Posted in Challenges and Contests, Flash Fiction Pieces, Life Writing, Writing in Freedom, Writing Samples

Friday Flash Fiction – “Making a Sandwich”

English: A peanut butter and jelly sandwich, m...
Image via Wikipedia

I wasn’t in time for the official challenge, partly because I didn’t learn about it until after it ended, and also because, since Jim’s accident, I’ve been shuttling between the hospital, caring for the children, and hometending.  I’ve been getting in a bit of writing as relaxation and anti-anxiety therapy all week, but that’s been limited to things I already had at least somewhat in the works…..

Since I enjoyed this so much, I am going to link back to the original challenge, which was here at Chuck Wendig’s  Terrible Minds blog:

You have up to 1000 words to write a story — not a scene, but a story — where a character makes a sandwich. Any kind of character, any kind of sandwich, but the point is to infuse this seemingly mundane act with the magic story-stuff of drama and conflict. Make it the most interesting “person-making-a-sandwich” story you can possibly make it.

Peanut butter sandwich topped with bacon
Image via Wikipedia

Life in the Sandwiches

Written by Shan Jeniah Burton copyright 2012

“Mommy, will you make me a PBJ?”

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked that question.  If you factor in the variations, like peanut butter and honey, or peanut butter and Nutella, or peanut butter and banana, it might number into the thousands.

There was a time, not so very long ago, when my response would have been, “No!  We’re having dinner soon.”  Or, maybe even worse, “You know how, and you’re not doing anything, so make it yourself.”

I never thought anything at all about it –  I mean, I was justified, wasn’t I?  I am a busy mom.  I work part-time.  I homeschool full time.  I take care of husband and kids and pets and home and bills and appointments and lessons and and and…

Bread, bacon, banana, butter (peanut)
Image via Wikipedia

Besides, everyone knows that you can’t just give kids what they want, else they’ll turn into spoiled brats.

So Adam and Lexie learned that I was not going to make them any sandwiches, as I said, “until I am damned good and ready.”

They knew, before they were 4 and 5, that, when I did make a sandwich, I was not taking special orders.  I taught them that with the standard mom line, and was proud of not being a short-order cook.

I was raising good and respectful kids, and that meant I was doing a good job at being a mom.  They made their own sandwiches, and I made sure (with the threat that they would lose their TV privileges if they didn’t), that they cleaned up any and all sticky messes, before they ate.   I supervised until they used just the approved amount of condiments, and never more.

a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, top slice ...
Image via Wikipedia

Then, one afternoon a few months ago, while I was  reading a magazine in the breakfast nook and having a cup of coffee,  they came quietly into the room, and began making sandwiches together, meticulously following all the procedures I had laid out when they were small, even though they’re 13 and 14, now, and bigger than me.

They were teasing each other as they worked, and racing to see who could finish the process first.

Sandwiches (Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik)

I watched them a moment, and felt suddenly alone, and left behind in their growing up.   I had an almost desperate need for them to notice and include me.

“Hey, guys, will you make me one?”

Two sets of flashing green eyes settled on me, and I could see the satisfaction in those eyes as they said, in perfect sing-song unison, “You know how, and you’re not doing anything, so make it yourself.”

Our lives changed that day, when I first heard it with the ugliness they had, for all those years I denied their simple bids for my affection, in the form of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Since then, I’ve made it a point to bring them food when I think they’ll be hungry, no matter how close to dinnertime it may be.  And I make sure it’s food they will enjoy, no matter my opinion of it.

Peanut butter blossoms closeup.
Image via Wikipedia

I bring the food and set it before them without a word.  It’s a kind of atonement, although I know I can never recapture those days when they really needed me for that, and I wasn’t there.

peanut butter burger
peanut butter burger (Photo credit: misterbisson)

And, today, Lexie came up to me and rested her head briefly on my shoulder.

“I’m hungry, Mom.  Want a sandwich?”

With tears in my eyes, I told her.  “Yes.  Let’s make them together, and surprise Adam.”

And as we put together a plate heaped with sandwiches, chips, fruit, and vegetables, laughing and getting in each other’s way in the smallness of the kitchen, I finally realized that, in denying them, I had been starving myself.


I am myself. I own my life, and live with three other people who own theirs. My intention is to do only those things that bring me joy, and to give myself wholly to those things I do. Writing has been my passion throughout my life, and this will become the home for my writing life...because it brings me great joy!

20 thoughts on “Friday Flash Fiction – “Making a Sandwich”

  1. A quiet, but powerful piece of writing.

    There is a great deal of underlying emotion in this, and lessons learnt by mum, and her children. It isn’t always easy to know the difference between teaching them independence and pushing them away, and sometimes it can be difficult to redress the balance later on.

    1. Steve –

      Thank you for your kind words. =)

      My thought on “teaching them independence” is that there is no need to do that when they are allowed the independence that is a natural part of any young animal’s growing up…

      I think, though, that much of our society robs children, whether intentionally or not, of the growing independence that is their birthright.

      A healthy baby is striving to reach, to locomote, to communicate, to act independently upon his or her world….

      A healthy toddler is insisting “I do it!” even when it is clear to all but the child that it is not yet possible for them to do it…

      And then….

      That child gets a little older, and it’s “time for school”. Parents are shepherding them through their morning routines. “Hurry up! Eat a good breakfast! No, you are not wearing THAT! Make sure you have everything! Brush your teeth! Brush your hair! Hurry, or you’ll miss the bus, and I’m not driving you!”…and the last thing, just before parting,”Do what your teacher tells you to do!”

      At school, it’s eyes front, and do what the teacher says. Then there’s homework – taking over some of the after-school time. Rules on the bus. Chores at home. “Don’t eat that; it’s too close to dinner,” Rules about how much TV, computer, and game time they are allowed, and what they may do with that time. A set routine, maybe afterschool activities the parents deem necessary. That homework, to make the grade, and studying, too. A set and non-egotiable bedtime. Curfews, when they are older.

      And adults everywhere to evaluate and enforce and punish…..

      I have known and know many children for whom this was reality. It was for me, as a child.

      I know many children today for whom this is NOT a reality, including my own.

      I know that there is a vast difference when a child chooses how to spend their time, when they know they are in charge of their lives, when, instead of rules and punishments, the adults in their lives offer support and gentle guidance.

      The trouble with “teaching” anything is that it more or less ignores the fact that the person being “taught” is certainly learning – but what they learn may be very different from the one being “taught”.

      There is absolutely NO issue with independence, here. Jeremiah, 10.5, and Annalise, 7.75. are both exactly as independent as they are developmentally able to be. =)

    1. Gail-

      Thank you, and you are most welcome.

      When I first began to understand the principles of unschooling and peaceful parenting, I used to lecture a lot. (Not very peaceful or unschooly, as I remember it!). My motives were good – I wanted all families to find the joy we were learning.

      For some reason, people didn’t like that much….. =)

      These days, I float ideas out in more user-friendly ways. Some people will just see a story. Some will protest, as someone here did, that something is lacking in this approach…..

      And a few may think about whatever the sandwiches are in their own children’s lives. For me, right now, it’s the state of the common spaces in the house that’s a sticking point I am trying to work through peacefully.

      Jeremiah is getting closer to 11, now, and Annalise is almost 8. They aren’t little kids anymore. There’s lots I refused them that would mean nothing to them fro me to do now.

      My husband is a chef, and Miah has, in the last few months, started to do more and more cooking. He’s not too fancy, yet – but he doesn’t need me to get him food nearly so often, and, actually, he brings me food quite a bit.

      Children are grown so very quickly….but I think they are different people if they develop independence from an abundance of parental support than if they live more sink-or-swim, controlled lives…

      At least, at ages where I have noticed many parents complain about their kids, we are finding more and more cool and remarkable aspects of the young people here – which makes the more trying moments of their learning and growing a lot easier to bear….

      May all the sandwiches at your house be lovingly made and joyfully received! =)

  2. Well written story and yummy photos, but …
    I would suggest that if you’d always made your kids sandwiches for them, you would have done them a dis-service by not teaching them some independence and a skill. If you want to change the past via a time machine, I’d suggest next time around tell them you’d be glad to help them learn how to make a sandwich.

    1. Mike –


      I am trying, but I don’t see the logic in that suggestion. It doesn’t match my reality at all.

      I did always make sandwiches for Jeremiah, now 10.5, and Annalise, age 7.75.

      And, for each of them, there came a point where they wanted to make their own.

      The learning is messy, and trial-and-error come into play often.

      Children don’t need to be taught independence, that I have noticed – think of the healthy two-year-old person, oozing with “ME do it!” confidence. =)

      Often, adults unknowingly seem to sabotage children’s growing independence with things like school, where they are required to do as an adult says, and to wait for directions before they can act.

      Often, when parents have a “Do as your’re told, because I say so” attitude, they are unwittingly sending the message that children must NOT be independent, but instead bow to adults as the authority in their lives.

      We don’t “teach” our children. Teaching is sometihng done TO someone.

      Instead, we facilitate their learning. When they want to try something they aren’t yet adept at, they know they can ask for help from another family member who has more experience.

      It’s how they learned to walk, and talk, and to use the toilet, and to read and write, and so many other things they do easily and well, now.

      Of course, neither of my children have ever gone to school, so they aren’t familiar with spending their days bound by that structure.

      They think and do a tremendous amount independently……

      We still make them sandwiches – and they make them for US, too.

      It’s what Annalise would be thrilled to declare “a symbiotic relationship!” (something else I didn’t teach her, but she learned, because she’s passionate about nature documentaries!).

      I respectfully suggest that it does children a disservice to think that they need adults to teach them independence or skills they haven’t asked for help with….

      I don’t like people ‘teaching'” ME that way, either! I thrive on the experimentation, and only want help when I ask fro it, and only of they type I ask for. Anything else robs me of the delight of figuring it out for myself.

      Jeremiah, Annalise, and my husband, Jim, are all the same way.

      I need to wrap up this comment, so I can check out the link Miah just sent me – he’s researching the cost of used Wii’s online, because we will soon be in the market, and he is our tech guy…..something I COULDN’T have taught him, because I am not techy.

      Thanks for the kind words about the story and tha art – it was FUN, finding those, and something I’ve just recently learned (without being taught), to do!

    1. Nutschell –

      Thank you so much.

      I think the best learning is in those simple, everyday acts…’s those that make up the bulk of life, after all.

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. =)

    1. Sys – you know how “beat people about the head and neck” i was about these things when I just began to see how amazingly they shifted our lives to the better.

      This seems gentler, and sweeter, and lets people see it as just fiction, or something more…

      And I know that I wrote from what I know, and offered a message for those who can hear it….

      Besides, it was cool to imagine Miah and Lise those few years older….. =)

    1. Darlene –

      I don’t want to teach mine anything, anymore. I want to give them opportunities for learning, and guidance when they need or want it.

      Maybe part of why I have a ten year old who cooks, and a seven year old who bathes the 70 pound dog?

      I think a lot of people miss that independence springs from a sense of capability and security.

      When my parents assigned chores and detailed ways of doing them, then yelled and punished when we didn’t get it just right, that didn’t help me become any more independent. It made me want to hide.

      Without any assigned chores at all, Jeremiah and Annalise are growing ever more independent.

      Maybe it isn’t for everyone, but it works for us! =)

  3. What a lovely story, we try so hard to be ‘good’ parents – sometimes too much such that like this we just forget to ‘enjoy’ it! A lesson for us all here. Brilliant 😀

    1. Sharon –

      I live to enjoy it (and for their laughter!). I didn’t used to, but that was always my intention.

      I am still learning to get better at it….because, so often I see parents and children who aren’t enjoying each other, who see each other as annoyance, burden,or enemy…..and I don’t want any of those in my relationships with Miah and Lise.

      We’ve got better things to do! =D

    1. The children here aren’t yet teens (I realized the error of my ways when they were 7 and 4, fortunately), but it’s still very much our story…..and the difference between our lives then and now is worth every sandwich, every everything else, and more – much more. =)

    2. Sylvia, I’m finally getting to a place where I can answer your questions. Thank you for your patience, and I will be posting my answers hopefully before the next challenge starts on Monday!

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