LEGO vs. the Flood

We sat on the floor in Connor’s room for a while this afternoon. I sorted mounds of LEGO while Connor built things and Ethan chewed on the body of a T-Rex.

Earlier, we had gone down to a community devastated by floods to hand out food and bottles of water.

“What did you think about that?” I asked Connor as we sat in his clean, dry room. “All the mud? All the ruined houses and the people throwing out all their stuff?”

“It was pretty cool,” he said, in his five-year-old way.

Ok, I think. So he wasn’t scared by it.

“What did you think was cool about it?”

“I dunno. It was just cool. And it was sad.”

So there’s that, at least.


Today marks five days since the river banks broke and the floods destroyed so many parts of Calgary. 100,000 people—10% of the city’s population—were evacuated; some of them are home again, many are not. But it’s not like any of them can simply unlock their front doors and walk in as though they had been on vacation.

In the worst areas, there is mud everywhere – contaminated mud that drips from the couches and lamps and appliances that sit on front lawns. People have had to rip flooring and carpet and drywall from their homes. The streets are now full. There are huge trucks blocking streets as they pump water from basements. They are loud. The people doing the clearing are wearing rubber boots, gloves, and masks. They are covered in mud.


Having two small kids, one of whom is still breastfeeding, makes it difficult to help as much as I feel I should. As much as I want to. I feel as though I should don old jeans and put on my boots and take some gloves and a shovel and just start digging people out. And not stop until all the mud and guck and crap is gone.

But I can’t really do that, so I have done other things. I’ve dropped off supplies in three different parts of the city. I’ve tweeted out information trying to connect people who can help with people who need help. I’ve donated money.

But I needed to do more, and I wanted Connor to help. So this morning we went over to an affected community not far from where we live and walked the muddy streets where homeowners and neighbours and volunteers are trying to clean up.

We went with my friend Erin and her two kids, who had loaded up their wagon with fruit and water and granola bars. Connor and I baked muffins and took those along with apples, bottles of water, and protein bars. We stopped every person we saw to ask if they needed something.


It’s hard to help a five-year-old understand what has happened and what it means for the people affected. A big pile of soggy drywall is meaningless to Connor. We’ve told him people have had their houses ruined and have to throw out most of their things, including their toys. He knows that, even if he doesn’t entirely understand it. In one breath he’s talking about how wet things are and in the next he’s asking to go to the toy store to browse the LEGO aisle. To him, “going without” means not getting the new set he has his eye on.

I don’t expect (or even really want) him to understand the level of devastation we’ve seen here. But I did want him to be involved in helping. So we went.

He was entirely nonchalant, no matter what we saw. He insisted on being the one to give people the bottles of water and he wanted to hand out the muffins. But he was unfazed by the mud and the piles of rubble. Such is your perspective on natural disasters when you’re five, I guess.


LEGO sorted by color

At bedtime, after we brushed teeth and read stories and turned out the light, I looked over at the bins of sorted LEGO. They looked bright and clean and perfect, unlike the muddy dollhouse I saw this morning sitting atop of a pile of rubble. Clean LEGO, dirty dollhouse. What a world of difference a few kilometres makes.

“How was your day?” I asked Connor, beginning the nighttime ritual.

“Good!” he said. I could tell he was deeply satisfied, though I wasn’t sure whether it was from being a helper or because I (finally) sat with him to sort LEGO.

“What was your favourite part?”

He thought hard.

“That we got to stay home this afternoon.”

Ah, I thought. It was the LEGO.

“That was your favourite part?”

“Well, no. I just said that to make sure you knew. My favourite part was giving people water.”

He looked almost embarrassed. He likes praise, but often shies away from it.

“That was my favourite part too,” I told him. “I’m really glad you came with me. I was really proud of you today.”

He rolled over and then over again, burying his face between the bed and his wall. This is his way – hiding and playing rather than acknowledging.

“Were you proud of yourself today?” I prompted.

“Yes,” he admitted with a smile.

So there’s that.

The pride, the knowing – it’s there. He has taken it in, in his five-year-old way. The carefully sorted LEGO will be scattered again, but this—the feeling of being there and knowing he helped—will remain.





  1. Anonymous says:


  2. You’re so right – the “being there and knowing that he helped”. I’m glad we went with you guys too. Tonight Mia told me that Connor is her “best bud” because they did that together. I thought that was cute.

  3. I think it’s wonderful that you involved Connor in this. Love your hearts.

  4. How wonderful that you involved him in the day and that he knows you were helping those who need it.

  5. so great that he came with you to experience what was happening and how to give to others during this time.

  6. I love that you did this. It’s so hard to figure out what’s getting through, and yet, it all is, for sure. (hugs) I hope you’re doing okay.

  7. Isn’t it amazing to see the understanding, at his level at 5? He knows what he did was a good thing; he knows that you were helping others. That is a good feeling, even at 5.

  8. What a beautiful way to teach Connor how to be a good neighbor and share it with him. He may not talk about it a lot but he will hold onto this feeling and it will be an amazing thing for him as he grows up.

  9. I love that you did this, Robin. It’s so very important to include our kids when we do good in the world. It’s how they learn to be good, helpful people too.

  10. I think this will have a bigger impact on him than you can imagine.

  11. This is great! I’ve taken Shelby with me both to donate things to Goodwill and to stuff backpacks with basic necessities for kids in need. I also don’t expect her to truly grasp what it means, but I do think it’s important to plant a seed in her head about what it means to help others and, also, to be grateful for what you have. Good job, mama!

  12. This is so, so sad- but also inspiring. You’ve got a sweet little guy there.

  13. You are such a great person and Mom. xo

  14. I’m so glad you were able to help in the ways you did. It’s hard with young kids. That’s exactly how I felt during and after the wildfires that spread throughout our area a couple of years ago.

    I’m glad Connor got to help too. Those things, little by little, are important. (Rachel shies away from too much praise too.)

  15. I loved this. It made me smile. A wonderful mama and her wonderful son.

  16. Hi! I just wanted to take a moment to express our family’s gratitude to all the amazing folks such as yourself who have been taking the time to bring around snacks, water, clean gloves, masks, and smiles. We live in High River, just a few doors from the river, and our house needs to be completely bulldozed (no word yet on whether the province will be helping us with that, not to mention our sizeable mortgage on a now worthless property).
    But, to get to my point, our kids’ lego was nicely sorted, just like your son’s, and I’d love if I could somehow save it, wash it, bleach it, something? All their toys are completely ruined, but I grabbed the Lego, with hopes of keeping it for them. Any ideas would be super. Thanks!

    • Hi Annie. I’m so sorry to hear about your house. It’s unbelievable to hear all these stories of families going through this.

      There’s actually some information on the LEGO site about how to clean it (including sanitizing):

      “We recommend that you clean or wash your LEGO parts only by hand at max. 40°C or 104°F. Higher temperatures may affect the quality of the LEGO parts. You can add a mild detergent to the water, followed by rinsing with clear water. Please don’t put your bricks in the washing machine or dishwasher or attempt to dry them in ovens, microwaves or with hair dryers. Any electrical parts, such as cables, motors, battery compartments, can only be wiped off with alcohol. Air-dry parts at room temperature. For disinfecting please use mild bleach.”

      How much do you have? It might work to toss it all in a bathtub with some bleach. Then you could give it a good rinse and let it dry and it should be fine to continue using. Do you have a place you could do that? If not, let me know and we’ll see if we can put together a LEGO cleaning brigade. The LEGO must be saved! :)

  17. Thanks Robin!

    That’s great info – thank you for finding it for me. We’re still without internet here; just got a USB stick yesterday because it’s unclear if/when Telus will get us back up and running. So it’s difficult to look things up due to the slow speed. But hey, slow internet is WAY better than no internet! Lol.

    I was thinking about putting it in mesh bags and running it through the dishwasher, but I like your bathtub idea better. There is quite a bit – though not nearly as much as there was before. Most of what was away in the Ikea bins is still okay; just the top couple of inches were washed out and away. Anything on shelves, dressers or the floor though, is floating somewhere downstream by now. So if you live in Medicine Hat or somewhere SE of Calgary where the Highwood enters the Bow, go have a peek and see if you can find some free Lego! It’s my gift to you! Ha ha.

    As for the lack of internet, it’s so hilarious to read the paper or watch news reports on the flooding, trying to glean information about the state of our home or what the government wants those of us who have been denied by our insurance companies to do. At the end of every news report or article it always says, “For more information, go to“. Which is ridiculously funny, because anyone who was really hit hard with flooding definitely doesn’t have internet access, even going on a month later. Do the news channels seriously have no idea what’s going on down here? It looks like a third world country! Those of us who have been “let back in” our homes are still months or years away from being able to move back in, if we ever will.

    It’s easy to feel like the rest of the province is starting to forget and move on, while we’re still mucking out basements and coming to terms with losing our life’s savings, baby photos, good credit standing, and everything we have worked so hard for.

    Every day the number of volunteers dwindles, and with the mould that’s growing everywhere, I honestly don’t think anyone should be cleaning out these houses, let alone innocent volunteers. But with no guidance from the government, and insurance companies leaving us high and dry (excuse the pun), what else is a person to do?

    The Red Cross is taking donations, but guess what? They’re for immediate emergency needs only. I know many donors expect their $ to go toward helping Albertans clean out the homes and rebuild their lives, but that’s not the case at all. As someone who is here, every day, doing the dirty work, I have to say that if you want to help, do what Robin and her son did: FIND SOMETHING REAL AND TANGIBLE THAT YOU CAN DO, PERSONALLY, TO HELP YOUR NEIGHBOURS.

    Take some water and sandwiches, and just pick a street. Or choose one home, perhaps one with kids around the same ages as yours, and ask what they need. A bag of gently used toys and clothes would be a GODSEND to most of us. Our kids have been through so much, losing literally everything but the clothes on our backs. A new change of clothes and something to play with to take their minds off the mess would be AMAZING.

    Don’t get me wrong; I’m thankful for the services that the Red Cross provided in the first few days after the crisis. Emergency beds, rubber boots, masks, bleach, bottled water… these were all great, and very appreciated. But now that we’re not in “emergency mode” anymore, it’s my belief that most of the money that hard-working Albertans are donating to the Red Cross will simply go into the general fund for the next disaster. Which is fine, if donors are AWARE that this is where their money is going. But, for the most part, I doubt that this is the case.

    Sorry for the rant. Just hoping to maybe get the word out about what we’re going through here. Thank you for your research about the Lego. I know it’s a little ridiculous, but somehow I feel like if I can just save a bit of their Lego, I can start rebuilding a life for them that resembles their old one. Just holding onto one tiny thing that I actually CAN control, in this chaotic situation. So, thank you. And thanks for the water, the muffins, the hug, etc. It means so much to us.

    Love from High River,

    • I totally get it. How old are your kids? Boys or girls? We’re happy to share, and I have some friends I’m sure would like to as well. If you can email me with info on how to get in touch with you or where to drop off some things for your kids that would be great –

  18. Annie, I’m the friend that Robin went down to Bowness with. What street are you on? My kids and I will come down tomorrow afternoon with some stuff. Totally serious. How old are your kids?

  19. That made me cry (again). I was just thinking that now was the time despair would evolve with fewer volunteers and more unhealthy milieus. I am leaving town briefly but let me know what I can add to whatever you and Erin do. I am terribly concerned about Exshaw people too. I also wonder if someone could get donations of a few iPads with SIM cards and a month or two of service for people without Internet and computers? Apple? Rogers? Telus? Let’s try Twitter.

    • I too know a few groups of people that would like to help in any way they are able. I cant help with the internet service, but what else is a top priority?


  1. […] We continued to settle in a new city and I started to hear more and more about Calgary’s mayor. Not a typical politician, Naheed Nenshi is logical and smart and frank and funny. He’s great on Twitter and he responds to completely ridiculous questions with completely awesome answers. And he did a great job during the floods. […]