Solving the Puzzle

August 16, 2010 at 12:31 am | Posted in Lollipop | 22 Comments
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Lollipop’s always been into puzzles. But these days, it’s serious. She’s into them. With italics.

One day last week, I realized I hadn’t heard the stomping and slamming that usually occurs when she is changing her outfit 28 times and looking for whichever book goes best with blue sequins being quiet during nap time. I concluded that she was asleep and eventually went to wake her, lest she be up until the wee hours of the morning.

But when I walked in her room, she was sitting on her plastic green stool at her little wooden table. Doing puzzles. She had four put together already and was working on a fifth one. All by herself.

Learning the Rules
This was a first. Over the course of the week, she had done puzzles with my dad. With my mom. With Daddy. She had done puzzles while stiff-arming her brother, who wanted to haul the colorful pieces off in his Caterpillar tractor.

But she had always needed help matching the partial image on the puzzle piece to the complete picture on the box. Needed help fastening the pieces together. Needed encouragement to finish, to try again, to keep looking.

As I rested and healed, I watched her with each person. She and Pawpaw first made two piles, one for edge pieces and one for center pieces. She and Gramy dug through to find the four corners first. She and Daddy matched pieces to the picture on the box and approximated where they might fit. She listened quietly as each person taught her “how to put a puzzle together.”

Connecting the Dots
But when I watched her in her room, on her own, I noticed that she has another strategy altogether. She starts with the part of the puzzle she likes best — Snow White’s billowing dress, Dora’s silly monkey, Mater’s snaggled teeth — and works outward from there.

I was amazed that my baby sat there, attentive, concentrating, working on her own. I was struck by the complex problem-solving skills and mental synthesis required to take in different strategies and refine one of her own. And I wondered how many times I’ve told her the “right way” to do something. How many times have I overlooked her way?

The Missing Piece
Somehow, right in front of me, she has become a unique little person, with preferences and perspectives all her own. And me? I’ve been looking at the pieces of her personality, forgetting that they fit together into something bigger.

She’s changing every day. She’s growing. She’s learning. She’s thinking and rethinking.

She’s a puzzle I can’t wait to see completed.

When did you realize your child was a person in her own right? How do you nurture that fledgling personality? And how do you put a puzzle together??


Bigger Picture Moment



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  1. I’m not terrific at puzzles, but both of my girls are quite good at it. I’m taking this as a positive sign that they might not have inherited my miserable math skills/spatial ability.

  2. Puzzles are a great way to stimulate those little brains! Way to go, Lollipop, figuring out your OWN way to do it!

    I am a two piles (edge pieces and inside pieces) puzzle person, but I do start with the four corners after sorting…

    Looking back, I know that my kids were each born with the personalities they have today. It has been easier for me to encourage Isabel’s, though, as we are the most alike. I pray daily for the wisdom to parent each of them the way they need most, to encourage and shape them into the people they are in the act of becoming. Somedays that’s easy, somedays much harder. Celebrating their differences is important, but so hard sometimes!

  3. What a sweet post. I love that everyone else has their own ways to finish a puzzle, but she has her own as well.

  4. My daughter’s into puzzles too and I find myself biting my tongue when she’s forcing a piece into a space that doesn’t fit. And when she gets frustrated, I intervene, but sometimes, when she’s struggling it’s so hard to not step in before she asks for help. I know she’ll eventually figure out but it says something about me (particularly my patience) when I can’t even wait for her to seek my assistance. I need to work on that as much as she needs to work on her dexterity.

    Our kids are quite the puzzle aren’t they? Although as much as I love seeing the pieces fall into place to form this whole person right before my eyes, I think that the shapes will always be changing, the work continually in progress, just like we are. Even at this stage of our lives.

  5. Lovely piece. I think the best we can do is shut out mouths and watch as much as possible. It is so amazing to me to watch my little people, to see who they are in their choices, their determination, their expressions of joys and sorrows.

  6. It’s so amazing to see how their mind works, how they put things together and see the world 🙂

  7. Oh, I loved this Bigger Picture. How sweet!
    I love watching my daughter figure out something new on her own. When she figured out puzzles she was *obsessed* with them for a while. Now she’s on to tying shoes. And she’s really good at it!
    Thanks for the reminder to sometimes just let them be, let them figure it out their *own* way!

  8. The same thing happened to me with my daughter, Stacia! I kept teaching her my way when one day I realized that she could start anywhere in the puzzle and that, amazingly enough, she worked a puzzle by the shapes of the pieces! Much smarter than her mom, turns out! She didn’t even like to look at the box. I was flabbergasted because I’m actually way too dumb to do it this way…

  9. I love puzzles and my daughter loves them as well. I think about who she is becoming and when everything will fit together for her. I love your metaphor in this piece.

  10. I also love how you see the bigger picture in Lollipop’s style of putting together her puzzles. Also, she’s getting so smart! What a great post.

  11. So beautiful.
    Col had a huge puzzle phase, where he’d assemble 64 piece puzzles all by his ownself. Now, he seems to need lots of encouragement and prodding to finish a puzzle.
    And yes, it is so lovely to see kids learn to do things their own way. Recently, Col let Rose use his slingshot and she put it over her chest and said “look, boobs!” and Col said “Rose. It’s never going to work that way.” And I recognized those words from my own mouth about four million times.

  12. I’m not sure there has been any one moment (yet) that I’ve discovered how individual he is, but a whole lot of small moments do add up to a picture of who my oldest is becoming. I think it’s more evident now with two as I inevitably contrast and compare. My husband is bad for intervening when my son is trying to problem solve, for showing him the right way. While I have own fair share of parenting weaknesses, I really do try to let him go it on his own as often as possible. Perhaps we’re a good balance.

  13. I love this post. It’s so satisfying when they master something new, or move onto a new stage, whether the shift is barely perceptible or rapid.

    And that pleasure never seems to lessen.

  14. I love puzzles and so does my daughter. I think it’s genetic. I am always wowed by how well she puts them together. And like you, I have noticed that she approaches it in a way that never would have occurred to me. It’s pretty awesome.

  15. Love that! We have been doing a whole lotta puzzles over here as well. Sammy loves them, and Andrew does too. They do each have their own unique style ;).

  16. those puzzles are amazing… I need to get me a few. I stopped trying to tell my children the way things should be done (my way) because they always have their own system.
    I just realized that you never photograph your children without a cap that is great way to protect identity i shall try that especially with the little ones

    • The hats are their own doing, believe it or not! They’re miniature fashionistas, I guess. =>

  17. I love this! Two reasons – we love puzzles! Munchie and I build “Puzzle Land” in the family room and cover the whole floor. Also – what a great reminder to stand back and let your child find their own way sometimes. I would start with the flat edges, but left to her own decision-making I bet Munchie would have the same strategy as Lollipop.

  18. I love the analogy of puzzles and personality. I’m an edges first kinda gal and it is indicative of my need for the bigger picture (I can leave the detail to someone else).

  19. This is so exciting! Reading posts like this one makes me extra excited to see my little one blossom. Way to go, Lollipop!

  20. My 3 year old loves puzzles too, so this post jumped out at me. I love your challenge to let them do things their way.

  21. So beautiful. I love seeing my kids absorbed in something that illuminates the parts of them I can’t always see through my lens of parenting frustration. And how awesome is her method? I, too, would like to focus on what makes me happiest and then let the rest of the pieces fall into place. That’s a strategy for a good life.

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