The Magical Mystery Puzzle That Broke Our Family's Screen Addiction

Eventually, I hope to regain the use of my dining room table. Actually, if it meant that my two teenagers remain transfixed by the 1,000-tiny-pieced jigsaw puzzle that is in a partial state of assembly on the table and continue ignoring their electronic devices, I will be more than happy to eat standing up for the rest of my life.

We acquired the puzzle on Saturday at the California Jewelry and Gift Show, one being sold by a puzzle vendor who I suspect wasn't seeing as much action as the guy selling $600 electric two-wheel skateboards two rows away. I saw my 14-year-old son start to drift toward the electronic beeping and flashing LED lights of the motorized skateboard, but I pulled him back.

We came home with the puzzle. We picked out one of the city of Santa Monica by folk artist Eric Dowdle. The puzzle was like a quiet oasis in a sea of bling and beeps, a glorious little bit of breathing room -- which, interestingly, is what it turned out to be when we got it home too.

screen sense

We got no farther than the puzzle in our post-shopping gloat (you know, where you empty all your bags and show off all the bargains you thought you got with the occasional "what was I thinking?" and "I will never in a million years use this; can we gift it?"). When one kid walked off silently with the puzzle box, the second followed close behind her.

"Mom, Dad -- are you going to help us?" Help them? You mean be invited into their world, not have a bedroom door slam at our approach, not be spoken to while their eyes are glued to a cell phone? Sure, we would help.

And thus began a weekend odyssey.

We argued strategy. Should we fill in the edges first or work from the middle? We debated sorting pieces by color. We considered whether working with the photo in front of us was somehow cheating.

A few hours into things, a pizza came to the door. I don't remember which of us broke away from the dining room table puzzle to order it. When it got dark, someone put on the lights. The only whining I heard was at the suggestion that someone needed to walk the dogs. "Can you do it Mom? I almost have this side altogether," asked my daughter.

Evening spilled into night and at some point, my husband and I hit the sheets. "Shouldn't they come up soon?" he asked around 2 a.m. When we peeked downstairs, they were both still at it. Reluctantly, they went to bed, only to shun the usual sleep-to-noon-on-Sunday-and-then-grab-for-your-phone-as-your-feet-touch-the-floor. Instead, they thundered down the stairs and returned to their places at the dining room table.

They no longer cared whether we joined them. They ate breakfast and dinner while staring at the puzzle and were nearing completion when last I looked. One cellphone was dead for not having been charged; the other was screaming the indignity of texts going unanswered.

When I reached for my own phone, my daughter looked up and said "Mom, maybe you should come do this with us again. It's really more fun than checking your emails." Out of the mouths of babes, eh?