I’m tired of apologizing for things this summer. I’m tired of explaining I haven’t gotten to email, I can’t get to my Facebook. I’ve had the same chipped toenail polish on my feet for maybe a month now. And I’m not going to apologize for that either. It just isn’t important enough.
My goal for these two short months of summer was to spend this block of time absolutely putting my kids first. As a part-time working Mom (everyone tells me its full time but I fake it by working at home) I never quite feel as if I’m completely turning my high beams on my kids. There is always something I have to do, groceries, work, dinner, simmering in the back of my mind.
That’s why I did something that is not in my nature; something that would connect me more tightly to my kids, slow my pace, make me still. I ordered an old-fashioned wooden jigsaw puzzle online from Liberty Puzzle in Boulder Colorado. I had seen these puzzles at a girlfriend weekend in Montana and been captivated by the intricate wooden puzzle pieces; shapes of people, buffalos, shooting stars and so many more. They were works of art.
Not being a puzzle person, or even much of a game/card enthusiast, I found myself surprisingly excited at the choices on the website. So many pictures, how many pieces? I wanted something that would be a long-term project, that we could go back and forth with and spend minutes and even hours lost in the search for building and creating. I wanted to feel the triumph of teamwork and to give us all that sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing a section. We chose a Currier and Ives print of a train, mostly because it had the largest number of pieces we could find.
When the puzzle arrived and I dumped out all the intricate pieces I felt dismayed for a moment. What was a novice doing setting the bar so high? My girls looked up at me expectantly. How would we ever begin? My first inclination, being a type A person, was to organize all the sky blue pieces and then the border pieces and then the smoke stack gray pieces and the grass on the landscape.
“No,” my girls said in a chorus. “We want to do it our way.” And they began with a little section, building it out and plucking the pieces from the giant pile. I would have to learn to do it their way. Wasn’t that the point after all? not to rush through this, but to pick our way, to follow their lead.
This past spring was a flurry of speaking engagements and a book tour whirlwind, of leaving my kids for nights at a time. I missed the very last day of third grade of the very last kids I’ll ever have. I came home to their artwork already unpacked on the table, the backpacks, empty and limp.
On the way home from a book reading I picked up a copy of Ann Hood’s “Comfort.” We had met one another at a book event and had made a connection. I hesitated before opening the slim white cover, knowing it was a book about the unexpected loss of her daughter. In beautiful and painful prose she weaves the agony of what I consider to be the thing from which you never recover.
In the book, she describes how she and her daughter have what they call the “puzzle room” where they work on puzzles together after school, after homework, where they find the rhythm of mother and daughter banter.
It was reading this on the plane that made me decide I needed my own puzzle experience with my family. I didn’t want to lose them, to have them grow up and not be able to say “we used to do puzzles together.” Just once, I wanted us to be puzzle people.
The puzzle is still all over the dining room table. We find bits of time to do it. We laugh, we get mad at each other and I break up twin-type altercations, but mostly it feels like summer to me. The crickets buzz at night, the geese honk out on the lake, and wispy clouds sit low on the mountains on many of the misty mornings. I can hear a whipoorwill call and the scamper of chipmunks around my flower beds. As I walk by the dining room table before anyone else is awake and look at all those uncoupled pieces I don’t feel the sense of what is undone. Instead, I feel a satisfaction in what we will do together, on our own timetable.