FASD Learning With Hope · Piece by Piece
Today I completed a 1,500-piece puzzle. I’ve been working on this beast for the better part of COVID-19 lockdown. I started it in mid-April, not long after I recovered from whatever-it-was-that-I-had.
While doing puzzles was a favourite pastime with my mom and a big brother as a kid, I haven’t done one in decades.
When I poured it out onto the table for the first time, I remember a sinking feeling. Was I bonkers to think I could do this with all the tension in the household?
We don’t have a puzzle mat, so this puppy was out on the dining table for the duration. I can’t tell you the number of times I was tempted to put it away. It did my head in. The whole thing is in Latin. The pieces are all very similar. It might look obvious now that it’s all together but believe me – it was hard to see the forest for the trees, as they say (even if I ‘cheated’ and occasionally looked at the picture on the box).
My husband and kids kept me going, encouraging me to stick with it.
It wasn’t until that last piece went into place that I actually believed all the pieces were there. I had just assumed that through these last 2 months, some pieces would have been knocked off the table or somehow sacrificed.
But they were there. All of them.
And that’s when I realised it. The whole time I was doing it, I had been assuming it would never be finished.
The fact that it is now complete is most definitely one of the most tangible signs that life around here has changed.
There is not a chance that a few years ago 1,500 pieces would still be on this table eight weeks later while we were all shut in together in the midst of a global pandemic.
There is not the slightest possibility I might have been able to focus enough on something so completely extraneous to our then daily and intense struggles to put this thing together, or that I would have had the reserves of patience necessary to bring me back to this hour after hour. Back then I could barely get through the day to that moment of collapse when my head met my pillow (don’t get me wrong, I still have those days…).
It simply would not have been possible. All 1,500 pieces undoubtedly would have been swiped onto the floor in a rage by a little one who was dysregulated and in need of 1000% of my attention. (This is after all the same dining room that was flooded not so long ago with a garden hose….)
We have over the years learned ways to cope, to decrease tension. The switch to a special school (thankfully one that has not required any home learning beyond what our son does in a self-guided way, or this entire post might have had a much different outcome).
This puzzle brought me out into the family communal space for my own times of relaxation which was also new. And yes, that meant our son with FASD also had a sudden interest in sitting at the table and eating while I was there, eager to show me the latest funny videos he was watching on YouTube with plates and iPad balanced on top of the pieces spread all over the table. But never once, not one single time in the entire eight weeks, was my puzzle in jeopardy.
And even still, until that moment just a little while ago when I put in the last piece, I fully expected there would be gaps. I expected parts of the puzzle would be missing. It hadn’t occurred to me how ingrained my lack of faith was.
Things can change my friends.
Not so long ago, we had it all in our house. We had the extreme behaviours, the words that were hard to hear, the meltdowns that left things smashed and broken. Days that tore at our heartstrings and left us scared about tomorrows. We spent a few years in a very dark place that we have no doubt could have ended quite differently. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you will have seen some of these days unfold.
I am not naïve. I understand fully there is a long way yet to go and the road ahead is full of huge dangers and warnings and possible pitfalls for our teenage son with FASD and our family. I see all that. I am not complacent or smug. I know enough to know and maybe even expect that something can come out of left field and totally overwhelm us again. But we’re here. Today.
The windows are open. There is a gentle breeze. The sun is shining. It’s not all perfect or peaceful – a big fly is buzzing around and that has me a bit worried in case our son wakes up before I can encourage it to go outside from whence it came. This fly, this could upend things in the short-term. Our son hates bugs. They send his anxieties through the roof. He hasn’t yet woken up despite it being after noon (again something that was at one time unimaginable). But if he hears this fly when he first wakes up and before his medications help him focus, we will have to shut all the windows and go on an all-out till-the-death fly hunt and hope that can restore the calm. No, it’s not that we are out of the woods around here. We just know better what to expect and how to cope. And our son, very importantly, is on board with it all.
So, there I was just a little while ago, putting into place that final puzzle piece that was in fact there. I was in a state of disbelief and I was childishly happy. I felt ridiculously proud/accomplished. I took a selfie with this silly puzzle. I had my husband and eldest son take pics.
Alone in the room after they went out I sat there staring at the puzzle. I reminded myself again that I have to have hope. I have to believe. Because sometimes life surprises us and all those painstaking moments we piece together when we can’t see the big picture yet, sometimes all that patience and belief that it will in fact all come together, sometimes that perseverance eventually really does pay off.
In the midst of it all when dealing with the complex intensity of parenting a child with FASD, we don’t always know what the final picture will look like. But every careful moment, every deep breath, every time we step back and look at it from a different perspective or seek guidance and support – these all give us the opportunity to piece together a way forward toward the future. As we know, time and time and time again the beauty and the strength and the resilience of our loved ones will surprise us.
Sometimes all the pieces do come together.