Saturday, June 13, 2009

Jigsaw theory

I've been trying to figure out how to best write about le Petit these days. He's changing so fast and learning so many new things that it's hard. I want to describe "snapshots" of each new thing and post them to the blog, and ideas come to me three or four times a day, but they escape me just as quickly. It's not unlike trying to take a real photograph of le Petit: his energetic toddler self flees the frame before I can focus.

But I finally decided that all you need to know about le Petit right now can be learned from watching him do jigsaw puzzles.

He loves jigsaw puzzles. Not wooden puzzles with holes, but real jigsaw puzzles with big cardboard pieces an inch and half across. My husband, who himself was a puzzle fanatic as a kid, brought home a big box for le Petit a couple of months ago. I was skeptical: the box was marked "ages two and up" and le Petit was only 20 months old. I figured it was a recipe for frustration, and what fun it would be for me to track down all the chewed-up pieces once they got thrown around the room.

Imagine my surprise when within a week le Petit had figured out the whole theory of jigsaws, and could do four-piece puzzles BY HIMSELF with absolutely no help. Soon the six-piece puzzles were just as easy for him, and he went on to master nine. Last week my mother-in-law brought him a box of animal puzzles for ages three and up. Now I have to brag, because he can do at least one of the twelve-piece puzzles all by himself.

What impresses me most is the process he applies. If an animal has a clear set of eyes he will often put them together first, but he otherwise barely looks at the entire pattern. When I try to explain that he should look for feet or an ear, he cries out at me in frustration. Instead he looks at the shape of each individual piece. Although I'm sure his memory helps him, he doesn't simply memorize how a puzzle goes together. He figures it out again from scratch each time, methodically trying pieces and looking at the negative spaces between them.

He doesn't appreciate help. He works best on his own, and I have to bite my tongue to keep from offering incomprehensible advice.

A few days ago he started talking himself through the puzzles. Now he picks up the pieces one by one and says "c'est peut-être ça." It might be that. He tries, and if there's no fit, he says, "c'est pas ça." That's not it. At least once I saw him flip a piece around and, at last finding the right fit, declare "Le bon sens!" The right way! He fishes the pieces out of the box and lets us know if any are missing. "Il manque un morceau," he tells us, dragging us away from whatever we're doing to come search.

His puzzle narratives just make me melt. I think he's a genius. I can sit on the couch and do nothing but watch him. Granted, the first instinct of any toddler mother who suddenly finds their child absorbed in some quiet activity may be to sit on the couch and do nothing just to catch their breath, but never mind.

We went to Ikea today to buy le Petit his very own pint-sized table and chairs, and now he can do his jigsaw puzzles comfortably seated instead of spread out on the floor. He watched with great interest as I assembled his furniture. A giant jigsaw puzzle for adults! Complete with a wrench and a screwdriver! Whether or not all these puzzles lead him to a brilliant engineering career, he’ll at least be prepared for his first unfurnished apartment.

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