When my son was growing up, we always enjoyed building and playing with Lego sets.  His eyes would twinkle when we purchased a new set to build. He would smile as we built the sets. As he grew older, we transitioned to playing Lego video games together.  As he moved into the teenage years, like many teens and their parents, we grew apart. In his mid-to-late teens, mental illness issues clouded my son’s mind. As I watched powerlessly, he lost the twinkle in his eyes.  

By the time he turned 18, he was no longer able to live with our family.   After a period of my son being homeless, we were able to settle him into an apartment for him to live safely.  He can live independently, and we can visit him but also be ready to leave when he “goes off.” Many days, we will stop by for 5 minutes to visit before an issue arises. Some days, we can watch an entire sporting event or build an entire Lego set without issue.  

Mental illness is hard for the person experiencing it, but I think it is even harder for the family. Society does not understand how I constantly worry about how my son will react to simple everyday events. People do not understand how isolating it can be to live in fear that today could be the day that triggers an explosive episode.  My son looks normal, so others do not understand what the issues are with him. It’s not like he has a physical disability that can be seen. Mental illness is silent and invisible yet has a powerful impact on the person and their friends and family. 

We were advised by his therapist that we need to find a way to connect with him with a mutual interest.  Toys may not seem like a connection point, but they became the one common interest that we shared. So, we started to collect toys from his favorite Anime shows along with Star Wars Legos sets and mini-figures. He started to show me toy photography on Instagram, and he suggested that we take photos of our setups. Yes, this sent us happily down a rabbit hole of gathering items needed to tell stories of our toys.

Now, my son and I are sharing a passion for toys and photography. But more importantly, we are sharing time and building our relationship. We talk every day about new toy figures and new photo setups. And most weekends, we travel to toy shows or find new toy shops to visit.  These outings will include a meal and a discussion on how we should set up the toy for our next photo shoot. For some reason, these toy adventures allow him to stay focused and “keep it together”.  

It may seem overdramatic to say toys and toy photography saved my relationship with my son. But Toys give us a common bond.  By building Legos and hunting for new figures, we have reconnected. While he continues to struggle with his mental health every day, he and I have reconnected which has helped him. Toys have also brought back the twinkle in his eyes.   

All the photos included in this post are images we’ve created together over this past last year.

Do you have a story that you want to share about your relationship with toys? If so, we want to hear from you! We may even feature your story on the blog.