Cutting the Crusts Off

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 – 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 – 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 … 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 I’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! It’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.

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  1. a bit of topic but pizza cutters are nice for slicing sandwiches and cutting crusts 🙂

  2. Oh, I have felt your pain! WHY do children hate crusts so much? I loathe cutting them off, it’s annoying AND I swear it takes away half the bread with it.

    But, I too have wrestled with the fact that my kid is tiny. And if she’s willing to eat a somewhat filling PB sandwich sans crusts, well…I should just go with it.

    …perhaps I will be able to convert the other to a crust loving lifestyle 😉
    .-= Carrie´s last post ..An Open Letter to Traffic Engineers =-.

  3. I cut crusts, but out of habit in thinking that they won’t be eaten. But when I serve my son a piece of toast, he eats the crusts. So now when I make him a grilled cheese, I keep the crusts on. Maybe this will change when he starts to eat PB&J. I’ve tried but the texture of the PB on his fingers gets me the head shake telling me NO. He’ll even hold up his hand so I can wipe the PB off. Oh well. I know he’ll love it soon enough, and then I’ll have my crust grave too. hehe
    .-= Sara´s last post ..Green Oil =-.

  4. it’s wasted fruit (and veg) in this house that incurs my wrath

    so that’s why we have smoothies (all fruit looks the same no matter how ‘end of day’ it is once pureed) and guinea pigs (who eat almost anything organic)

    and my bette noir is the toilets – i cannot imagine that my PhD is being put to any worthwhile use while picking crusted urine off sanitary porcelain
    .-= pomomama aka ebbandflo´s last post ..How =-.

  5. I give the Poptart my crusts.

    Also, my friend Katie once did a post on her blog about the crust test:
    .-= Nicole´s last post ..Moving Day =-.

  6. Meh, I don’t like the crusts either. I leave them on my kids sandwiches and if the eat them – great. There are these wonderful sandwich breads now that are all grainy and look like flat sandwich buns that have been a hit in our house and…they are crustless! I found a link…ok so they are hamburger buns but NO crusts!
    .-= Tanya´s last post ..Expectations of a new mom =-.

  7. BRAVO!!!!!

    (I am standing, cheering and clapping for you right now)

    I ate as many cut-off crusts as I have tossed…. just the crusts, because I loathe food waste. My boys DON’T loathe food waste, and I can’t imagine how much noodles, fruits, veggies, yogurts and other once-decent edibles I’ve had to discard. But finally they eat their crusts (at least while I am watching them) Now that they go to school with their lunches, I can’t even track what is eaten and what is traded or abandoned.

    Making school lunches has become my “cutting the crusts off” duldrum/petpeeve. We have a nut-free school environment…. I don’t want to be responsible for the accidental threat to a child with an allergy, but I really hate making nut-free lunches and snacks. The kids don’t like deli meat sandwiches and real cheese gets sweaty, my oldest doesn’t like room temperature yogurt and beef jerky is just too expensive. Tuna salad and egg salad sandwiches are stinky (so is a hard boiled egg) and all the “nut-free” granola bars are just sugar-bombs with oats! It’s become this HUGE mental challenge finding things that have no tree-nuts, no sesame seeds, no peanuts that the kids will actually EAT (that also isn’t laden with preservatives or sugar)! I sent the boys a cream cheese and cucumber sandwich on a 12 grain bread one day and it came back unopened with a note from the teacher listing all the seeds that were on/in the bread that were forbidden…. baaah! Then I do find something and it becomes boring within a couple weeks. Oh and nut-free peanut butter substitute did not go over well at all… that was a waste of $10.

    Sigh…. I miss being able to send a PBJ and a snack-cup of trail mix along with their juice box and apple. Times were simpler then.

    I compensate by loading them up on proteins in the morning, and letting them snack on nuts when they get home in the afternoon. My oldest son is seriously cranky unless he gets regular, quality calories…. I imagine he isn’t the only one. Those poor teachers.
    .-= *pol´s last post ..I hate it less now… =-.

  8. Angela White says:

    My kids ate the crust just fine until my mother-in-law told them that when she was little, she always made her mother cut the crusts off for her. I could have strangled her! Now I make the kids cut or pick off their own crusts if they don’t want to eat them. I refuse to do it.

  9. I love this post. You often hit the nail on the head, but this time I think you drove it right through the board 🙂

  10. I don’t want to be one of those moms too. So far, my toddler seems to love everything about bread. I have been feeding him crust since he had his first bite of bread. So far so good 🙂 Actually, we’re pretty strict when it comes to food. One day, when he eats pizza, he will have to eat his crust too. I know a lot of adults that don’t eat pizza crust and it drives me nuts!

    Did you know that they sell bread, without the crusts on them at T&T Supermarket?
    .-= mommyingaround´s last post ..Back to normal, back to daycare =-.

  11. I too was firmly in the camp of “I will not raise a picky, spoiled eater who insists on having a crustless sandwich.” I caved/rethought my strategy when I realized that my son would eat three bites out of the middle leaving a WIDE border that included the crusts. If I cut the crusts, he ate the whole thing (on a good day!).
    He’s older now and not such a fan of sandwiches on ordinary bread anyway, so my strategy has changed. Turkey ceaser wraps would have struck me as hopelessly frou frou for a kid’s lunch, but really no harder to make than a sandwich. And he eats them. He really digs it when I make 2-3 mini sandwiches on slices of baguette. (And not a single complaint about crusts there!)
    It’s funny how we (by which I mean me!)have such interesting interpretations and projections. (If I cut off the crusts I’m creating a picky eater, a spoiled brat, and contributing to my own subjugation as a woman, mother and intelligent human being…) or something like that. No wonder I feel so resentful sometimes!
    .-= Liz´s last post ..Do-Overs and High-Fives… the Spring is Springing Edition =-.

  12. Christal says:

    You make me laugh, out loud!Thanks Amber.

  13. Can you make me a sandwich?

    Writing as vividly as you do about the tiny, ordinary moments of suburban motherhood is where the brain work comes in. And just think, in a few years, your kids will have MATH homework 😉
    .-= harriet Fancott´s last post ..Getting out into the greater blogosphere =-.

  14. "dead of pride on Sandwich Crust Hill"…very, very funny!

  15. Victoria never wants to eat the crust of a sanwich. At first I resisted caving to her demands, and then I realized it’s really just a small battle that’s not worth fighting.

    And once I tried having a sandwich with no crust I realized kids are a lot smarter than we think…delicious!

  16. When they get slightly older and more trustworthy you can start making them card houses. I bet you’re a mean card house-maker Amber!
    .-= Melodie´s last post ..Normal Day =-.

  17. My husband used to maintain that he would never cut crusts off. He does. I do too. And sometimes I cut my bread in four diagonal pieces so it is easier to eat around the crust.
    .-= Capital Mom´s last post ..Discovering my passion =-.

  18. Dead of pride on sandwich crust hill. Snicker. My kids eat crusts. But I frequently play short-order cook and make three different meals. Life’s too short. My battles? I pick ’em.
    .-= allison´s last post ..****************March Break, day two =-.

  19. Ari (who is not yet 2) eats 90% of a peanut butter and honey sandwich and then hands me the crusts! I don’t want to get into the habit of cutting crusts off. I am so happy you are anti-crust cutting!

    And, by the way, you are still an engineer in my book 😉

  20. I hated crusts when I was a kid, too. Sometimes my mom cut the crusts off and sometimes she didn’t. My grandmother thought it was terrible that my mom would indulge me by cutting off the crusts. I suspect that’s one of the reasons my mom did cut them off.

    Anyways, I spent a long time fighting the idea of cutting off the crusts, but I’ve finally decided it’s fine by me. The problem is that when the kids decide they don’t want the crusts, they end up leaving about a 3/4 cm edge around the outside of each sandwich uneaten. That’s a lot of waste. In contrast, when I cut off the crusts, I shave the thinnest possible amount off the outside of the bread. I cut maybe 1 or 2 mm off the outside of the bread. That’s a small enough amount that I don’t feel bad about the waste. Plus I usually throw it out on the back porch for the birds to eat, so I’ve totally been able to rationalize the crust cutting.
    .-= Mary Lynn´s last post ..Because this much cuteness must be shared =-.

  21. Once I read about a company that was selling crustless bread, marketed towards children. I imagine it was fairly nutrition-free white bread, if I recall the company correctly, but it was a clever idea.

    And by the way, once an engineer, always an engineer.
    .-= Lady M´s last post ..A Different Kind of Sock =-.

  22. A very sweet post. The reality of parenting really challenges our ideals more than any other part of our life! I know that you’ll keep building, Amber. And I think in many years from now you’ll be standing barefooted on a not so sticky kitchen floor, making sandwiches for your grandchildren. Then you’ll know why cutting the crust off was the focus of your wrath and laugh.
    .-= Francesca´s last post ..Corner View ~ front door =-.

  23. “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.”

    Oh, how I understand. It’s not crusts for me . . . I can’t really tell you what it is that makes me feel this way. I can tell you that every time I get depressed, one of the sure signs that I’m in a funk is that I start looking at want ads.
    Then, of course, I start thinking about going back to work and putting Kieran in daycare and I feel an altogether different level of panic and depression.
    It’s really tough. I was Tweeting with another mama/lawyer who is in the same position – why can’t we be both? In my ideal world, I’d find some like-minded parents who all wanted to work part time and partner with them. We’d have plenty of work from home days and a kid friendly office.

    I will continue to dream . . .
    .-= Dionna @ Code Name: Mama´s last post ..Co-Sleeping Essay Contest =-.

  24. Wonderful post, Amber. It summarizes parent-hood to me, and in such a verbal, descriptive way. This is one of those posts that you can read in 20 years and it will put you right back into the mindset of the day you wrote it.

  25. The crust thing is weird. I also thought I would NEVER cut the crusts off my kids sandwiches. They would be tough little son-of-a-guns with their crusty bread. However, when it really comes down to it, whether they eat their crust or not doesn’t matter so much. I’m tired of fighting over what they eat (or don’t) and I just want them to eat SOMETHING.

    I like the comparison of something so mundane like sandwiches to the bigger picture.
    .-= Marilyn @ A Lot of Loves´s last post ..Makeover!! : Wednesday of Few Words =-.

  26. Dharma doesn’t eat sandwiches. Full Stop. She will eat bread, she will eat cheese (although butter or margerine is a bit of the antichrist around here) but if I put the two together she will freak out. YEP. FREAK OUT.
    .-= Mel´s last post ..New tradition =-.

  27. I just can’t get my brain around the ‘logic’ of it all – where do kids get the idea that crusts are so reprehensible? Where do they get the notion that trimming the vile crusts off of their sandwiches is even an option? Do they really come out of the chute with an instinctual, inherent hatred of bread crusts?

    I actually just blogged about this myself a coupla days ago:

    The Crust of the Matter

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