Once upon a time I was an engineer. I took many math and physics classes and maintained an excellent grade point average to earn that title. I held my own in a competitive, male-dominated environment, soldering together circuit boards and using words like electromagnetism and sinusoidal. I was a builder. My opinion was valued and I was treated like a professional.
All of that fell apart when the economy tanked and I lost my job, along with half of my department. Thankfully, the whole thing was handled reasonably well and I walked away with a pretty good severance package and minimal crying, at least in front of my former boss. After ten years with the company, and in a bit of a funk, I needed a change. Or maybe just a short break while my kids were still small and the job market was in shambles.
This is how I came to be at home full-time with my 5-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son. I follow them through the rhythm of their days and pick up freelance work on the side, which I do while they sleep. My children are not good sleepers â€“ I don’t do much freelance work. I am still a builder, though my medium has changed. Instead of big machines I build forts with couch cushions. And sandwiches. I build lots of sandwiches.
The sandwiches I build are not exotic. We favour PB and J or grilled cheese. Day after day, I construct these stereotypical staples of North American childhood. I stand in my kitchen, my feet bare on the sticky floor. The kids are hungry and more than likely crying. I create sandwiches without even thinking about it, my muscles making each little motion from memory. And I sometimes wonder, in a detached manner, just how many sandwiches I have made for my kids. The tally must be in the hundreds. But how many hundreds is it, exactly? I could do the math â€“ as an engineer I did a lot of math. If I make, on average, 2 sandwiches per day and there are 7 days in a week â€¦ Wait! I do not really want to know the number! I do not want to know how much of my life is dedicated to spreading peanut butter on bread.
While I sometimes tire of making sandwiches, my real internal struggle comes over bread crusts. Before I had kids I swore that I would never be the kind of mother who cut the crusts off sandwiches. Cutting off crusts represented drudgery and subverting my desires to someone else’s. I believed that crust-cutting would create demanding, spoiled children. My mother never cut off my crusts, and that made me the person I am today. Or something. It was a theory.
Of course, my kids have very different views on crusts. My 5-year-old abhors them, and always asks to have them removed. In the year that she was 2 we had countless showdowns over crust removal. Eventually, my desire for my very petite toddler to just eat something overcame my need to prove a point. In parenting you have to pick your battles, and sandwich crusts are not the hill Iâ€™m going to die on. Could you imagine that obituary? “Wife and mother, dead of pride on Sandwich Crust Hill.” No thank you.
In fairness, parenting young children is not all internal debates over sandwich crusts. There are flashes of sheer bliss in my life. I have held sweetly sleeping newborns, seen first steps and heard first words. I re-discover the world and myself in my children’s eyes. Without a doubt, parenting is a worthy and even a fulfilling calling.
Worthy isn’t always the same thing as stimulating, though. Those sandwiches, and the discarded crusts on my cutting board, demonstrate that. The crusts are the emblem of everything that is wrong with my life. I fear that my brain will atrophy and I will spend the rest of my life barefoot on a sticky kitchen floor, serving others. If I do, it will be the fault of the no-crust sandwiches. I might not know my exact sandwich count, but I know in my gut that it of sufficient size to drive any single person mad.
I’m not entirely sure why sandwich crusts have earned so much of my wrath. Sandwiches are convenient and portable. They aren’t even hard to make. My daughter can do most of the work herself when she wants peanut butter and jam, and I see the day rapidly approaching when she can cut off her own flipping crusts. I have no convincing arguments as to why crusts are the source of all badness, but I don’t think I need any, just as I don’t need a good reason for disliking liver.
I realize that this is all rather whiney on my part. Oh, woe is me, I am at home with two lovely children and I have to make a lot of sandwiches. Sometimes I hear myself and want to shout, “Get a grip, woman! Itâ€™s just a sandwich!” If this is the biggest problem in my life, I am very lucky. Terminal navel-gazing is the refuge of the privileged, and I know it. This, more than anything, compels me to cut off the crusts. It’s my penance for the time I spend agonizing over non-existent problems. Forgive me sandwich for I have whinged.
I won’t be making my kids sandwiches forever. I picture myself in 20 years, buying bread in bulk out of habit. I wander around my empty house, feeling just as adrift as I do now. Once I am finished making sandwiches, what will I do? What will I build? Perhaps I will resort to making myself hundreds of sandwiches. Maybe I will even calculate my sandwich grand total. Only time will tell. I’ll guarantee you this much, though. When that day comes, no matter how many sandwiches I make, I will not cut any crusts off.