Sweeping the Puzzle Off the Table

My younger daughter and I have a thing for puzzles. During the winter months, we spend evenings sitting side-by-side fitting pieces together. Last fall, I suggested we challenge ourselves. I’m big on self-improvement. I proposed we jump from 500 piece puzzles to 1000 piece puzzles and try to complete three before December.

Clara worked diligently, and by the end of September, we already had two puzzles completed. She took photos of each finished puzzle to mark her progress. By Halloween, she’d finished the third 1000 piece puzzle, two months ahead of schedule. Excited by her success, I’d swept the finished puzzle back into the box as soon as we placed the last piece, and dumped out the next 1000 piece puzzle. There wasn’t even time for a photo.

But during November, I noticed that Clara’s interest and attention to puzzles had waned. We were completing 1000 piece puzzles, but she was participating less and less. By Christmas, she wasn’t puzzling at all. As I sat in the living room, piecing together a difficult section alone, I realized that I didn’t love puzzles as much as I loved being with Clara. But per usual, I’d made the goal more important than the big picture, and in doing so had sucked the joy right out of the experience.

I contemplated the puzzle before me. Then, even though it was only two-thirds of the way done, I swept the puzzle back into the box unfinished.  My goal-oriented instincts screamed bloody murder. I told Clara that from now on we would only do puzzles that she picked.  I swore to myself that I was turning over a new leaf.

But old habits are hard to break, and with my past track record, it isn’t difficult to understand why my family was a wee bit apprehensive this past January when I announced at dinner one night that I wanted to complete a triathlon. And that I wanted them all to do it with me.

“It’s just a mini-triathlon,” I explained enthusiastically. “Eight lengths of the pool, six miles on a bike, and a two-mile run. It will be fun! We’ll take it easy peasy! I promise!”

There was silence as my husband and daughters eyed each other, trying to determine who was going to bravely step forward and talk me out of this one.  Leaning back in my chair, I added casually, “Either I do a triathlon or I’m considering getting my nose pierced.”

With a collective sigh, my family jumped on the triathlon wagon and we were off.

Training started immediately even though the event was still eight months away. “No time like the present,” I sang out to the girls as they pedaled their bikes behind me. The next week, I took them out for an initial training run. “We’ll just walk/run it,” I coaxed them. “Just get a baseline of where we are, trainingwise.”

Clara’s strategy was to run full-out for 30 seconds and then slow down to an amble until I prodded her to pick up the pace.  When she got really tired, she lay down in the middle of the road and giggled. My oldest daughter trotted along red-faced and serious the entire two miles, but at the end she stated, with some degree of panic, “I don’t think I can do this.”

My husband suggested, after my visit to the chiropractor to readjust what my single training run had thrown out of whack, that maybe we should slow down the fitness schedule. “You know, make it fun so the kids don’t burn out.” He paused. “Or full-on hate it.”

It was then that I realized I was doing it again. The triathlon situation was exactly like the puzzle challenge. I had to make a decision: I could either push us all so hard that the family fun triathlon became an ordeal to get through, or I could curb my natural goal-attainment instincts and create an enjoyable bonding experience.

I chose the latter, and throughout the spring, I searched for fun ways to train. The girls and I started riding our bikes back and forth to school. On Friday afternoons, we visited the local hot springs pool. The girls didn’t swim laps with me, but they did spend hours chasing each other from one end of the pool to the other. Instead of repeating our running experience, we took the dog for a brisk walk each day.  All in all, it was fun. And in the process, we all became stronger and the girls gained confidence regarding the upcoming triathlon. “Slow but steady” was our motto.

And then, a couple of weeks before the triathlon, I had a mini medical meltdown.  It was pretty clear that participating in a triathlon was not in my best interest.  I knew I could do it, but it might set my up-and-down-health back further. Plus, my mom threatened to throttle me if I stepped one toe near the starting line.

I made a decision and informed my family. “I’m sorry guys, but it looks like I won’t be able to do the triathlon.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Mom,” sympathized my sweet-hearted Emma.  She patted my hand. “But you can still cheer us on from the sidelines, right?”

“And take photos,” added my husband.

I blinked and looked around the table. “So . . . you guys still want to do the triathlon?”

Clara nodded her head thoughtfully. “You know, Mom, I’ve trained hard for this–” I bit my lip to keep from smiling. “I’m ready. I want to do it.”

In the final days leading up to the triathlon, I was disappointed but also strangely pleased with myself. By making a decision to not participate in the triathlon, I’d made the choice that the bigger picture–taking care of myself–was more important than the goal. I’d put the triathlon back in the box, unfinished.

The morning of the triathlon I woke up early.  As I did my a.m. stretches, I realized that I felt really good. In fact, I felt great. I went and got my swimsuit and goggles from my drawer. By letting go of feeling I had to complete my triathlon goal, I’d freed myself to make a last-minute decision about whether I could participate.

When my husband wandered downstairs, I was wearing my bike helmet.

“You’re doing it?” he asked in a confused, pre-coffee daze.

“I am. If I keep feeling this good right up to the start then I’m going for it.”

And I did, and it was great. Clara was my triathlon partner. A little more training might have made the experience easier for her, but we crossed the finish line together and the rest of the day she wore her participation medal proudly. And I was proud too. Proud that I’d made our months of training fun, and learned that sometimes it is not only okay, but necessary to sweep a goal right off the table.  And put it back on if the circumstances are right.

Wearing our participation medals and T-shirts post-triathlon.

After the triathlon, our family went out for a celebratory lunch. During our mealtime conversation, the girls wanted confirmation that I would NOT be getting a nose ring anytime in the future. With a laugh, I assured them that the idea of getting my nose pierced was off the table. For now.

About flyingnotscreaming

My weekly quotes and "Notes from Flights" are my attempt to learn how to soar through life's unknowns with grace and gratitude. Thank you for flying with me. --Melissa Myers Place, writer, reader, massage therapist, mother, wife, and daughter
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