Suzanne Tobias

January 8, 2014

Jigsaw puzzle an opportunity to slow down and focus

It was kind of an afterthought – a $12 jigsaw puzzle added to my Amazon shopping cart to bring my order to free-shipping level.

It was kind of an afterthought – a $12 jigsaw puzzle added to my Amazon shopping cart to bring my order to free-shipping level.

(Better to get a $12 item than pay $8 for shipping, right? That’s how my mind works, anyway.)

I figured the 1,000-piece puzzle – a collage of vintage board game boxes featuring the versions of Clue, Monopoly, Twister and Tiddly Winks that I remembered from childhood – would be a fun little extra under the Christmas tree. It was on sale. My husband, Randy, grew up loving puzzles. Our kids have enjoyed them, but it had been years since they had attempted one.

So I ordered the puzzle, wrapped it and tagged it “To: Randy and kids.”

I’m not a puzzle enthusiast. One thousand oddly shaped, multicolored pieces of cardboard lying on a table are about as tempting to me as two weeks of recycling lying scattered in the yard after a strong wind. Except I tend to pick up the recycling, for the sake of our neighbors and trash hauler.

There’s no such incentive for completing a jigsaw puzzle. I’d blame my undiagnosed attention deficit disorder, but I seem to be OK with 500-page novels and boxes full of IKEA furniture parts. I can watch “Downton Abbey” marathons or bake cookies for hours.

A puzzle, though? No thanks. Too intimidating, or boring, or exasperating, or something.

Randy laughed when he unwrapped the box, then showed the kids.

“Oh!” said Jack, 13. “Can we open it now?”

We held him off until after Christmas dinner. But minutes after I left to work a late holiday shift, Randy tracked down an old card table in the basement, and he and the kids started in.

By the time I got home, they had completed the edge pieces and were patiently, methodically filling in the frame.

I was amazed. I stared at the scattered pieces, grouped into vague color families, and back at the puzzle. I pointed to a gap on the Clue box, a noticeable missing “Bro” in “Parker Brothers Detective Game.”

“You haven’t found this yet? This one should be easy,” I said, and began scanning the red pieces, searching for “Bro.”

“Here she goes,” Randy told Jack, who responded with a wry smile.

“What?” I said.

“Dad told us how you do puzzles,” Jack said.

Oh, really?

“You find one little piece and act all happy,” Jack said. “Then you go off and do something else.”

What can I say? He speaks the truth. This time was no different, as I spotted the “Bro” piece, squeezed it into its slot, pumped my fist and went looking for leftover cheese ball and crackers.

Over the course of the next day and a half, I found two more pieces and felt thoroughly accomplished. Randy and the kids assembled the other 997.

Hunched over the card table, they sorted, searched and matched. They tried and failed and tried again. They chatted about school, work and friends. Both kids went hours without checking their phones or popping in ear buds.

An hour at a time, sometimes longer, they slowed down and focused. In our distraction-filled world, they remembered that worthwhile things take longer than a few minutes. They worked diligently, peacefully, often silently, side by side.

I promised to preserve the finished puzzle and mount it for framing. It will look great on the wall of the game room, where Yahtzee dice scatter the table after our most recent game. I’ll get to it soon.

In the meantime, I’ll buy another puzzle. Because that was $12 well spent.

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