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Recipe for Disaster


  • One 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, 2/3 complete, left unattended for less than five minutes
  • Two cats in the immediate vicinity, washing each other’s ears with increasing intensity, which often leads to a spat
  • One smooth wooden puzzle table, left (did I mention?) unattended for—really!—less than five minutes


Allow cats to continue their ear-washing with no human supervision whatsoever, directly on top of the unfinished puzzle. A spat will naturally ensue. Expect to hear an unfamiliar, extended crashing noise, followed by a frantic skittering sound. The cats will then disappear for several hours. Visit the scene of their crime to find a completely empty table and approximately 700 pieces of previously-completed puzzle on the floor in a jumbled heap.


Your offspring will see the tears spring to your eyes and the shock and horror on your face. One of them (young adult daughter—so sweet and thoughtful) will rush to help, immediately offering to return all of the pieces to the puzzle box so you don’t have to even touch them in their current state. The other (teenage son—brimming with vast, impressive knowledge on all topics, like all teenage sons) will offer advice.

“I think you should do it again,” he’ll say.

“I can’t, I just can’t,” you’ll reply. “I’d be too upset working on it. It wouldn’t be fun anymore.”

He offers a hug. You gratefully accept.

Later, still sad and miserably disappointed, you’ll ask that same teenager, “What would you do?”

“I’d do it again. Right away,” he’ll say.

Your husband, a fan of Westerns, will offer sympathy via email from work, along with advice to get back in the saddle. Someone will point out that if you don’t do the puzzle again, preferably soon, it will sit in its box on your shelf and mock you with its un-doneness, a source of sadness and disappointment every time you see it. Someone will mention that it’ll be easier to put together this time around, having just done it recently (yes, over a period of two weeks, in precious stolen moments out of my busy life, my “me time”).

You will listen to them all and do the hard thing, the brave thing, the right thing. You will get back in the saddle and start sorting pieces all over again.

Lessons Learned:

In the making (or is that unmaking?) of this recipe and its aftermath, you will learn several things.

That when things fall apart, it’s sometimes best to stand back and let others help gather up the pieces rather than always rushing in to solve or fix things by yourself. Especially if you’re overwhelmed by emotion, when you’re more likely to do or say things that you don’t mean and will later regret.

That your kids are always watching you. Not just your little kids. Your teens are watching, too. You might tend to forget that due to their self-absorption, their adolescent know-it-all-ness, their apparent lack of interest in your life, their fiercely developing independence and rough edges. But they’re watching, and they pay attention to how you process and demonstrate all the big, tough emotions—the anger, fear, sadness, disappointment, and frustration … as well as the joy, gratitude, love, contentment, and resilience.

That a spontaneous hug from a self-absorbed, all-knowing teen is a rare and precious gift, one that you can recall at will when future struggles arise with said teen.

That your spouse has your back, no matter what you decide.

That redoing something is often easier and faster the second time around. And that it’s possible to gain as much enjoyment from the redoing as you did in the doing.

And, last but not least, that cats will be cats.

That sweet little foot on the left belongs to Josie, here unaccompanied by her partner in crime and no longer interested in the puzzle since there are no more loose pieces. The shoebox at upper left is her napping box where she can usually be found when I’m doing a puzzle.

4 thoughts on “Recipe for Disaster

  1. Loved your story (recipe). I’m not a cat person but witness their shenanigans through my granddaughter’s two. Easily understood your frustration. I’m a former jigsaw puzzle lover but don’t think I could tackle 1000 pieces. Yours is a beauty. I would have put it back in the box. I’m glad you didn’t and shared your experience.


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