The Missing Piece

Often when Clara gets frustrated or bored she saunters into the living room for her puzzle therapy. She has eight twelve-piece wooden puzzles of animals and vehicles that she vigorously puts together everyday. She meticulously tries to match one piece with another while muttering a bit compulsively, “Chicken. Chicken. I need chicken. I see chicken. Chicken. Chicken.” to the puzzle of a rooster. When I feel that it’s time for a challenge, I’ll pick up a twenty-four piecer. At Walmart the other day, however, Clara insisted we buy a $2 one-hundred piece puzzle of a cow’s head.

We dumped the one-hundred pieces on the coffee table and I silently marveled at the impossibility of the task. Every piece looked the same—shades of brown cow hair. But Clara is nothing if not methodical and while I tried to piece together the frame, she kept trying to fit piece after piece after piece until she actually found a few matches.

We worked side by side, quiet except for the occasional “I did it!,” and like anything done too often and too long, puzzles have become a metaphor of life. Here’s the thing about the cow: every time we fit one small piece into the whole, the larger picture not only came into sharper focus but the other pieces did, too. Suddenly, I could see the bits of grass on the corner of some pieces; the light brown pieces were instantly much lighter than the darker pieces; some of the hair was matted and some of it came in strands.

Inevitably, you lose a piece or two in a really large puzzle, and for awhile, I felt I had lost a piece out of my own puzzled life—the piece that had “real job” pictured on its face.  I would look at the big puzzle I call “Me” and it would look unfinished. The puzzle “Me” looked like it had a hole in it—a hole that grew in size and importance simply because it was the only one.

There’s a good chance I found the missing piece. Probably, I’ll be going back to work come mid-November and as I slip that piece into the puzzle, I see the bigger picture much more clearly, as well as the pieces that make that picture complete.  Now with the piece in hand, I find I’m much less affected by the hole it left than I am by the beauty of the whole picture.

What I see in the picture is a little girl that comes bouncing into my bedroom, a little baby nestled close to my chest, and a husband who comes home and fills us with laughter and love. I even see a couple of dogs that are always ready with affection even though they don’t get walked or petted nearly enough. I don’t see any clocks in the picture. I see long breakfasts together at mid-morning and lazy days at the park with a picnic lunch. I see that I am covered in my children, that even when they’re not literally laying on me, their cries and smiles are like a thick blanket; whenever I’m without them, I’m not nearly as warm.  I never know what the date is. I know there is such a thing as time; I see that it changes us but I don’t feel it passing.  In this picture, I am wanted and loved and needed intensely every day.  Now that the missing piece has been found and this puzzle is finished—and by finished I tearfully mean almost over, I see that it is wonderful. Why is everything its most crystallized at the moment right before its end? In this moment, I finally see that I have been incredibly blessed to do little more for two and half years than love and be loved by my family.

Here’s Clara showing off our half-finished cow.

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And Clara sharing a few “moos” with the finished cow.

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Lately, when Clara gets to crying, she tells me she needs her “cell fie,” which sort of sounds like “cell phone” and actually means “pacifier.” She also likes to try on William’s onesies.

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I hope to snap a few more pictures of the kiddies this week, especially that growing boy.

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