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  • Lijing Cobb

Daily puzzle

In honor of Valentine’s day, let’s put a love puzzle together. Honestly, I bet you everything I’ve got that every day, we make a perfect love puzzle. We have all the pieces we need, and if we just take the time to put it together, we will see what it is and be amazed, humbled, and inspired to make more.


My yesterday started with finding a pile of money my husband had left at the foot of our bed, the winnings of a poker game with a bunch of his guy friends. Ok, I can clean that up. In the process of doing that, my 10yo and 9yo walk in.


After learning where the money came from, my 9yo says, “mommy, can you give the $1 bills to us kids?”


“Sure, not a problem.” I say.


“Can I get more?” My 10yo asks, bigger people have bigger needs.

“Why do you need more?” A fair question, right?


“I don’t know.” She answers, and then adds, “why do you get the rest?”


“Great question. Why do you think that is?” I ask, feeling a bit self-righteous. She’s questioning my right to the money. Let’s see where this goes.

“Where do you think everything comes from? Everything you, your brother and sister have? Everything we use? Everything we eat and drink?” I start my grand inquisition.


“Well,” she’s rolling around uneasily on my bed, her eyes focused on the bundle of money she holds in her hands, her thoughts busy, “true. But still…”

“I’m happy with the $1 bills, mommy!” My son interjects helpfully. I’m getting a little annoyed with the lack of instantaneous comprehension from my oldest child, so I say, with a bit of cruelty in my voice no doubt:

“Do you think you can live without me?”

“No!” My son shouts, my daughter reflects.


“Wrong, babe. You can certainly live without me.” I look at my two children for their reaction to that statement. My son starts to protest, but I don’t let him: “Now the question is, can you live without me and still be happy?”


“Absolutely not!” My son says with conviction, shaking his head confidently. My daughter remains quietly thinking.

“Well, actually you can. You can live without me and still be happy. You just won’t be happy right away, and you’ll probably run into a lot of problems and struggles at first.” I pause. My kids are both listening intently.


“I’m here to take care of a lot of those problems and struggles for you. My job as your parent is to get you to your happiness quicker.” I say the last thing decisively as I search for my daughter’s eyes. She averts her gaze, sighs, resignation on her face. She hands the wad of money in her hands to me.

“Are we clear about why I get all the money now?” I chase after my victory, the last nail, gotta hammer it in.

“Yes,” she capitulates, hangs her head. Intellectually conquered, emotionally still in unrest.


She shuffles out of my bedroom. I don’t chase after her.


After sorting my loot out and putting it away, I go downstairs for breakfast. My older two kids have been up for a while and already eaten, the youngest one is still sleeping. I see a bowl with leftover cereal in it, and find out that my son had left it.


“Why did you not finish your cereal?” I ask.

“Because I was full and couldn’t eat it anymore.” He is playing with a toy.


“We talked about not taking more than what we can eat so we don’t waste food, right?” How many times do parents have to say the same thing to their kids?

“Yes, yes, but then in the middle of my breakfast I started eating these,” he points to a bowl of half eaten orange slices, “and then all of a sudden, I was full. That’s why I couldn’t finish my cereal.”


“Well, we also talked about finishing what you have first before moving onto the next. One thing at a time, right?” A thousand times we have talked about the same thing, to be conservative.


I see my son roll his eyes in a flash. A suppressed eye roll, but one nevertheless.


“Did you just roll your eyes at me?” I observe matter-of-factly. It’s such triviality to him, wasting a bit of cereal. What’s the big deal, mom?

“Do you know that by leaving this cereal, you are disrespecting the food and its purpose, and all the people that worked together to make this cereal? The cereal wants to be eaten and appreciated; that’s why it was made. You are not letting it fulfill its purpose by wasting it! The cereal is sad!” I chase after the point, again.


My son hangs his head and stops playing with his toy. Looking at his leftover bowl abjectly, he says, “You know mom, you are so good at making people feel bad.”


Ahem, say what?


I walk away and start vacuuming the floor. Our two lovely labs share the overabundance of their fur with the floor and us ceaselessly, so before I eat my breakfast, I must conquer the hairballs first. By then I’d been up for almost 6 hours and have been hungry for 3. When I get to the foyer, I see 3 pairs of shoes on the floor that are not supposed to be there. “You have all left your shoes again. Can you all please come and put them away?” By now my youngest had woken up and joined the persecuted crowd.


“Ok.” But ok is all I hear. Nobody moves. Whatever they are doing, it is more interesting than putting their shoes away.


“How about this,” I start, determined to get the floor space underneath their shoes vacuumed with me bending over to put their shoes away, a task they need to remember and complete on their own, “we will call this side of the shoe rack Steve. Steve is hungry and he eats shoes to stay full. If you don’t give Steve your shoes, you are starving Steve. Son, do you want to come and feed Steve now? He’s hungry for your shoes.”


Before my son gets to the shoe rack, my 7yo makes it there first, feeding Steve. But my 10yo doesn’t move. Her shoes go on the other side.


“We will call the other side Alice. Alice is hungry too.” My 10yo shuffles over to feed Alice. The girl who just won her first ninja competition in speed shuffles in order to protest.


My mission accomplished, I move on to the living room, and there on the floor, nerf gun bullets. Our dogs love eating these bullets. My son loves shooting his nerf guns. He starts with a hundred bullets. Every day he loses a few to the insatiable appetite of our dogs who look at anything on the floor to be fair game. I don’t blame them. Another “supposed to do” point beaten to a pulp without my son giving a rat’s ass.


“Hey,” I call to my son for his attention. I’m relentless now, on a roll. “What do you want to name your nerf gun? Uncle Mavis? Uncle Julio?” I start shooting names out from my inner machine gun. This has got to stop!


He shakes his head to each name, a bemused smile on his lips. Is he just going to shake his head forever?


“Uncle Pepperoni?”


“Yes!” Loud and resolute, we are in agreement. OK! I guess he was just waiting for the right name.


“Ok, so you have Uncle Pepperoni, and you love him. Uncle Pepperoni, like all of us, has a soul, and his soul is in the collection of all the bullets you keep leaving on the floor for the dogs to chew. Without a soul Uncle Pepperoni doesn't work, just like the rest of us. Do you want Uncle Pepperoni to not have a soul?”


My son stands up from the couch where he was comfortably reading a book, and goes to collect the bullets he had littered on the floor. He is right, I’m so good at making people feel bad.


My 10yo has a volleyball tournament, so we all get in the car to drive her there. We had a couple inches of fresh snow in the morning, and my son had been out playing in the snow for about an hour before getting in the car. He loves the snow and doesn’t mind the cold at all.


From behind the driver’s seat where I am, cold wind rushes in, stops, rushes in. My 7yo starts indignantly, “Stop playing with that window! You know you are not supposed to!”


“Stop bossing me around! I just love watching the ice on the window. What’s the problem?” My son hisses back.


“Well, it’s annoying! You can’t do that!” My little one is on the verge of tears as usual. Time to arbitrate. I am in a mood. I’m annoyed at my son too. It’s snowing and cold. How dare he not consider everyone else’s preferences and feelings?


So I go about vindictively and tediously telling my children that we all have the freedom to choose how to act, and we always have to consider the negative impact of our action on others and revise our action accordingly. The message is essentially, stop playing with the car window: keep it shut like you are supposed to!


My son, the fresh prince, of course chooses to hear the part about his freedom, and continues to play and fan the flame of my wrath. I don’t burst into flames and burn myself to ashes this time. I respect his choice, I need to honor my own words, I bite my lips. Oh well, we reap what we sow. I let the fire die down.


At night we arrive at a friend’s house for the Super Bowl party. They offer the usual party food, including my arch enemy, the Cheetos. The bowl of bright orange beckons. My kids answer. They don’t have access to Cheetos at home. They know they are not supposed to eat them because of all the bad stuff in them. But they eat them. I catch my 10yo with a Cheeto tooth and a huge grin, and whisper,


“Just because they are there doesn’t mean you have to eat them, right?” My parenting is discrete.


“I know mommy.” She answers readily, and just before she leaves the room, she reaches into the orange bowl and grabs two more with lightening speed, giggles, and flees the crime scene.


When I catch my son in the act, I repeat the words.


“They are just sooooo good, mommy! Please, we don’t eat them ever!” He pleas, looking up at me, blinking his long eyelashes, trying to disarm my disapproval.


“Well, make the best choice for yourself, son.” I give him a little shove to go play. Without chasing after him I know he takes more before leaving.


I lean against my husband on the couch and take an uncomfortable nap while all the other party goers eat, talk, watch the Super Bowl, play: you know, what you are supposed to do at a Super Bowl party. When I wake up I’m groggy and it’s time to take my children back home. Tomorrow is a school day.


I find them in the basement playing pingpong, and they invite me to play. My 10yo’s serve and return come fast and furious. My son looks for a sharp angle and tries to get his ball to land there and get a quick point. My 7yo hoists her ball up nice and easy, like a leisurely afternoon conversation. Quickly I adjust to their different styles, and with their inexperience as my insurance, I defeat them all handily and become the world champion of basement pingpong.


Finding the news of our immediate departure unappealing, my children succeed in dodging my efforts to get them home for another half an hour. You know, the usual, “You have to wake up early for school tomorrow!” and “I don’t care!” When we finally get home, I send them to the shower and tuck myself in bed with my book.


My little one, hair dripping, comes in to say goodnight. She kisses me on the lips and gives me a big squeeze, her wet hair dripping on my bare arm. With a big smile and shining eyes she tells me she loves me 3 times and floats out of my room. 5 minutes later, my 10yo quietly walks in, neatly dressed in her pajamas, smiling radiantly, lays down on top of me.


“Are you glad now we are home?” I ask, rubbing her back gently.


“Hmmm,” she widens her eyes up to the sky and pretends to think, her lips parted in a huge smile. She doesn’t say anything but she’s happy. Just before she steps out of my room, she says, “you are the best mommy in the world!”


“You are the best oldest child in the world!” I reply. Such is our usual exchange.


My son doesn’t come in. I call to him softly, but he doesn’t reply. I know he’s passed out from the day’s exertions. That boy made 5 snowmen (a mommy, a daddy, 2 kids, and 1 teenager), skated hard for an hour, played pool, legos, and pingpong for 4 hours, and ate lots of Cheetos and pizza. Time for him to relax.


My puzzle pieces of the day complete. Time to put them together and feel the love.


My day was perfectly imperfect, or imperfectly perfect. However you put it, it’s got something to do with perfection and the simultaneous lack of it. It’s got everything to do with constant expectations, the “you are supposed to…”, and the defeat of those. It’s got everything to do with us all trying our best to be honest with each other. If life was perfectly perfect, and all expectations were carried out precisely, like the puzzle was already done for us and hung on the wall for us to admire all the time, I think we’d be pretty bored. Some of us might raise our hands and ask to move out of here, to some place more interesting, where there are challenges to meet and puzzles to figure out. Am I right?

When we got in the door last night, my 7yo picked up her shoes and stuffed them into the rack, “I’m feeding Steve!” She sang merrily, then called out to her brother, “are you coming too?”


“Yes I will!” My son ran over to do his part.


I looked to the other side. My 10yo had already fed Alice.


Happy Valentine’s day. Love is in all the little things we use our hearts to see.


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