Puzzle pieces

My oldest brings a puzzle for the visit. Both daughters and mom sit to begin.

“Here, Mama Nick. Help me sort these.”

She does.

Mom no longer understands the geometry of a puzzle, but she sorts the colors, pulling all the sky close.

As we finish puzzling the mountains, flowers, and foliage, the sky remains scattered at mom’s elbows. The sky takes patience and time to connect.

We are running out of both.

“I could just get a hammer,” I joke.

Force the pieces together… but we all know the hammer will make a mess of the sky.

It doesn’t work on mom either. We can’t force her to remember, to understand.

She makes noises of satisfaction whenever one of us connects two pieces or slides a chunk of image into place.

“I’m not doing anything,” she grunts from time to time when she remembers she doesn’t remember how to connect.

“You helped us sort all these!” we remind her. The sky. The hardest part.

She doesn’t always remember that she doesn’t remember and no amount of words or scolding can force the remembering into place.

A hammer will make a mess of the puzzle.

Sometimes it’s hard for us to remember, when she won’t listen, follow instructions. All she remembers is dad is out there, so she goes out the door, down the same steps that cracked her father’s hip, along the pool.

“No, Ms. Ma! You can’t go.”

So we have to follow.

When she wants to go down the spiral staircase to investigate what’s going on, no amount of reprimands will force her to remember I shouldn’t hazard those steps.

“No, mama. It’s dangerous.”

We have to distract her. When we’re out of time and patience, it’s hard. We just want a hammer. We want to… just… make… that… piece… fit.

But the hammer won’t fix the puzzle.

Deep breath.

“Here, try this one,” we turn the sky pieces, hardly any color variations, over and over.


“I think this one goes there.” One fit for every fifteen tries.

Take her hand when she won’t listen.

“Ms. Ma, come with me. We’re going for a ride.”

Gentle shifts. Small tasks. Encouragement, thanks for your help, mama.

“It is what it is.”

My children use this phrase sometimes. I don’t love it, but in these moments, “it is what it is.”

She lost most of the pieces along her way. This is all we have left.

Deep breath. Hold your heart. This is sad and terribly frustrating when you’re short on patience and time.

I take her hand.

“Do you want to come with me?”

Most days she does.

We walk slowly through the dark field to my house. She litters the way with pieces of thoughts that I can’t always connect.

At my house she sees a pile of boxes, scattered like the pieces of sky. Maybe it’s in our genes, certainly in her muscle memory. I help her sit close to the boxes, where she spends the next two hours breaking them down, tearing and cutting them into pieces, then back together again.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2021
photo credit: Soraya Alem