Sunday, April 14, 2013

The answer to the question is a puzzle.

The Subway-sandwich monster
For 8.5+ years now, I have been searching for an activity that John and I can do together that doesn't result in someone crying.  When he was really little, all he wanted to do was, "play trucks."  This involved both of us lying on our bellies pushing around small trucks of various sorts.  At some point during this activity (some point being about 28 seconds), I would collapse fully and try to watch him without getting caught sans truck.  On bad days, he would whine and nag for me to PLAY TRUCKS AGAIN NOW!  But on good days, he would take advantage of the six-foot long highway that I had effectively built -- zooming his trucks over my finger tips, up the slope of my arm, and onto my flat back, over the mountain of my butt, and down the backs of my legs, again and again, while I did nothing but lay there.  Beautiful.

This was taken on the day that our OLD car's AC went out and we had to take it to the shop where the NEW car was waiting to be fixed.  Note the relatively stress-free facial expression of our oldest.
Say it ain't so, but the lovely easy fun lying-on-one's-belly days are few and far between.

See, the thing about kids is that they want you to actually play with them.  This is not what God intended, but they do not know what God intended, which is the whole reason we have to drag them to church after attempting to scrub their knees clean.  I have decided that scrubbing my children is the equivalent of scrubbing my soul -- in fact, it may be a metaphor for just that -- it feels awful in the moment of it all, what with all the screaming and punching and wanting to stay dirty, but when it's all said and done, isn't everyone the better?

John and I are an odd couple.  We want to hang out -- we really do!  Both of us have good intentions, and we make grand plans ... but ultimately, we clash more than we mesh.  He likes to take his baseball bat and swat at wasps out in the hot sun.  I like to sit on the cool porch and paint my fingernails under the fan, where the nails dry quickly, and there are no balls or wasps flying anywhere near me.

Let's take, for instance, the recent "Cathy Rigby is Peter Pan!" debacle, for which I not only purchased tickets, but paid extra to sit in the sparkly-fairy-dust-sprinkle zone.  Naive me -- thinking that because Peter Pan is a boy, and because there are pirates and crocodiles, fighting and flying -- assumed that this was the best way to introduce John-John to musical theater.  I even invited my mother up for the occasion thinking that this would be a grand moment for her to witness ... drum roll ... Motherly Kimberly bathes the child in culture and inspires him to achieve the unthinkable by forcing the poor thing to put on a collar shirt at prime playing-outside time, drive downtown, search for parking, and ultimately, watch a 60-year old woman, pretending to be a boy, attached to wires, swing and flip about the stage for nearly 3 hours.  During the first act, when Peter Pan comes swinging in for the first time, John caught the first glimpse of the wires which allow her to fly, and said loudly and to the dismay of children all around, "I KNEW THERE WERE WIRES!  NOBODY CAN FLY WITHOUT WIRES! IT'S LIKE FISHING LINE! SHE'S FLYING ON NOTHING BUT FISHING LINE!"

Then at intermission -- which comes just after we discover that Peter Pan is half-dead and stranded on an island -- John stretched and yawn-yelled, "Man I'm glad that's over!  Let's get outta here before the traffic is too bad."

John-John as a reluctant Huck Finn on "Book Character Day."  It was either this or Greg Heffley.  Can you tell that I put my foot down?
Luckily the second act was a titch better, and he was even inspired enough to persuade my mother to purchase not one but two styrofoam swords that were each equivalent to our housepayment.

OK.  Maybe they weren't that much, but still, he convinced her to buy two:  The extra one for the smaller child I have, who was not allowed to attend because I didn't want his 3-year-old self to ruin my John's experience.

So anyway, in an effort to steer this ship back on course ...

Tonight it was John's night with me.  (I have developed a new system of alternating bedtimes with the boys ... this deters fighting to some extent, and greatly expands my free time by reducing the bedtime duty load by one half.)  Usually when it's John's night, we read his Action Heroes Bible (which by the way -- FABULOUS! -- especially the OT section where God is telling the Israelites to take over all of the other "-ites" land, and they do, and there's very gory fighting and plagues, debauchery, murder, people in lion's dens, whale's mouths, and I don't what all), but tonight he wanted to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and I just couldn't bear it, so I pulled out a forgotten Santa Claus present that I had stashed atop my closet shelf and re-discovered recently while cleaning.  It was a 200-piece Diary of a Wimpy Kid jigsaw puzzle, and we set out to conquer it.

I'm sure you can't imagine this one being anything but innocent.
We started with the side pieces, of course, since that's what all good jigsaw puzzle strategists do.  It took me us approximately three days half an hour to separate all of those pieces from the middle pieces.  During this time, John alternately helped me and/or bit his toenails and watched/provided commentary about Kyle the Albino Corn Snake slithering in and out of the terrarium school bus.  At one point, we argued bitterly about cheerfully discussed the fact that Sam was screaming, "I DON'T WANT DAD, I WANT MOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" and banging what seemed like grenades hard-backed books against his closed bedroom door.  (Meanwhile, Brian calmly and coolly read Dino Basketball in classic sports-announcer voice), and John murmured, "I really do not like that brother," and I responded, "You're not supposed to as far as I know.")
This is me, holding Kyle like all good moms hold snakes named Kyle.

After about six grueling hours had past awhile, we had gotten about half of the frame of the puzzle completed, and I had realized a major breakthrough in navigating my relationship with John.  PUZZLES are not competitive.  No one wins at the feat of completing a puzzle (and thus there is no loser, no winner, and consequently no one has an emotional breakdown).

As Nora Ephron once wrote, "One of the bedrock tenets of the women's movement was that because so many women were entering the workforce, men and women should share in the raising of children; thus, the gender-neutral word 'parenting', and the necessity of elevating child-rearing to something more than the endless hours of quantity time it actually consists of." (my emphasis)

Why have I not thought of puzzles before?  I have tried miniature golf, bumper cars, amusement-park rides, ping-pong, swimming-pool-bottom tea parties, regular tea parties, cooking, cleaning, Wii, Monopoly, Sorry, Chutes & Ladders, baseball, basketball, football, swimming, not swimming, running aimlessly around the house, reading, writing, unabashed bribery, and many more (unfortunately) forgotten activities with this child.  But nothing has been as successful as the collaboration we encountered tonight while working to assemble Greg Heffley's family and friends in a black and white 200-piece jigsaw puzzle.  

The good Drs. Jekyl.

The Evil Misters Hyde.  
Cue the harmonic voices of angels!

If any of y'all have already discovered puzzles with your uber-competitive kids and not shared, then I'm gonna be mad at you, so you may as well keep your mouth shut.

Otherwise, feel free to post a comment about what a mind-boggling mother I am.


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