I certainly wasn’t going to let the boys sit around during the first week of summer and play video games. No sir. I had big plans: walk the new neighborhood discovering the treasures outside our back door and establishing ourselves as regulars at the library and the playground around the corner. Take a picnic to Golden Gate Park. Frequent the local museums. Become a family who cooks together and whimsically creates goodies like sweet potato chips, and kale chips, and banana chips.
It was a chilly, foggy San Francisco summer day – the first of many, I’m sure. The boys had already raced through the comic books they insisted on checking out from the library, and nobody felt like slipping off the mist covered playground equipment around the corner. Our pantry was also suffering from a disappointing lack of kale, sweet potatoes and bananas.
I stood in the middle of the room considering our now limited entertainment options while the boys’ fingers slyly walked themselves to the Playstation controllers, like Thing in “The Addams Family.”
“A puzzle! Puzzles, are fun, and I have a perfect puzzle for us.”
I dug around the cabinet, to find it pristine and unopened, even after two moves. Mickey Mouse in all his glory. Not just any Mickey Mouse, but a mosaic Mickey, in which his diminutive frame is constructed of tiny little scenes from Disney classic movie scenes from “Aladdin,” “Peter Pan,” “Lion King,” and “101 Dalmations.”
The puzzle prep began – a cleared spot on the floor, a giant plastic lid for the portable puzzle building surface, comfy clothes, and snacks. The 7-year-old took his place next to me and helped rip the plastic film from the box. The almost 13-year-old stretched his lanky frame across the couch above us, typing into his phone what I guessed was a text that read something like, “Sorry friends, I will be unavailable for a bit. I’ll be building a cool puzzle with my cool mom and adorable little brother. It will take a couple of hours, but it will be awesome, then we can start texting again about how much we love our parents and reading.”
“Remember, first we look for the edge pieces, so we can build the frame,” I said as we pulled off the lid. “We’ll knock this thing out before dinner.”
“There must be a mistake, is this two puzzles?” Inside the seemingly bottomless box, were the tiniest puzzle pieces I had ever seen, with only about three colors of the rainbow represented.
I looked at the lid. 1000 pieces. One thousand.
Jake peered down to us from his perch in a way that made it clear Zach and I were on our own.
Do we back down in the face of a challenge? No, of course not. I ignored the voice in the back of my head that plead for me to abandon ship, and find some Play-Do.
“More like a thousand pieces of fun!” we decided and dove in.
“Is this an edge, Mom?”
“How about this?”
“Close, but no. See, it has to be totally straight on one side.”
“Is this an edge?”
“This one’s red, where does it go?”
“I’m not sure. We’re just looking for edges right now, don’t worry about the color yet.”
“Is this an edge?”
“Yes! Yes, it is! Great find!”
“I did it! Aren’t you happy I found that for you, Mom? I need to go to my room for a second.”
You can see where this is going. It wasn’t for a second.
The fate of this puzzle rested with me.
Over the din of the video games that were eventually turned on, the boys threw me an occasional, “Mom, you are so good at puzzles. It’s really shaping up. Look at you go! I can kinda see the picture. Did you forget that we need to eat breakfast/lunch/dinner?”
The floor suddenly was uncomfortable. All the pieces looked the same. I was missing two edges. I had other stuff to do. All this squinting at the tiny pictures of Mufasa were going to give me crow’s feet. I wanted to quit. The boys were right there, occasionally paying attention, though. What would my quitting teach them? Anyway, they would probably want to help when it started to come together, and when they saw how much fun I was having.
Over the course of the next three days, my mind raced over the doldrums of methodically scanning the example picture for the location of the tiny Princess Jasmine who was looking slightly down and to the left, as opposed to the right-facing Jasmine, or the Jasmine glancing over her shoulder. Wait, is this helping my healing brain, or making it worse? I should give up. No, it makes much more sense for a grown woman to obsess over a Mickey Mouse puzzle for three days, than to give up just to do “laundry” and “clean the bathroom.”
It was a silly puzzle, but I learned a few things.
I can now pick out, from a mile away, all of the gradations in the red and blue color families.
Putting tiny dalmations in a puzzle is just mean.
There are always moments in the course of a puzzle, where you are certain at least three key pieces fell on the floor of the puzzle factory, and were never included in your box.
“Good job Mom,” even when being delivered between pitches of an MLB Playstation game, makes you feel good.
The boys are surprisingly self-sufficient. And they were interested in helping after all. When I had 980 pieces put together, they decided to jump in for the assist, and have subsequently, and repeatedly reminded me of their contributions. In a moment of weakness, I allowed myself to participate in a kerfuffle with the youngest about who would have the honor of putting in the final piece. It was me. I put it in. And it was wonderful.