Birthdays mean milestones, and in our family, turning six is a big one. Six years old is the year that you're responsible for your own sandwich crusts. You can eat them, tear them off, braid them into baskets, whatever you want – but once you're six, MOM WILL NO LONGER CUT THEM OFF FOR YOU.
This is partly because the creating of milestones (even small ones) is a good thing – it gives kids a tangible metric for feeling all grown up. But also? I'm tired of cutting off sandwich crusts. I have four kids. That has to be least 15 miles of crust over the last 11 years. And, of course, I have always felt a moral obligation to eat the crusts I chop off, because wasting a perfectly good strip of peanut butter and jelly is like wearing white shoes after Labor Day – there are some things you just don’t do. (I have a strong suspicion that at least five of these pesky extra ten pounds of mine are made entirely of sandwich crust.)
And because, as a mother, I specialize in overly-dramatic analogies, I don’t miss the symbolism in this big milestone. This world of ours can be a little … well, crusty. There are charred edges, rough spots, parts of life that are (oh, the joy of a well-placed metaphor!) hard to swallow. It is a bittersweet part of parenthood to know that I can, for only a very short time, trim away the hard parts for my children. And really, if I’m honest, I suppose I never can completely. Growing up means ultimately handling your own burnt edges, whether it’s a ham and cheese on rye, a difficult freshman term paper, or a broken heart in college.
I was thinking these thoughts over the weekend as I prepared lunch for my rowdy brood. Three of my four kids have passed the all-important sandwich crust milestone, and I watched them out of the corner of my eye. While I spread the mayo in the kitchen, they goofed off in the dining area, flicking crayons off the table, humming the newest Jonas Brothers tune, helping their little sister climb into her seat. I looked at those boys and thought of how those shoulders seem to be broadening every day, how those lanky legs are beginning to fill up all the space under the table.
I picked up my knife and made an extra few slices.
My 11-year old walked over for his sandwich. “Hey,” he said, pausing, “thanks for cutting off my crusts, Mom. Why’d you do that?”
“Because,” I told him, sighing. “I can.”