One Puzzle Piece At A Time: An Employee Essay From “Aren’t We Lucky?”

Jan 27, 2022 Jackie D'Andrea

Every puzzle has a set number of pieces, and every piece has a place. Puzzles are something to do when we’re bored, when we need a distraction. They’re a break from homework, chores, work, and even completing this essay. They have a clear beginning and end. And when I finally put that last piece in its place, I get a sense of accomplishment. 

Not every puzzle is equal. Solving a round, 3-D, monochromatic, or complex scene comes with the pride you feel when you complete a difficult task. There are board or floor puzzles that I can do with my kids, along with the satisfaction that comes from seeing their excitement about mastering a new challenge. Artboard 13 (2)Puzzles are a daily part of life at our house. Any given day, there’s one on the coffee table or the dining room table, or hidden under the couch on a piece of plywood. No matter the puzzle, everyone has a part in putting it together. The kids help sort the pieces to find the edges, and we can count on the dog to eat at least a piece or two. My husband and I each take our own section and help the kids place one piece at a time. Once we’ve built the frame, it’s something to work on together or when we need a break from constant togetherness. 

Throughout 2020, puzzles became even more of a staple in our home. They provide a sense of normalcy. No matter how crazy things are on the outside, they’re something we know we can complete. They give us a sense of control over something when we may feel the opposite about the way things are going in the world. 

Like the COVID-19 lockdown and quarantine, puzzles can be challenging, often frustrating, but also fun. And they often require help. Being resilient doesn’t mean doing it “all” on your own; it means being strong enough to ask for help and knowing when to prioritize yourself over everything else. The people in my life are the puzzle pieces and they make sense of the chaos of the jumble of pieces. They all fit together in just the right way to make us all feel whole.

During quarantine, my family’s core pod consisted of my husband, our three kids, and me; our parents (also known as the world’s best grandparents and substitute homeschool teachers); our siblings; and our neighborhood friend group. We all faced unique challenges in 2020: prolonged separations from loved ones, managing IEPs while learning “new” math (why is that even a thing?), struggling between wanting to keep our kids informed about the pandemic and not wanting to scare them, and facing fears about keeping our children and parents and grandparents safe. While we don’t claim to understand others’ quarantine experiences, we’ve been together through it all. We’ve celebrated birthdays, holidays, and random Saturday nights. Artboard 3 (13)More importantly, we’ve been each other’s shoulders to cry on when everything feels overwhelming. 

My husband and kids are my corner pieces. When I’m at my most stressed and busy, they help ground me and keep me focused on what’s really important (hint: It’s not a homeschool assignment or client call). My parents, in-laws, sisters, and friends are the edges. Together, they form the solid foundation of what really matters. They are the pieces that help us survive. Collectively, they bridge the gap between surviving and thriving. 

The center of the puzzle is filled in with things that make us thrive. While there were countless things we didn’t do in 2020—our annual trip to Disney World, overnight vacations, summer camp, spring sports, trick-or-treating—we did experience many other things that we probably would have missed out on if it had been a “regular” year.

The center of our 2020 puzzle is Reece, the puppy we adopted in the spring. He has taught our kids a lot about responsibility and what it means to put someone else’s needs above their own. If Reece needs to go out or eat, Mario Kart can wait. He has been a great distraction and a bright spot for our children during a time when they’ve had far fewer playdates or sports to attend. He has led us on some great adventures, including the countless times he’s escaped from the yard and made us chase him around the neighborhood. Or the time a goose wandered into the yard from the pond across the street and we had an actual wild goose chase on the lawn and in the woods next to our house: Reece chased the goose, I chased Reece, and the kids chased me. 

Our puzzle became simpler in the summer. Our kids spent their days and weekends running from house to house, playing outside, coming inside only to ask for snacks. Meals were potluck: One person brought veggies from her garden, one of the guys would fire up the grill, someone else ran to the grocery store for snacks, and someone else brought dessert. Bathing suits were the dress code. Shoes, bedtimes, and baths for the kids were optional most days. Bikes (minus training wheels) were the preferred mode of transportation. There were fewer pieces to make sense of—life slowed down and gave us all room to breathe and grow. Summer was time for the kids and adults to de-stress from a confusing end of the school year and just have fun. 

However, I was dreading the Halloween section of the puzzle. How do you celebrate a very social holiday from a distance? Not only was it the first real holiday in lockdown, but it was also the birthday of our twin sons’ best friend and coincided with one of the families in our pod contracting COVID-19. Instead of a traditional birthday party or trick-or-treating, kids and parents dressed up and we had a costume parade down the street, so all the kids could see each other’s costumes and celebrate at a distance. 

In our family, holidays are chaotic. They are a complex set of pieces that need to be put together in just the right order to satisfy all our obligations. They typically consist of twenty or more people gathering around the Christmas tree or kitchen counter or on the back deck to swap stories and spend hours and hours together. This year, we had the opportunity for more intimate holidays. Driveway visits with grandparents. Socially distanced outdoor meals. Small gatherings to exchange gifts. We realized over time that our holidays don’t need to be big to be special. We can always count on them to be noisy, no matter how few people are sitting around the table. I learned that simple puzzles are just as beautiful and fun (and less stressful!). 

Despite the frustrations and challenges we experienced over the past year, we survived. We found the puzzle pieces that tell our 2020 story—our parents, our pod, and Reece. They were the colorful, frustrating, happy, sad, uniquely shaped, and sometimes all-too-similar-looking pieces that made the final picture beautiful despite the flaws, bumps, and bruises we collected over the year. No two thousand–piece Disney scene, Boston sports logo, or watercolor flowers can compare to the perfectly imperfect puzzle we made together. Now, excuse me—I need to go chase Reece and get the piece of Mickey’s nose back from him. 

This essay appears in our book, Aren’t We Lucky? Stories of Resilience from the Inkhouse Community. Download your copy here.

Topics: Writing, Inkhouse Employees, Aren't We Lucky?, Book Launch, Employee Essays, Resilience
Jackie D'Andrea

Jackie’s passion for storytelling and eye for detail help her stay ahead of her clients’ needs across several industries, from higher education to security and tech. She’s responsible for knowing what’s hot in her clients’ industries, where the next opportunity lies, and what clients need before they ask. She thrives on the relationships she builds and is always looking for new ways to tell her clients’ stories.

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