Life is like a jigsaw puzzle.

I’m talking about the kind with a “choking hazard, not suitable for children under 30” warning label printed on the box—the box that doesn’t even show a picture of what you’re supposed to see post-assembly.

Yeah, I wouldn’t buy that puzzle either.

Yet somehow, we find ourselves constantly sorting through millions of its tiny, oddly shaped pieces, forcing those that don’t fit and losing those that do, all while desperately striving to unveil the big picture.

Confusion, frustration, and defeat often take the place of determination, concentration, and patience. It’s complicated, indeed. Even the corner pieces can take years to arrange properly.

My 4-year-old son (bless his little naïve soul) loves puzzles. For every two pieces he fits together, he beams with pride as if he’s just saved Gotham City from complete annihilation. But I totally understand his delight.

Cade was born after eight hours of labor and an emergency cesarean. Following my overdramatic hyperventilation, 23-staple incision closure, and anesthesia-induced mini coma, I connected a few puzzle pieces myself when I held him for the first time.

For the record, I never really liked kids. This may or may not trace back to my babysitting days, when I got hustled after taking on a job watching three screaming brats and one helpless infant for nine hours straight. Their mother-of-the-year handed me 20 bucks and asked me to come back the following weekend. I asked her if I could bring chloroform.

I still don’t really like kids.

My own child, of course, is an exception, and “like” is quite the understatement. After all, he did spend 278 days inside my uterus. I think it’s safe to say we have a special bond.

As it turns out, however, creating life is the easy part. Aiding in the formation of a new little puzzle while attempting to improve the construction of your own—that’s where it gets messy.

Figurative puzzle pieces already littered my 20s, and regardless of my special bond with Cade (which extends far beyond those first nine months), single parenthood only scattered the pieces further into mass disarray.

Several months after Cade was born, we moved out of the house we shared with his dad and into my mom’s home once again. Infinitely grateful for family support during some pretty tough times, I was still eager to be self-sufficient. But this task, along with everything else in my life, now revolved around a tiny human. And that conversion of selfishness to selflessness was, and still is, an ongoing challenge.

Nonetheless, I adjusted to life as a single mom and eventually landed a job as a remote content producer, writing biographies for a Silicon Valley startup. Various freelancing opportunities worked their way into the mix shortly thereafter, as did exorbitant amounts of espresso into my veins.

Cade and I relocated to Colorado the following year. Aside from a few horses, some field mice, and a coop of rescued chickens, it was just us. Oh, and my 7-year-old husky, who didn’t waste any time committing chicken genocide.

We were living in a little blue shack that was on the verge of dilapidation. My social life entailed nothing more than random conversations at the local grocery store, and my love life consisted of Johnny Depp movie marathons. I was working from home at the absolute mercy of a 1-year-old, habitually meeting my weekly deadlines five minutes before they lapsed. And I won’t even tell you what my paychecks looked like.

But I was finally happy.

Spring came and went, and our routine continued well into the summer. I celebrated a quarter-century of existence feeling accomplished and content, entirely unaware that the worst was anything but behind me.

Every night before bed, Cade and I read a book. For some reason, one of his current favorites is “Curious George Goes to the Hospital.” In this thriller, George mistakes a jigsaw puzzle for a box of candy… Don’t worry, curiosity doesn’t kill the monkey, and until “Curious George and the High Voltage Fence” gets published, it probably never will.

Instead, it results in a brief hospital stay for the little primate. Meanwhile, oblivious to George’s cardboard snack, the man with the yellow hat is totally baffled, wondering what kind of brand new puzzle comes with all but one piece.

This is not my favorite book. Clearly sheltered, the man with the yellow hat would lose himself if he saw how many pieces were missing from my metaphorical puzzle. And George would be unconscious.