Puzzle Pieces

How do you begin a jigsaw puzzle? Are you a dive-in-and-do-it kind of person? Or do you prefer to get-your-bearings and organize all the pieces first? Do you like to work the same puzzle more than once or do you need a fresh challenge every time? Do you enjoy the size puzzle you can finish in one sitting or do you look forward to a week-long endeavor and even drag your feet a bit when it appears you’re almost finished?

My youngest son and I started a new puzzle over the weekend – a 1,000 piece picture of Doctor Who’s Exploding Tardis. (Fellow Whovians will understand, all others feel free to just smile politely and keep reading.) Parenting experts have long touted the benefits of talking with your children at the dinner table, but I have much better conversations with my boys while working a puzzle – especially our youngest. Plus, there’s no side agenda of also trying to teach table manners. We can just work and chat (or not).

I begin every puzzle by turning all the pieces over. My mother taught me that. Like saving my dessert until after I’ve eaten my vegetables, it delays the fun, but is necessary and worth the wait. Then I work by natural groupings – edge pieces, sky pieces, pieces with lettering. All the men in my house tend to pick up a piece and try to figure out where it goes. I find that maddening and can’t begin to figure out what’s on one puzzle piece until I can see it in context with the pieces that surround it.

I’ve spent a lot of my day thinking about how my approach to puzzles echoes my approach to life. Maybe it doesn’t, but I want it to, because seeing the patterns and metaphors in my life helps me find meaning and make sense of it. I know that’s why I’ve always enjoyed jigsaw puzzles – creating order out of chaos, solving something tangible. The size of the puzzle never gives me pause, as long as I have a table large enough to hold all the pieces.

I have no idea how many puzzle pieces are in the real life puzzle I busted open this fall. Nor do I have a box with the finished picture on it that I can work from. I just have to keep reminding myself that I love puzzles. Always have. And the finished project will be beautiful.

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