The Parenting Puzzle

by Anita DiGregory

The 15 puzzle. You may not be familiar with the name, but you have probably played the game before. It is a small plastic frame, holding even smaller square pegs numbered 1 to 15 and one empty space. The object of the game is to purposely get all the numbers out of sequence and then to figure out how to slide them all back into order. It all looks so easy, not intimidating at all. A tiny plastic game with only 15 numbered squares. How hard could it be?

The trouble is, it is very easy to get everything out of order but extremely challenging to get it back into sequence. I remember the anxiety I would feel when I would get a row to line up, just to realize I would have to sacrifice the order I had established to slide the next numbers up into place. I recall once attempting to outsmart the game by popping the numbers out of their groves and trying to force them back in the right order. It didn’t work; they never fit back in the grooves the same way again.

So, why this walk down memory lane? Well, quite honestly, this is what my life has been feeling like lately. I know the order things should be in right now. Any other year at this time, we would be well into “the new school year groove.”  We would have packed up carloads of dorm essentials and driven our children back to their campuses.  There would have been hugs and tears, long goodbyes, and lots of prayers. At home, there would have been well-established daily routines, work and school, homework and jobs, lessons and sports practices, family-time and work-time. 

But, as we all have learned, 2020 isn’t following any of the protocols. Everything is out of sequence. And as hard as we try to pop out those individual pieces and force them back into order, it’s not happening. That anxiety I used to experience when I had to slide four tiles out of place just to get the next one up in the right order, that anxiety, is resurfacing, except now the stakes are a lot higher.

Here we are embarking on the fall season, yet nothing is as it should be. Nothing is guaranteed; things change minute-to-minute, day-to-day. Things we may have once taken for granted have all changed: classes, work, meetings, sports games, even attending church. Understandably, there are lots of new rules and involved protocols. Always, there are masks, and disinfecting, and social distancing. And “updates” can come at any time…scattering the order and sequence of everything once again. 

Just before the proposed start of the year, our graphic design major was notified only half the kids from her school would be allowed to return to live on campus. And although she often found herself in the art department, working until 3:00 a.m. on huge projects, her major was not chosen to return for face-to-face instruction. So, even though her classes run in-person for the students on campus such as RA’s, freshmen, etc., she has to school virtually. Everything continues to happen on campus, just without her…through no fault of her own. 

With each new update, there are new variables to slide around in an attempt to get life back into working order. Sometimes, there is loss and shattered dreams; often, there are tears. I am the mom. I am supposed to know how to make it all work. I am supposed to be able to slide the right pieces into the right order. But I can’t. I tried.   

A friend said to me, “A mom is only as happy as her saddest child.” Today was a bad day, lots of sadness, lots of broken hearts.  My feet hadn’t even touched the floor when the bad news started.  I had had such high hopes for today. I had a huge list of to-do items to accomplish and check off, important things. But God had different plans for me. As the day wore on, I heard from each child, battered and bruised from life’s “updates.” I listened. I tried what I could to help. I cried. But, I couldn’t fix it. A mom is only as happy as her saddest child.

Maybe you are having one of those days today. Maybe you are feeling this way, too. Maybe you are trying to juggle working while being home to support your virtually schooling children. Maybe you are trying to figure out what the current “new normal” will be for your family. Maybe you have a friend or family member who has been sick or quarantined, and you are trying to cope with that. Maybe you are feeling the anxiety of trying to force all those pieces to line up, too.

I have never been very good at the analytical. Math was never my thing; my husband was the math major. When I looked up Puzzle 15, I found that there were paragraphs about the solvability, paragraphs with words like algorithms, variables, inversions, and groupoids. There were mathematical equations, all to solve a puzzle. But there, in the midst of all the analytical, two words jumped out at me: God’s algorithm.

If you are unfamiliar with that term, let me quote Wikipedia.  “God’s algorithm is a notion originating in discussions of ways to solve the Rubik’s Cube puzzle, but which can also be applied to other combinatorial puzzles and mathematical games. It refers to any algorithm which produces a solution having the fewest possible moves, the idea being that only an omniscient being would know an optimal step from any given configuration.”

Since I am not omniscient, this is what I have decided to do. First and foremost, I am going to pray and put everyone and everything in His hands because He is omniscient.  Then, I am going to try to do the best I can because that is the best that I can do, and that will have to be enough right now. I am going to be there for my family when they need me. I am going to let them know I hear them and see them, and I understand their pain, fears, and anxieties. I am going to try to see the hundreds of blessings of every day and be grateful for each of them. 

Yesterday, I watched one of my beautiful friends get married live on Facebook. I Zoomed with my extended family and got to catch up with my parents, brothers, and their families. I talked to my sister-in-law on the phone, and we supported each other through our current ups and downs. It’s certainly not perfect, and I would have much preferred the days when we were all crammed into a tiny beach trailer, staying up until all hours of the night laughing and playing games.  But, for now, it will have to do, and I am thankful for the pieces that slide back into place with the love that is felt, even virtually.

So, dear parents, even though we may not have the power to bring about the desired solutions, whatever this year may bring, prayer, faith, hope, love, and gratitude may be just the tools we need to slide all those pieces back into order.

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