My husband stands at the kitchen counter, looking lost. He doesn't know how to cut the sandwich. Diagonal? Perpendicular? Does he like mustard? It's a make or break moment, and he knows it. This is just the kind of thing that can ruin his son's day.
He calls for help.
“Can you make his lunch?” he asks me. “He won't blame you if it's wrong.”
I wouldn't be so sure of that. But I take over, and do something completely novel. I ask the Champ what he wants.
“I don't like sandwiches any more. I'll just eat the meat,” he informs me.
So I give the bread to the dog and pack the ham and cheese in a bag, add a yogurt, a few oranges and pretzels and stow it in his backpack.
Every day seems to send a different kid my way.
Yesterday at the bus stop he'd wrapped his arms so tightly around my legs that I had to shimmy toward the waiting bus, peel away his hug and hoist him up the steps.
Today he won't let me smooth his hair, or squeeze his shoulders through his thick winter jacket. He would wither and die if I leaned in to kiss him as the bus approaches our stop.
Who knows how many kids could witness such public displays of affection?
I don't mind. I know how it is. I've been right where he's standing now.
The awful, pinching discomfort of love.
Well, not love really. It's not love, in and of itself, that hurts. It's all the incidentals that are added on that takes its toll.
My mom would have understood, too.
I sheepishly asked her once why she didn't chime in when her friends were all singing their children's praises.
I thought maybe she wasn't terribly proud of me.
But she said it wasn't that.
She said she stayed mum because it wasn't what they thought that mattered.
Love is a complicated thing.
On some days, love is having perfectly uniformed pancakes fanned around the plate and spread with just the right amount of butter. No syrup.
Three days later love is raisin bran. No milk.
Sometimes love makes a fuss and sometimes it stays quiet.
It tells you “No” as much as it says “Yes.” It makes you do your homework, feed the dog, clean your room, brush your teeth.
Love also means accepting that underwear goes on backwards, and that the same tiger shirt must be worn day in and day out with and three layers of pants: shorts first, pajamas next and finally, jeans. Love is socks with just the right amount of stretch, and red sneakers with double knotted shoelaces.
Love is knowing that anger, frustration and fear of loss (not to mention selfishness) often come with the territory. And love seems to disconnect as easily as a phone call caught out of range.
But just because you can't see it doesn't mean it's not there.
My son understands this, too. He also knows the accommodations meter has its limit.
When your mother isn't cutting the mustard, sometimes you just have to cut it yourself.