Sometimes you spend the weekend cleaning. Sometimes you’re outside in the street going for a walk or riding a bike. Or sometimes, like one recent weekend, you build a robot.
No, not the kind with the square head, a few stories tall, running berzerk from the science fair and causing chaos in downtown Metropolis. This one was a wee bit smaller, had four legs, a tail, and green.
Our son received The Discovery Kids Robot Chameleon as a Christmas gift and several times since has asked to put it together. While the box technically says 12 and up, we figured at 8 years old, if he and I worked together, we might be able to bring life to this little green robotic reptilian with the same ferocity of a pre-teen.
So, starting mid-morning, we emptied the box, pieces scattered across the dining room table and got to work, being careful to only pull out pieces from their plastic framing as we needed them, as to not mix up which parts were which. It started with a tiny little motor around which we built a Chameleon-like head, bulbous eyes and all. Piece by piece, gear by gear, we worked.
A few hours passed and we broke for lunch, picking up afterward with the bulk of the Chameleon’s torso, encasing another small motor. Wires, plastic, cogs, we were like Dr. Frankenstein, furiously working to bring our creature to life. Missing the dramatic effect of lightning in the air as we flipped the switch (far less dramatic than the kind on the wall you see in movies), we got ready. Our hours of work are about to culminate in this very moment. The switch turned, we watched. We waited. And finally – nothing.
Something had gone wrong. Our son’s deflation and my frustration was palpable, and he was ready to call it quits when I asked him to remember how many time he had asked to put this together, that we can’t turn back after all the work we’ve put in. He sighed at me in the way all kids do to their parents regardless of age, and begrudgingly humored me as I pulled out the instructions, and we walked ourselves back through the steps, trying to figure out what might have tripped things up. It was then that we noticed two small pieces that had gone unused. How is that possible? We thought we followed the directions to the letter!
That’s when probably the biggest lesson came out of the day. Not instruction-following, not engineering, not even science of any kind. No, the biggest lesson out of this mechanical mess we had found ourselves in? Patience.
Because it was only with some patience did we take the time to disassemble our little green friend and realize that two parts had looked so similar, with the exception of size, that we mistook them and had the wrong parts in the wrong place. It wasn’t until we took the entire robot apart that we could see it for ourselves. But though so very small, those pieces were part of a bigger plan and without them, a turning motor had no way to catch and turn another piece that in turn moved more pieces, and sparked life (or at least movement) into our little Chameleon Bot.
So, we backed up, almost to the beginning stages where the mistake was made and reassembled (using the correct parts this time). Once again, step-by-step, piece by piece, we assembled. Could he/we have run off to do something else and tossed the robot into a box for another time? Maybe. Could be. Would we ever get around to it again after the past few hours? I can’t say for sure. So we just stayed the course. And in time, before us once again, stood this little green robot with four legs, and a switch waiting to once again flip.
This time was a completely different story. The little green mouth opening and closing, the lights on its spine flashing – when suddenly, the legs sped around and around, cruising across the table and knocking papers, tools, and anything else right out of its path.
That afternoon, every little deflated, frustrated moment in the process seemed like forever, but we eventually got there.
The past year has had a lot of moving parts to it, and sometimes even when we’ve all been in the same space, we haven’t exactly been together. So, despite the frustration, the exhaustion, the just-want-to-be-done-with-it moments spent piecing this little green Chameleon together, the patience we had to force on ourselves was only half the benefit. Slowing down, seeing it through, even when we had to try again and again and again, took time. In the end, no matter how irritated we may have gotten along the way that afternoon, it was an afternoon spent together, and that made it all worth it.