A couple weeks ago, Miriam and Elisha attended a National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) builder’s workshop at their elementary school. For me, this offered the opportunity to drop them off for an hour and drink in peace. For them, it meant a chance to enter a school-wide competition with a lot of their friends, as well as to play with Legos. Neither Miriam nor Elisha are huge Lego builders at this point, although they enjoy playing with things that are already built. We’ve had a bit more success with Lincoln Logs, which I was surprised to discover still existed.
Each kid received a few Legos, a sheet of aluminum foil, a piece of string, and instructions to build a project related to the construction industry. Parents were excluded from the cafeteria in order to ensure that the kids worked on their own. There was a lot of variance in how long it took the kids to finish; many were more interested in playing in the gym downstairs than in building. The kids were allotted about forty-five minutes; Miriam took 35, and Elisha was one of the last in the school to conduct an exit interview with the judges.
Initially, Elisha explained to me that she had built a milk machine. This didn’t seem to have much relation to the construction industry (her sister built a mountain), and so I pretty much wrote off her chances. When we were allowed in the exhibition room, she showed me her entry, and it was hard to tell precisely what it was.
And so I was surprised when the judges announced that Elisha had won first place in her age group (K-1), and even more surprised when they announced that she had won the overall competition.
Turns out that Elisha’s had thought through her entry in more depth than I had imagined. She had initially intended to build a giraffe, but decided that it was too difficult and would take too much time. The backup, a “milk machine,” was actually a milk processing plant, with the foil representing a big pond of milk, the string a pipeline, and the blocks the various stages of processing and distribution. At the end of the picture you can see crumpled foil being sent out on trucks for delivery.
The engineers in attendance found this explanation particularly compelling. After raining a variety of gift certificates on Elisha, one of the judges tried to explain the terms “mechanical engineering” and “electrical engineering.” I don’t think that she was paying any attention, having decided that the biggest achievement of the evening was outdoing her sister.
For her part, Miriam’s initial reaction was not positive. She was irritated that she hadn’t won, and more irritated that her sister had won. But she held it together; no falling apart. This was a respectable disappointment, focused not on the judges or the structure of the competition, but on an unhappiness that she hadn’t done better. Over the next few days her attitude evolved, and her sister’s victory became a point of pride in conversation with people outside the family.