I never thought this outbreak would magnify typical teenage behavior in my sixteen-year-old son. However, my son still wanted nothing to do with me, his father, or his little sister (13) even as we were all ordered to stay home together.
Staying home together did not change my son’s behavior
It was just like before this crisis started.
“Want to go for a walk?” I ask him nightly.
“Nah,” he always responds, either from his room where he studies or watches YouTube videos or the living room where he plays Fortnite with his friends.
“Want to watch a movie with us?” I ask each Friday and Saturday night, as I settle in with my husband and thirteen-year-old.
“No, thanks,” he always replies.
A puzzle brought him back to his family
So imagine my surprise when a jigsaw puzzle, of all things, brought him to us.
As an adult, I haven’t had many interactions with jigsaw puzzles. I only remember the chunky wooden puzzles my kids played with when they were younger, the ones with pieces my kids inevitably licked or lost.
I have fond memories of jigsaw puzzles growing up, though. Specifically, each Christmas or Thanksgiving I spent with my dad’s family there was always a puzzle. It would be splayed out in the rec room, along with a TV and a stack of board games. My siblings, cousins, and I were relegated to that rec room along with the men in the family. That’s because the ladies didn’t want us underfoot as they prepared a holiday feast.
That puzzle was a silent friend, always present, always listening, and taking whatever time I could give it. I would chat with my uncles or cousins while working on that puzzle. Everything we did or did not have in common was stripped away as we came together to make the puzzle whole.
And by the end of the day or the holiday weekend, that puzzle was always finished, tangible proof of time spent together.
So during the pandemic, after I had my fill of walking around the block after work, or trying to host movie nights on the weekends, I decided to order a puzzle.
My thirteen-year-old was excited when it arrived. She helped me clear a place on the table for it and turned over all the pieces. Meanwhile, my son barely acknowledged its existence, seemingly still content to hang out in his room or play video games with his friends from the living room.
One day my son pulled up a chair and joined us
Until one day he pulled up a chair and started to work on the puzzle. Alongside me and his little sister. I tried not to scare him away, keeping silent and still.
“Here’s one!” I heard him proclaim as he fit a piece.
He just talked to us, I thought. Voluntarily.
And so it began. My son worked on that puzzle like it was a new update on Fortnite and we were his teammates.
He sat with his little sister, the two of them ditching their bickering to chat congenially about the puzzle.
He sat with his dad, the two of them talking about a particularly frustrating piece they couldn’t find as opposed to what homework he still needed to do.
Other times, it was a solitary pursuit. I saw my teen walk by the puzzle, pause, and hunt for a piece. I’d see him smile when he found it or sit down and search more fervently when he didn’t.
When the end was in sight and the puzzle was almost complete, the four of us gathered around the table. About a dozen pieces were left. We took turns inserting them where they belonged and high-fived each other when the puzzle was complete.
The next day as I admired the finished puzzle, I felt sad. It was over and I wondered if anything else could bring us all together.
“Mom,” my son called to me just then. He was in front of the refrigerator, chugging milk straight from the jug. “Can we get another puzzle?”
“Absolutely,” I replied.
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Katy M. Clark is a mom of two who lives in Michigan. By day she works in academia. By night she writes about motherhood or the ’80s. Her work has appeared on Grown and Flown, Your Teen for Parents, Scary Mommy, Today’s Parent, and more. She also embraces her imperfections as a mom on her blog Experienced Bad Mom