I think of them as security rituals. I have very fond memories of walking through the house when I was younger and seeing my mom put together puzzles. It was her “happy place”, and I could usually count on a few things when she pulled out a puzzle: There would be 1000 pieces. She would work on the edge pieces first to frame the picture. And the most important thing – asking my mom any question while she worked on a puzzle was the best time to get a favorable response. “Mom, may I go to a friend’s house?” “May I go to the mall?” “Mom, can I run around the house screaming?” The response was usually the same. “That’s fine, dear.” Yes – when I saw my mom working on a puzzle, somehow, on a visceral level, I felt safe, knowing everything would be fine.
I have since learned my parents and family of origin were not immune to dysfunction. We had our issues, as all families do, but when I was younger, I was shielded from the concerns. When my mom put together her puzzles in the middle of the crazy, she was calmly reassuring me the world was a safe place and all would be fine.
I was flooded with those positive feelings this week as I worked on a Norman Rockwell puzzle. Actually, it was one I gave to my mom many years ago, and then inherited when she passed away. With emails to send, bills to pay, and I’m guessing dysfunction in the world around me, I quietly worked on the puzzle, knowing that when that last piece got put in place, I had taken something to completion, made something beautiful, and restored order to the world around me.
Okay – I am aware that was a whole lot of metacognition about a puzzle, but hopefully, you can see the point. As adults, our rituals and daily activities send messages to children. We all need some semblance of order in our world, and when we engage in comforting predictable rituals, we send the message that all will be well.
I’m happy to report that my oldest son, Matthieu, enjoys working puzzles. In fact, when we were at the beach a few weeks ago, he quietly put together a whole section of a puzzle when no one was around. And Matthieu’s personality reflects that trait – quietly restoring order to the chaos around him without making a big fuss about things. And I feel confident that one day, when Matthieu has children of his own, he will engage in many quiet security rituals, sending the message to his children, that indeed, all will be well. Thanks, Mom.