When I was very young, I spent my days at home with my mom, a little brother and two little sisters. With the two Big Boys at school, I was Mommy’s Helper. Sometimes I fetched cloth diapers from the changing table in the upstairs bathroom. Other times I’d make faces to make a fussy baby laugh for a very busy mommy. When the babies napped, I helped in the kitchen or mom would read to me. One special afternoon she taught me to make mud pies. I loved those moments of having my Mommy all to myself.
With my Daddy, Christmas 1969
However, my dad got up early each morning to go to work and I wouldn’t see him all day. In the early morning quiet in our old, two story home, the quiet only known when the six children were sleeping, I discovered if I got up early and padded downstairs, I could have a few minutes alone with my Daddy. He looked so important in his dress clothes and lace-up Hush Puppies and was very, very tall to me. I had to tip my head way back to see his big smile and the curly ends of his mustache.
One morning, Daddy was excited about something he wanted to teach me. He lifted my tiny jammy-clad body on the counter next to the fridge, a secret we probably wouldn’t tell Mommy, I guessed. If this adventure was important enough to allow me to sit up so high all by myself, then this would be an adventure I would embrace. Only once did I dare lean forward and look down at the floor. It was a long ways down. I didn’t look again.
Daddy monologued cheerfully while pulling out sandwich meat, cheese, lettuce, bread and Miracle Whip from the white, rounded refrigerator. He handed me two pieces of bread and a butter knife. He instructed how to put spread the topping on the bread and add a piece of meat, a slice of cheese and a crisp piece of lettuce. Then, went to take his shower.
I was so proud to be given such an important task.
We repeated this for several days. One morning, my ego was wanting some praise for my role as Daddy’s Special Sandwich Maker, so I asked Dad how he liked my sandwiches. I waited for the praise I knew I deserved.
He paused, looked me in the eyes and said, “Well, you could use a little less Miracle Whip.” He described how too much made the toppings slide around and the sandwich was hard to eat. He pulled out the knife and showed me, again, how to add a little dab and spread it into the corners.
I was mad. After he left, I was a tiny tot sitting on the kitchen counter with a big anger, ranting in my little brain against my Daddy. I didn’t think he should have complained. I thought he was a big meanie.
When he came out to get his lunch, he saw I hadn’t taken his advice well. I was pouting and had refused to make his sandwich. My very big Dad listened to my tantrum, then said in a gentle voice that still feels like a security blanket to this day, “Well, you can pout about it, or you can make a better sandwich.”
His kind words stopped the rant and the rage in my heart. At five years old, I knew he was right. I chose to make a better sandwich. The next day, I chose to try to make it even better. To this day, I still meticulously spread all my topping evenly to the far corners of my bread.
My life’s goal at nearly 50 is still the same as when I was 5. When faced with criticism I know I can pout or improve.
I choose to make a better sandwich.