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Fri., Jan. 15, 2010, 3:18 p.m.

Puzzling over the pieces

 By Cheryl-Anne Millsap

Special to Pinch

January 6, 2010

   We start every new year by searching for the right pieces to the puzzle. We open a box, upend it on the table and start building our boundaries.  
    Of course, anyone who’s ever done a jigsaw puzzle knows that’s the easy part. It’s finding a way to finish the rest that takes the real work.
    Last night, after everyone else had gone to bed, I couldn’t get to sleep. Regretting that second late-afternoon cappuccino, I surrendered. I put on my slippers and wandered into the living room to play around with this year’s holiday puzzle.
    The room was dark, with only the one lamp over the table. The cat was curled up on the sofa and the dog lifted his head to see if there was any chance I was up for a late-night snack before dropping it again and going right back to his snoring.
    Pulling my robe a little tighter around me, shivering in the chilly night air, I sat down and began to study the pieces in front of me. I looked at the empty spaces and then at the puzzle-pieces scattered across the tabletop, occasionally picking up one to pop into the right place. As I worked, soothed by the quiet activity, my mind drifted back to the people who just a few hours before had been in the room...

I have four children, and since the minute they were born, I’ve been watching them, learning them, memorizing them so that I could find the way to help them fit into the world. Yet even now that three of them are grown and on their own, I still find unexpected angles and details I’d missed before.
    I have been married for more than half my life to a man who is, in some profound ways, as much a mystery to me today as he was the day I met him. I suspect he would say the same of me. I doubt we’ll ever stop trying to find a way to fit together.
    Like any family, the six of us, in spite of our different personalities; our quirky ways and unique temperaments, struggle to claim our own space, even as we slip into our designated place in the family dynamic.
    It hasn’t always been easy. Some years it has been downright uncomfortable. Other years, it just didn’t work at all.
    Looking back,of course, it all seems so clear. It’s easy to see what was out of place.
    I sat alone in the darkened room for two hours. And, in that time I made good progress on the jigsaw puzzle. Slowly, one piece at a time, I was able to see what the result would be when I finished my work.
    But, when I tiptoed back to bed, chilled to the bone but sleepy at last, I was no closer to solving the riddles of those I love than I had been when I started. I wasn’t surprised. Over the years there has been a lot of late-night puzzling. I’m sure there is more to come.
    Slipping under the comforter, putting my icy feet against the back of my sleeping husband’s legs( some things go together without having to stop and think about it) I closed my eyes. It was time to sleep.
    The next morning, I could go back to picking up the pieces.    

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons,” and can be reached at

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country.