Illustration by Timothy Sean Johnston
It is no secret that I am obsessive about the things that I like. Just the other night, as I was cueing up the most recent episode of RuPaul's Drag Race for the third viewing in three nights, Tad shook his head sadly at me and said, "You know what your problem is? The things you like — you like them too much ." I did not have a comeback. Partly because he was right, and partly because I was too busy re-watching drag queens bicker.
The Boy is my kid all the way. He doesn't want to hear his favorite song once, he wants it on an endless loop for weeks in a row. He is less interested in checking out the intriguing new cartoons on Saturday-morning TV than he is in reviewing his favorite Busy World of Richard Scarry episodes on Netflix. Perhaps most telling — and this is where I think he passes me in the contest for most obsessive member of our household — he has asked for the same bedtime story every night for two years. It's actually not really a story, it's a coffee-table book about the history of Lego bricks.
Tad's first reaction was to try and discourage The Boy's obsessiveness. Which I couldn't really get upset about, as I can imagine it looks unhealthy to an outsider. I spoke up. I felt like the Lorax, only instead of the trees, I speak for the kid who plays exclusively with a single toy for a week. It was my responsibility. After all, they're my genes.
"Look, he doesn't want to hear a Star Wars book," I whispered, pulling the Lego book out from behind the bed, where Tad had tried to hide it. "Read him his Lego book. I know you're tired of it, but he's not."
"Well, I don't see how he's not," Tad grumbled, opening the book to the page where we'd left off the night before. But I did. Because I knew I didn't get tired of Kiss Alive II when I listened to it every night in sixth grade while I did my math homework, or the opening soliloquy of Laurence Olivier's Richard III , which I watched over breakfast every morning the summer of my junior year.
My reason for indulging The Boy's Lego lust is not empathy. Part of it is, but the other part is that I honestly believe that obsession is the path to greatness. Sure, it's not the only path, and, unfortunately, greatness is definitely not the only place it leads. But an obsession, nurtured and guided, can take you far. Look at Bill Gates. His parents didn't grouse about how much time he was spending down the road at the University of Washington's computer lab. They encouraged their son in areas where he showed passion and, yes, obsession.
Then, of course, there's always the nagging vision of what I don't want for The Boy — the ugly reality of what can happen to the obsessively natured child who doesn't feel appreciated or understood by the people whose approval means the most to him. That's when the obsessiveness looks for other avenues, pursuits that aren't always as positive as Lego bricks. No parent hopes for their child to grow up and spend a lot of time in church basements, grousing over styrofoam cups of bad coffee about how their parents never told them that they were wonderful and special just the way they were. And that's the best-case scenario.
I know that I'm talking about extremes, from Bill Gates to church basements. Will insisting on a different bedtime story put The Boy on the inevitable path to self-destruction? Probably not. Do I believe that The Boy is going to parlay a childhood Lego obsession into a billion-dollar career? I realize it's statistically unlikely. But ask me this one: Do I hope that his over-the-top love of little plastic bricks will eventually lead him into robotics or architecture or some other Lego-inspired field where he can make a decent living for himself and be excited to show up for work every day? You bet.
And I'm going to do everything I can to keep him headed in that direction.