Puzzle people again
We did a puzzle on Monday. For six hours.
I can’t tell you the last time I concentrated on any single thing for one hour, let alone six — unless you count the handful of times my husband and I have escaped to a movie in the last year. (That would be two, I think.)
Focus is at a premium. Working from home so much lately has definitely proven that to be true. Before I became a parent, I could never have predicted that the ability to concentrate would suddenly become a luxury — and that I would miss it so much once it was gone.
Spencer, Oliver and I made our way north to visit my in-laws and extended family for Christmas. With more than a foot of snow on the ground in New York, all was hushed and still in my husband’s hometown outside of Buffalo: a huge departure from our fast-paced, go-go-go life in Mar yland.
Coming to Gerry once meant packing lots of books and magazines to enter- tain ourselves between holiday visitors. In the bad weather, we were essential- ly housebound. But since Oliver was born, it’s also meant a chance to unwind with other eyes on our toddler. In their baby-proofed home, my mother- and fa- ther-in-law provide a respite for two tired adults. Visiting Gerry actually does feel like a vacation, because it’s the biggest break we get.
At home, there are dishes to wash and bathrooms to scrub and laundry to put away. There’s a fridge to clean out, socks to match up, soap dispensers to refill. In short: there is always, always something to do. Something to clean. A project to polish. A task needing attention. I find it hard to relax.
But time slows in New York. I am not home, so I can’t be constantly and irritat- ingly caught up in housekeeping. It feels futile, anyway — like we spend so much time scrubbing counters only for more crumbs to appear. Kind of makes you want to give up. (I mean, I won’t — but the thought hasn’t escaped me.)
We could spend most of Monday working a 750-piece panoramic puzzle of the Las Vegas Strip because we had family to run interference with Oliver. My normally short attention span was laser-focused on finding tiny bits of pink sunset or dark shadows of parking lots. It felt good to be consumed by a totally random project: to watch one hour, two, three tick by surrounded by family as we all came together with a common goal.
It was just a puzzle. We weren’t curing cancer or solving international disputes — but it felt just as good to work with cousin Katie and Aunt Terri on our Vegas photo. We talked about everything and nothing, catching up on life since we last saw each other six months ago. It was long dark by the time they went home, but Spencer and I stayed hunched over the dining room table, fingers rotating pieces over and over.
By 9 p.m., we had a dozen of the 750 pieces left . . . which should have made completion easy, but it didn’t. The last 12 or so were plaguing us. Spencer worked in one corner while I tackled the other, frequently switching back and forth when our eyes began to cross. My mother-in-law popped in to help, too.
It was amazing how, when we’d rotate, I’d immediately see where one of Spencer’s pieces neatly fit — and he’d easily place a few more of mine. Sometimes we’re too close to something, you know? Too close to notice the nuances, the delicate details.
Everyone can benefit from some fresh perspective.
We drove home Thursday, making the long trek with the little guy in the backseat for the third or fourth time since he was born. I felt lighter heading back: refreshed, even. Most of my Christ- mas break accomplishments involved snacking on peanut butter blossom cookies, sleeping in and chasing Oliver around with his new race cars, but it was enough to be away from it all for a little while — away with extra feet to chase down the baby.
We never finished the puzzle, actual- ly. With the last six pieces in hand, we spent an hour trying to force them into place — but something was off, and we couldn’t figure out what. Other pieces placed incorrectly, throwing off the final result? Who knows. But with Las Vegas dominating half of the dining room table, we finally gave up. I thought it would bother me, but it was actually liberating.
It’ll probably be years before we attempt another puzzle, but it also felt good to work side-by-side with Spencer on a project that didn’t involve coaxing a toddler to try green beans. We’re teammates who rise at 1 a.m. for diaper changes, partners who anticipate one another’s needs before having to ask, but it was nice to be something other than just . . . parents together. We were puzzlers, too. For a little while, anyway. And that was enough.