by Shannon Lell
Originally Published: 

We have several wooden, peg puzzles for our children. I started purchasing them when our first child was barely a year old. We have letters, numbers, shapes, colors, animals… you get the picture. I thought it would be a wonderful way to teach my children the basics. My three-year-old has all but abandoned them having tired of the basic puzzles long ago but because of those puzzles, she now associates the letter K with Key, X with X-Ray and T with Daddy’s Tie.

My 16-month-old plays with them regularly. He isn’t proficient enough yet to put them all back together but we do it together, just like I did with his sister. At the end of the day they are inevitably scattered into a pile of mixed up pieces and upturned boards and each night I sit on my knees putting the A back in the Apple slot and matching the blue fish tale with the blue fish head. It’s a nightly chore, like any other. Sometimes pieces go missing for days and I am on the look out for them because if the puzzles don’t have all their pieces and aren’t reassembled, what’s the point of having them? At which point will my son learn how to match the number 5 puzzle piece with the 5 butterflies if the pieces are forever scattered and missing?

My husband, he doesn’t see the point in such nonsense. His answer is to brush all the pieces aside in a heap each night. Sometimes, when he steps on an errant pig peg piece, in a huff he suggests throwing them all away because they make such a mess. He doesn’t understand my logic and why I insist on putting them all back together each night. I can’t ever get him to help me put the puzzles back together, either. It is always my job. And I do it, usually, no matter how tired.

We’ve been together for over 11 years, married for 7 of them. We met when I was 23 and he was 24. Prior to meeting my husband I had a couple of serious relationships, but nothing that lasted more than a year. Mostly, it was tragic lineage of one mistake after another but on the bright side; by the time I met Brian, I was pretty sure I knew what I didn’t want and decently sure I knew what I did.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune when he came along. He was everything I’d been looking for and much more. I fell, we moved and then married. Eight years into our relationship, and four years into our marriage, we had our first child. How could we have ever known what to expect? How does anyone?

Personally, becoming a mother rocked me to my core. I knew it would be hard. I knew it would be wonderful. I knew it would be one of the most important things I would ever do and I knew (logically) that it would “change everything” (or so people liked to advise), but how was I to really know what that meant? How does anyone?

How was I to know that I would become a different person from that girl 11 years ago who was pretty sure of what she didn’t want and only decently sure of what she did? How was I to know that having children would push me to the precipice of all my shortcomings and then throw me into the fire of change? How was I supposed to know that wooden puzzles, writing and women’s issues would become important pieces in my life’s puzzle? How was I supposed to know that in the process of shifting the lens of my life onto a child, it would create such a profound shift in me that I no longer recognized the piece of ground on which I stood?

When we first became a couple we fit together so well. We were two people with the same ideas about the same ideas and what differed, didn’t seem to matter. We wanted the same things about the same things and those were the most important things, so it seemed. But then, the two pieces multiplied and at the same time divided into four. Now the puzzle contains more pieces than available slots and some pieces are missing all-together. Right now, there’s a difference in opinion as to how it should all be put back together.

It’s hard enough to make you want to run away.

But the biggest piece of this puzzle we’re facing, is that no one is doing that. No one is running and no one is giving up on trying to solve it. No one is ready to shove all the pieces in a pile and move on. I do know that, and for that, I am grateful.

As for my half of this conundrum; I’m trying to focus on the fact that he knows all these wooden puzzles by heart because he has gotten down on his knees dozens of times to put them back together again with our children. I’m trying to become softer, to fit into places I’ve never been before and learn to mold myself to a new, better shape so that it might complement this new structure because I love this structure.

I won’t stop putting the puzzles back together anytime soon because that’s my job, but I’m also trying to respect the fact that he doesn’t feel the same way. My intuition tells me that all married couples traverse these crossroads at some point in their marriage. There is always a moment (or moments) when you look around at the pieces of your life and have to make hard changes and choices as to how they’re all going to fit together on the new ground on which you stand.

Still, some parts seem too hard and all are requiring change.

Right now, we are both being forged by the fires of change and I won’t lie, it hurts. It hurts like hell. There are no definitive answers as to what shape we’re going to be in when we emerge from this crucible, but because we’re here together, my hope is that we’ll find a way to fit together again. There are a few pieces coming together as I write this.

Right now, I’m trying to withstand the heat for the sake of the structure as a whole. I’m trying to put aside the pain and focus on the hand that’s shaping me blow-by-blow because the only way to make something as strong as steel into something softer and more malleable… is with flames and pressure. It’s hard work becoming soft, but I’m trying like hell.

We’re trying like hell. And that’s got to be worth something… right?

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