Penkava: Smarter than a Lego in a cabbage patch

I grew up in a Legoless world. There were no Lego London Bridges or Eiffel Towers or Taj Mahals. No vehicle sets of Batmobiles or cement mixers or prisoner transporters. No minifigures of alien avengers or jungle explorers or Homer Simpsons.

And we certainly didn’t have a 3,803-piece Star Wars Death Star. The only Death Star we had was when we Scotch-taped our Pick Up Stix together into a menacing shape and tried to get someone to sit on them.

Nope, if we wanted to build something, we started with making wobbly towers with our alphabet blocks. Tinkertoys were a step up, but we eventually graduated to constructing rustic cabins with our Lincoln Logs, minus the Abraham Lincoln minifigure. I remember drawing a face with a beard on one of the little logs and pretending it was Lincoln. That worked out fine until I accidentally used him as part of a wall. I couldn’t remove him because he said a house divided cannot stand.

By the time I grew up and became a dad, Legos had come onto the scene. Our two daughters showed no interest in Lego Inter-Planetary Shuttles and Gas Stations and Pirate Ships. They were more into She-Ra Princess Power Dolls and Cabbage Patch Kids named Faricia Scarlett and Myra Hope.

But when the boys came along, it was open season on Legos. It was like they had plastic flowing through their veins. Their first words were “standardized interlocking block components.” Their next words were “Toys R Us.” In my haste to synergize creativity and play, I had unwittingly begun years of subsidizing the plastics industry.

But my wife and I did devise a way of controlling our boys’ lust for Legos. We also applied this strategy to the girls in their quest to enlarge their cabbage patch with more Arelia Leilas and Landon Chaunceys.

All we did was make a simple rule: If you ever directly asked for something when you were at Toys R Us, you would never, ever get it. Period. Once you blurted out the question, the jig was up. And when the kids learned that we meant business, trips to the toy store were never stressful. At least for my wife and I.

The kids, however, quickly figured out ways to give us hints at what they wanted without actually asking for it. They became masters at, “Look Father, isn’t the intricate design of this Lego Red Thunder Helicopter captivating?” and “Mother dear, don’t you just want to hug that adorable Desirae Chandelle?”

Of course, when the budget allowed, we would eventually send our kids racing back up the aisles to grab their heart’s desire. And so our house became filled with dimpled dolls and plasticized projects, all waiting to be outgrown and exiled to the great “Toys Were Us” in the attic.

With the arrival of our grandchildren, the large box of incredibly expensive plastic shards and the giant bag of shriveled cabbage have once again come upon the scene. Fortunately, the dolls elicited a unanimous “Ew!” from the grandkids and are now once again doing their duty as part of the R48 attic insulation program.

But the next generation of Lego zealots is here. And, like the previous generation, their present creative needs have far exceeded our current supplies and budget. So we’re off with the grandkids to Toys R Us to seek the $199 Lego Police Station Set. I can only hope they make the mistake of asking for it when we get there. (Snicker)

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. Did you know there are almost 100 Legos for every human being on the planet? No wonder we’re always stepping on them at night.  He can be reached at

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