Building Blocks

Some time ago, Sean became quite excited about the idea of buying Alice something called Duplo. I’d actually never heard of it. When I mentioned it around the place, various friends raved about their love of duplo and I wondered what planet I’d been on that I’d never heard of it.

I think it was a planet populated by a family of three girls and one boy. We didn’t really do lego, or duplo, in our house. I’m sure we had it but as children, the girls in my family played very typically feminine games. I amused some friends recently by telling them about a game my sister Adele and I played for years, which we called Friends. It was long before the TV show.

The game went like this. Adele lived at one end of the house. I lived at the other end. We’d go and visit each other, because that’s what our mother and her friends did. They popped around for a cuppa and a chat. There were usually children around. Our brother Keith, and later our sister Fiona, stood in as our children. When we got Walkie Talkies for Christmas one year, they became our telephones. This was a world before mobile phones.

We’d call and invite each other over for ‘a cuppa and a chat’. We’d talk about the things that bothered us. Keeping on top of the house work, how the children were being naughty, that sort of thing. And then we’d have to go home and do housework before our husbands came home from work. Haven’t little girls always played house like this?

My friends, when I described this recently, laughed and laughed. They grew up in a world where playing with lego, making space ships and creating sci-fi worlds was more the norm. I have to ask my sister but I’m sure we must have played stuff like that. I do recall we played ‘Rainbow Warriors’ at some point although I don’t think we knew what the Rainbow Warrior was. We’d heard about it on the news and obviously liked the sound of it. Sometimes at the pool we used to pretend we were foreigners and spoke to each other in gibberish for ages, hoping that people would think we were foreign.

But yes, a lot of our games were awfully feminine and domestic in nature. It didn’t occur to me to see that as funny until my friends laughed and even then I didn’t feel bad about it. That was the world we grew up in – a small town world where mothers on the whole didn’t work outside the home, where they visited friends at home for social connection and where the concerns of home and hearth were the stuff of day to day conversation.

As grown ups, we still talk like this, but we talk about a million other things as well. And in the 1980s we didn’t imagine a world in which we lived in distant cities and had to talk daily by mobile or email. Life changes, but sort of stays the same too.

Enter Alice and Duplo. Sean was very excited about buying it for her second birthday and we went out a few weeks ago and bought a set for her. Her birthday is still a few days away but we couldn’t wait. I couldn’t wait to see how Alice and Sean spent an afternoon building stuff together. My childhood that was devoid of duplo has become clear before now. My nephew Willem told me some time ago that I’m really not very good at building but now that Alice has duplo, I plan to spend more time on it and make up for lost years. I will become a builder!

Here’s Alice with her name spelled out in Duplo. Doesn’t every two year old want that?

Alice gets some duplo

She built her first tower and it broke.

Alice gets some duplo

Just seconds after this photo, she began to cry. She hadn’t yet learned that it was ok to start over and build something new. If Duplo isn’t a metaphor for life, I don’t know what is.

I’m really looking forward to discovering this hitherto unknown world. We got her a second set to keep at our house. It’s a farm set that has chickens in it. I can’t wait til she comes over next and we discover that together, although I think I have to fight Uncle Sean to get time and access to that!

Bells

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25 thoughts on “Building Blocks

  1. With two boys (now pretty much grown) there was a lot of duplo and lego action here.

    I remember playing “Boy and Mom” with my brother; we ran a store. And playing school with my younger sisters. Later, there was Monopoly. Aggravating Monopoly. Guess I’m not a great capitalist!

  2. Duplo is awesome. I’m pretty sure that at my parents house, there is still a box with duplo and lego in it. It was fantastic fun. I used to make houses and furniture with the same child-like aplomb as I did space stations and pirate ships… Awesome.

    Alice is going to love it!

  3. Ah how we loved a good game of “Friends”. You neglected to mention Keith bieng your “husband” quite a lot too. he he. We also played mermaids at the local pool. But all I remember about that is always taking so long to decide our names (which inevitably ended up being Pearl and Coral) and the crossing our legs and flipping around a little and then game was over. What fun!

    Happy memories.

  4. Duplo os great! Alice will have fun once she has realised how it works! We have seen our son grow from Duplo up to the really hard lego sets, its all great stuff.

  5. Lego was very popular when my children were growing up in the 70s and 80s and a wonderful toy for both my son and daughter. I still have the original box of the advanced mechanical Lego set that I saved and have put it away for my grandson when he turns five. I think he will be really taken with the idea that it belonged to his dad when he was little. Just a tip to keep up with the Lego appetite – ebay is a great source of supply as parents clean out cupboards for new toys. Have bought some real bargain lots for my grandson so he now has a supply here when he visits as well as at home. It remains a popular toy for him although now his building games are more imaginative. Still the same old Lego…

  6. I’m too old to have played with Duplos myself, but my kid loved them. Lots of coffee shops in Madison have them for kids — so moms and dads can actually talk! You will have such a great time playing with Alice and the Duplos.

    I have to admit that I love Legos (for older kids) even more. What I don’t like are the sets that are made for the kid to build some predetermined item. Following directions is not playing!

    And I love the idea of Duplos as a metaphor for life.

  7. I never heard of duplo before either. Strangely, I have hardly any recollection of ‘playing’ as a child at all! I do remember reading a lot, but that was as I got a bit older..

  8. I only grew up with one sister and no brothers but I do still remember my grandfather sitting with me building a house of out of lego blocks. I also had a truck that I used to play with too filling it up with sand! I think duplo and lego are great and my son had lots of them and my daughter had some too but she much preferred drawing things and outdoor sports things to play with and they are her current love! I think those wooden jigsaw puzzles are great for that age too as it develops their skills in putting pieces together. Have fun learning to build and knock down those blocks!

  9. My Mum says that when I was little (4? 5?) they bought me some Lego, and then didn’t see me for two weeks…
    In a spot of amazingly synchronous timing, I’ve been listening to the audiobook LEGO: A Love Story. Maybe you would like it? I know you would appreciate the parallels between the world of AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego) and the online knitting community.
    And of course, making stuff with Lego is just fun!

  10. Once upon a time (well, back in 1970) when son was 3 and a half, and daughter 2 years younger, I was browsing in DJ’s toy department, and spotted a wonderful Lego starter set, and winced at the price. Money was tight anyway, and we were taking out a loan to take the children to Hamburg to meet Ernst’s parents. And at that time all I knew about Lego was that it looked like great fun.
    Fast forward to visiting Ernst’s rellies and friends in and around Hamburg. In every household an older child would take one look at the little ones, dive into his or her bedroom, and emerge with a box of Lego. Busy-ness and happy hilarity would ensue. And this was LEGO, not Duplo, that didn’t come out until YEARS later.
    Back home in Sydney — never mind the budget, I made a beeline for DJ’s, and the kids got that starter set for Christmas. By that time E & A were 4 and 2, and neither of them ever had any difficulty manipulating those blocks. Warning: the stuff proliferates faster than rabbits, and the smaller blocks are VERY painful to step on. In 1975 they had a whale of a time at Legoland. The suitcase full of Lego has just been handed on to our daughter’s two littlies.

    Gae, in Callala Bay

  11. We tried hard to break through those gender-based stereotypes as my boys were growing. That meant they had baby dolls with their teddy bears and learned to cook and clean. I still have a five gallon bucket FULL of lego and duplo. I won’t need to buy any for grandma’s toy box.

  12. hmm things are starting to make a bit more sense – me and my sister played ‘pretending to be in abba’ games, and lego. no scenes of domestic bliss for us! oh but the lego! im so glad i wasnt deprived of it as a boy thing, even in the early 70s. we had HEAPS of it, and my dad made us a huge wooden box for it all. i still love it and wish i had kids around to play it with. this is such a great gift, get her as much as you can and let yourself loose hours at a time imaging whole new worlds! so much fun.

  13. Duplo and Lego were a big feature of my and my sister’s younger lives. We still talk about Duplo fondly, and we still love Lego even now. I don’t remember us playing games like friends, but that might be because there is a fair age gap between us.

    It looks like Alice really took to her Duplo. Also, is that a Mario soft toy I spy in the background of the last photo?

  14. Our DD had Duplo and now it’s one of the favourite toys of GS#1 – it’s purpose is not for building, it’s for scattering pieces all over the room and chewing on selected ones! (I have removed the smallest blocks).

    BTW, my sister and I spent many hours playing with our Sindy (a better looking fashion doll than Barbie) dolls – we had a wardrobe full of clothes for them – some were shop bought but some were homemade, even knitted; dad built the sliding door wardrobe out of scraps of timber.

  15. Having grown up with 3 brothers Lego was a significant section of the toys in our house. We built everything out of lego houses, cars, cities, planets. Lots of fun. The Star Wars Lego sets were a constant source of presents for my little brother.

    We also had Meccano (well my brothers did) but as they got older all the toys became communal for my younger brother and I. You got to build anything you wanted.

    You will have a blast with the Duplo. Also half the fun is knocking down what you built and starting again.

  16. My sister and I used to play houses, which sound fairly similar to your Friends game. But we also had lego, which I loved as a child (I hate it as an adult, because really a lego brick and bare feet really don’t go well together, especially at 4am). And I made countless paper models as well.

    But duplo has advantages that lego doesn’t have – mostly if you are up in the dark at 4am you can see the things spread over the floor and avoid them because they’re bigger!

  17. Our son loooooooved his Duplo blocks. I’m only getting computer time right now because he’s been seized by a Lego inspiration and can’t tear himself away just yet.

  18. I’m old. I am pre-leggo, actually, but we had blocks and Lincoln Logs, and I could entertain myself for hours building things. But then the dinosaurs would come and knock them over . . .

  19. When my oldest was small I read somewhere that part of the reason that girls lag behind in math and spatial skills is because they don’t often have building blocks as children. I don’t know if this is true still or not, if blocks still aren’t considered a typical girl toy. My kids have always had a mix of “girl” and “boy” toys. G began clicking the big Legos together very, very early because they were lying around. Now she plays with the smaller ones just as often, since her brothers’ rooms are filled with them. We also have wooden building blocks, tree blocks, and big pillow-like cushiony blocks, which have got to be one of the best playthings we ever purchased, since all three kids still play with them nearly ten years after we got them!

    Your friends game is precious, thank you for sharing! My friends and I used to play “office” with paperwork and stamps and much officiousness.

  20. When I saw the post title, I had mentally readied myself for a quilting tutorial, but no! Really truly building blocks.
    I may have gone a little overboard with duplo and lego when my children were small. Sometimes I even let them play with it. I loved the duplo trains and tracks. How boring just to have enough track for a loop or a figure of 8. We had a bridge and tracks that separated in 2 directions. Such fun.

  21. I loved Lego, I was so excited when I got some roof tiles, some clear windows and eventually a light powered by a battery and a little motor!!! Duplo is great and if Alice ever likes horses there’s Lego Belville. You are so lucky to have walkie-talkies!!! I was never very into the domestic side of things, I lined up my golliwog and my elephant and Sooty and the Barbies with their arms and legs in the wrong places and played schools!!!
    How fabulous that the Duplo can spell Alice’s name. I am especially glad the C is green!!!

  22. I can’t believe you’d never heard of duplo!! We never had duplo but had lego (kept in 2 old school ports – it still is!) and I used to love playing with the lego. Mostly I built houses and cars (not space ships). It’s interesting, because I had a similar upbringing to you (small town, domestic concerns) but I can’t remember ever playing “friends” or any other house type games. Maybe because I didn’t have a sister, or any siblings close in age to me? I think you will LOVE duplo!

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