols of Europe, we all took a seat at different points along the periphery and let him continue to venture. Relief. He wasn't stomping or whining that this was boring or that he wanted to go on more rides. Was he, as I'd hoped, enthralled with these imaginative landscapes made from little pieces of plastic? We may live a small second childhood through our kids, but I know I can't control his interpretation of life with us. I told myself to let go of my fantasy that this be a magical experience for him and accept that it's his childhood, to experience the way he will. and my job is to feed him, love him and be sure he votes Democrat. Even if he never wanted to play with a Lego again, I could accept that. But I need not worry. He just added another layer of Legos to his flame-spitting, winged/amphibious, cat-toting creation and insists it stay on display in the living room.
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