About a month ago, as I wandered around Walmart in a jump-start-on-Xmess-shopping high, I drifted past the aisles of plastic toys, just for fun. I was feeling a tiny bit nostalgic, but mostly grateful. No longer must I venture into the dark recesses of Plastic Bullshit Town. Then, the puzzles on an end display caught my eye. An urge swept over me, and it screamed, “I want to do a puzzle!” Wait, what?
A burning desire to do a puzzle was not a familiar feeling. I don’t like puzzles. I don’t remember liking puzzles as a child. Our kids only did them occasionally. This positive feeling for puzzles was foreign, perhaps from Iceland, or Yemen, or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, three places I don’t understand at all. But then I imagined myself working quietly in the evening in our reading room as we call it, with a glass of wine and a little music playing, while the teenagers are otherwise occupied. The hubs would be up in his new man-cave, watching a game, or re-watching all the magnificent plays you better believe he didn’t miss the first time, on Sports Center. I would be downstairs, alone, gently and effortlessly doing a puzzle, accomplishing something in the evening that kept me from the temptation of squeezing in a little more work; in fact, it would keep my mind off work completely, and my face off Facebook.
I perused the boxes. I wanted something visually pleasant. I ignored geometric patterns; I laughed at Star Wars scenes. I noticed that puzzles have names! (What I didn’t notice is the piece-count.) Eventually, I found just the right puzzle: A pastoral scene with a couple of horses, giant maple trees full of fall colors, butterflies and birds perched on a row of flowers next to an earthen path that wound through a field of green grass, and a red-and-white barn in the background. The title of the puzzle was “Memory Lane.” This. Was. It.
I brought my puzzle home and set up the scene: A folding card table (legs folded flat) set on top of our coffee table in the reading room, giving me plenty of space to spill out all the pieces. Wow. Those pieces were small. And numerous. I started to sort, knowing this tip even without extensive puzzle experience. Find all the edges first. Similar pieces grouped together. Boy there were a lot of pieces. And small. I picked up the lid. 1,000 pieces. Was that a lot? Did I just jump into the deep end of the puzzle pool on my first real solo-flight? Oh well. I was in no hurry whatsoever. This would be my holiday me-time; in a week or so our tree would be up in the very same room and I would be enjoying the shit out of this puzzle. For as long as I felt like it should take. No deadlines. Just one moment after another of putting little pieces of cardboard together.
Then, one by one, my people came through the front door, which is immediately adjacent to the reading room. I instantly re-thought my public position in the house. Comments ran the gamut, from “You’re doing a puzzle?” to “Puzzle, huh?” from the teenagers, to “WHAT?! A PUZZLE??!!!!” from my husband. That’s when I knew I was in trouble. I sensed a team effort forming.
He plopped down next to me on the couch, spilling the little container of blue-sky pieces all over my lap that I had carefully been sorting. I think it was symbolic.
Then came the talking about my puzzle. So much talking. “So you gotta get the edges first. That’s how you do puzzles.” Great. Now we’ve got rules, I thought to myself. “Then you gotta group them together.” What a great idea I mumbled with a weak smile. “Are you going to finish it tonight?” Perfect. Now I have a deadline. Not enough of those in my life.
“Is it ok if I help you?”
“Sure. It’s fine. But let’s not turn it into a contest.”
“No-no-no. Not a contest. No way!”
Fast forward 24-hours. One previously uninterested teenager walks through the room as I gently toil away and comments, “Wow, that puzzle sure is getting done,” in her medium snarky voice. I retort with, “I bought it to do as I have time; it’s not a race.” Now I was justifying and explaining myself. Fantastic.
A week later teenager number three was on scene, home from college. Now it was on. This puzzle was not going to have ten or twenty pieces at a time added, with three-day breaks in between. Not. A. Chance.
“You have to finish it by Christmas,” she said, on the daily.
“Oh, I’ll be finished, all right,” I said, as I reached for my wine, on the daily.
So we all took turns. And I really didn’t mind. In fact, I enjoyed it. People came and went from the puzzle as they had time, too. They all politely checked in to make sure I didn’t mind. I liked seeing the progress. I spent a little time here, a little time there, and so did the hubs and kids, some more than others. I tried to pick times when I was alone. I don’t know why. I just found it relaxing to problem solve and work it out without any input. From my office upstairs, I could occasionally overhear the others talking extensively about the puzzle as they built it. I didn’t really hear exactly what they were saying, but there was a lot of talking and exclaiming going on. I didn’t get it. What was there to talk about? Puzzling is a silent activity, of that I was sure. Until one morning, as the puzzle was coming to a close…within 100 pieces or so. My husband was getting ready for work. Almost out the door, he lingered as I worked on the puzzle.
“I have a few minutes. I’ll help!”
He immediately found a piece. Then he said, “Look what I did!” I didn’t reply.
Then he said, “Now you have to say, ‘You did good, honey!’
I stared blankly at him.
“Yeah, that’s what you do after every piece we find! You have to encourage each other as you go!” I could tell he was desperate for me to sign on to this idea.
Then he said, “Think of it like when we have sex.”
So, I thought of it that way.
“Okay…so one of us says, ‘Look what I did!’ and then the other says, ‘You did good honey!’
And that, my friends, is how puzzles are like sex. It’s all about teamwork. After all, there is no “i” in “puzzle.”