Growing up, I was never into building things, choosing to immerse myself in my fantasy worlds, books and the lives of my dolls. I colored outside the lines, scrawled my name on everything, rushed through learning to write letters, skipped to the end of books so that I could do what I loved most, immersing myself in relationships. My brother was the complete opposite, patiently solving puzzles, excelling at math, pursuing physics and building LEGOs, choosing to create his imaginary worlds between blocks. His LEGO love grew into models with thousands of pieces; the Imperial Star Destroyer, space shuttles, and car replicas. When he chose Engineering and I chose English, everyone shook their head yes. It made sense based on our childhood choices. He had the gift of patience and I had the gift of words.
“You aren’t patient.” This reminder came up to explain the little mistakes I made (stunning given that I was notorious for my editorial nitpicking), my seeming lack of attention to detail (which was always amazing given that I remember the most random and useless bits of information) and would be justified by my non-affinity for traditional tasks that illustrated “patience” like building LEGOs or voluntarily studying calculus in college (also incredible because I pride my analytical abilities; I could give the FBI a run for their money with my stalking abilities). I accepted this characterization, internalized it and never bothered to look at a LEGO set or activities that hadn’t seemed interesting to me before. When I asked myself why, the answer was deafening – I didn’t have patience! I used more of my right brain. I was an emotional soul. I lacked attention to detail. That’s just who I was.
While dealing with the loss of a friend earlier in the month, I found myself turn to a leftover LEGO set my brother was convincing my mother to finish. As I turned each page of instructions, my logical brain was on overdrive while my emotional brain finally was able to marinate. I was processing so much. When I finished the set, I felt a sense of accomplishment; I had effectively turned little piles of plastic bricks into something that resembled reality, troubleshooting by trusting in my abilities.
So I write this to say, we often don’t do things we could enjoy just because it didn’t suit us or we heard all the chatter that was now characterizing our ability and then we chose to believe it. Maybe we didn’t take to a particular activity because we weren’t in the mood, maybe it wasn’t the right age as temperaments change as children develop, maybe that particular set wasn’t interesting because of how things are marketed; these lines are all so arbitrarily drawn. There are a myriad of reasons that are not identity characteristics; choose to reason with these instead of believing everything you hear said about you. As a related side note to readers + parents, words do matter – seemingly inconsequential ones often hurt the most and the way we choose to characterize everyone, especially children, can be so significant in the grand scheme of things.
I built this LEGO in about 2.5 hours. It felt so weird to be doing this and not be reading a book, cooking something or binge watching The Crown as would be expected of me. I did it my own way – sorting the bricks in the box, building on my bed, pausing to read the trivia in the booklet and listening to French rap along the way. There was a strange giddiness throughout the process, an excitement to finish and an acknowledgement that I was doing something I didn’t think I was capable of. In typical Radhika fashion, I rushed through building the set, sacrificing an hour of sleep to keep going. Sure the tower fell off the top at the end but I reengineered it to finally stick. The four little squares that I incorrectly attached? I just reattached them. I actually enjoyed the process. I was so proud of myself.
In those 2.5 hours, I reflected on my “lack of patience” and managed to build a mental tower of reasons why I actually do have a lot of patience; patience at work, patience talking to difficult people, patience doing tasks that may seem beneath me, patience cooking, patience going out of my way to do nice things for people (yes this is selfish but makes me happy), patience commuting, patience internalizing my frustration so as not to lash out as much (ok, still working on this), patience tolerating all that this year has hurled at me. Patience, like all characterizations, is a construct based off of ones’ own realizations and criteria. It is also a work in progress because we are constantly learning, growing, developing and adjusting to different circumstances; pieces might fall off here and there but that is starkly different from a complete lack thereof. It is also a choice – you choose to be patient for things that are important to you. I defined this construct for myself, choosing to build an Eiffel Tower but also, my own sense of identity along the way.