Friday, February 23, 2018

Puzzle Me This

My home has been overrun by puzzles.

Not the "hey, I wonder what this is?" kind of puzzle. Not the "whose socks are these?" kind of puzzle.


My home is littered with puzzle pieces of all shapes, sizes, and provenance.

My oldest, Gwyneth, became very interested in puzzles around the age of three. She loved figuring out where the pieces fit together, the magical creation of a simulacrum that mostly matched the picture on the flimsy box. It was a phase she went through and then quickly forgot once she started school three years ago. I'd almost forgotten about all those puzzles.

Then along came Kinsey.

My almost two-and-a-half-year-old daughter has an unnatural obsession with puzzles. She also possesses an uncanny prowess in identifying and organizing spatial and visual elements in her environment. She can take most puzzles and put them together without ever looking at the picture on the box.

She started with the simpler puzzles that belonged to her older sister - a large floor puzzle with 48 pieces depicting sea life. My first clue that puzzles might be her "thing" came when after three attempts, she could accurately put the entire puzzle together without any help. She could also identify all the different species on the puzzle, and responded well to my suggestions, quickly absorbing them into her own self-talk during puzzling: "Mommy! Shark! Fishy face. Body. Shark body?" She was a quick study.

Soon she moved on to more challenging puzzles. The 64-piece Dora and Boots puzzle was merely a challenge to be conquered: she seemed to know instinctively where the pieces belonged, how to manipulate them and seamlessly form the finished product.

But she also kept us in hysterics with her unique puzzle preoccupation. Many mornings in the past two months, Kinsey has demanded, "Puzzle Mommy!" before she's even out of her crib; last night, she broke into the height of hysterics when I told her it was time for bed and she could do a puzzle in the morning (it was 9:00 pm). For several weeks, she would not allow us to congratulate her upon fitting the pieces in the correct location - she would place a piece, then yell, "NO HOORAYS! Not finished yet!" Only once she positioned the final piece would she then shout, "Hooray! All done! Break! Next puzzle!" and immediately tear the puzzle apart and look for another to complete.

Don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled with her mental acuity and her adeptness with manipulating obscure pieces of the puzzles. But it's getting out of control.

Two weeks ago, I purchased three new puzzles for her to try. She had a $50 gift certificate from Grandma for our local toy store, so I used it to get her two 60-piece and one 100-piece puzzle. I figured this would occupy her for a month or two. While I was there, I ordered more puzzles in the 100-250 piece range for my six-year-old.


I came home with the puzzles. Within an hour, Kinsey - with some coaching from me along the lines of, "Where does this [random never-seen-before] piece go?" - had completed both of the 60-piece puzzles and was half-way through the 100-piece one. One of them was even a clever "find the changes" puzzle that had a picture which DOES NOT match the puzzle in the box. The only challenge was getting the box away from Gwyneth, busily mapping the differences, so Kinsey could put it away and start the next puzzle.

Kinsey's current great sorrow is that Gwyneth and I refuse to let her "help" us with the 1000-piece puzzle we're working on this week.

So.... before I head home from work, I'm stopping by the toy store to pick up the new puzzles that came in a few days ago. I'm sure they'll be finished before bedtime.

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