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Puzzles and Mommy Overwhelm

Three days into a home stay-cation courtesy of the flu, 2 sick children, 1 sick mommy, freezing cold temperatures, and nowhere to turn hours into Shabbos, I decide to open a 1,000 piece puzzle.  Genius idea, genius.

It’s a 1,000 piece puzzle I bought for my 7-year-old for Chanukah--my 7-year-old who hates puzzles. But he needs things to do other than screen, so I thought maybe he would change his mind if it was a Star Wars puzzle.  (How do kids who have never seen a Star Wars movie love Star Wars so much and know all the character names?  I am baffled by this!)

“Mom, I hate puzzles,” he says as soon as we open it.

“I love puzzles!” my 6-year-old says and dumps it alllllll on the floor. I become obsessive, sorting the colors, ordering the baby to flip over all the pieces, yelling at random strays to come back to the fold before they’re lost for all eternity, and raising my eyes with the mommy death glare dare anyone get CLOSE to stepping NEAR the piles.

“Mommy, you’re mean about puzzles,” the one who hates puzzles says. Have I traumatized him years prior regarding puzzles, thus his aversion? I don’t remember. Meanwhile he’s found a 24-piece Peppa Pig puzzle and starts putting it together “to practice”.

The baby throws his plastic slingshot into the piles. He gets immediate timeout.

“Mom, you just gave him a timeout over a puzzle,” the oldest little puzzle-hating observer states dryly. Yes, yes, I did. We’re sick. It’s Shabbos. We haven’t left this house in 3 days. We’re going to do this puzzle WELL and like it!

Yesterday, while getting ready for this simple home Shabbos in my flu-weary state, wanting the basics of a cleared table and warmed food and feeling completely helpless to get myself to my goal, I prayed, “G-d, this has got to be too much for one person.”  It’s not just because I’m a single mother now.  Sometimes, a mother’s work, among energetic, normal, or sick children is just too much.  We need superhuman strength. We need Divine intervention. We need wine, chocolate, and sleep at 7pm. And like a tribe of handmaidens.

Earlier today, before the puzzle, the kids were losing their minds at each other, being normal, cute, brutish boys, arguing and name calling and being too rough.  My body hurt too much to do anything other than to sit at the table, put my head down, and cry.  I said, “All I ever wanted, you guys, was a family that would love each other and take care of each other and have fun together. Not this.”  That guilt trip got me three minutes of stunned silence. Then I felt guilty for making them feel guilty and went to my room to lie down. Of course they followed.

“Mommy, is that your dream?” one asks, pointing to a picture of him and his brother years ago, hugging in a field of grass, framed on my dresser.

“Yes, look how happy you are when you get along,” I say.

So, the two from the photo start hugging in the most ridiculously silly way, lifting each other up, and tripping each other up, and squeezing too tight, and laughing all the way. They’re trying to make my dream come true.

“Let’s do a puzzle,” I say.

In that sweet minute, it seemed like a good idea.

Rina Bethea

 is a messy boy-mom of 3 who likes to keep it real regarding the growth experience and beauty of motherhood. She started her blog as an outlet during a dark time and is so thankful it has inspired emuna and brought joy to others.