I’m very messy. I understand why you’d think journalists are very detail-oriented people who sit in offices filled with color-coded and alphabetized file folders, but my desk is ridiculously cluttered. My office is littered with hundreds of small, thin notebooks full of my scribbles. Some of them are years old. Yellowing newspapers are stacked against every wall, some of them toppling over and leaking down to the floor when the piles get too high. AP Style books, source books, calendars and a bevy of public documents make up the rest my office’s interior design scheme. There’s no system or method to my madness. I just do what I do and find what I need. And I don’t make a big deal out of it.
But not Will. No sir.
If he’s playing with dinosaurs they all must be accounted for. T-Rex? Check. Stegosaurus? Check. Iguanodon? Iguanodon?? Oh shit. Where the fuck is that Iguanodon?! Hell, even when all the dinosaurs are present in the living room there are still rules. They have to be lined up in a row directly in front of him. The dog can’t be anywhere near him. His stuffed monkey has to be within arm’s reach, with its face directed towards the action so it doesn’t miss anything.
But as bad as the toys are, his OCD when it comes to food is exponentially worse.
Will likes chicken, never red meat. Chicken nuggets are his favorite (preferably McDonald’s), but they CANNOT be cut up into pieces. Chicken nuggets must be eaten whole. However, if I cook chicken tenders, those absolutely need to be cut up. I made the mistake one day of asking him about this double standard. He looked at me with his brow furrowed and his nose scrunched up in disgust, and simply said “Are you serious dad?” He made me feel like such an idiot, I never brought it up again.
He prefers his drinks in a sippy cup, but we’ve essentially nixed those at this point. So he’ll grudgingly accept a big boy cup. But you need to let him choose between blue and green. God help you if you make that decision for him. And when you present him with his food it can’t be touching on the plate. Chicken is separate from ketchup which is not touching the broccoli. Fork on the right side of the plate. Drink on the left. On a placemat.
This is diametrically opposed to my affinity for mixing everything on my plate together and shoveling it straight into my pie-hole.
But that’s fine. I get that kids are picky, especially when it comes to food. So I’m used to the routine by now. That’s really saying something because at first I refused to bend to my son’s rigid demands. But I’m better now. Except, of course, when it comes from out of the blue and results in whining.
A few days ago Will asked for a graham cracker. I obliged. And because I’m in the know, I gave him a whole cracker without any imperfections because I know he likes to break them perfectly in half along the designated lines on the cracker. But after I gave it to him and went back to the kitchen, he started screaming his face off.
He broke the cracker, but not in the right place. Instead of a smooth and even break down the middle, this was jagged and split the graham into unequal portions. And Will was not pleased. At all.
Not to mention it was the last cracker. Of course it was the last cracker.
I tried to tell him it still tastes the same and how you break the cracker is irrelevant. I attempted to calm him down and make him listen to reason. But in the end that proved about as ineffective as trying to wrestle a briefcase of cocaine away from Charlie Sheen. Eventually I lost my temper and told him to stop whining and toughen up.
A couple of hours later, after Will had gone to bed, I thought about what just happened. I was so frustrated by what I considered a very silly reason to be so upset. The damn graham cracker tastes the same whether you eat it whole, break in half or crush it up. His dinosaurs are still fun to play with even if they’re scattered all around the room and not lined up like prehistoric British soldiers gearing up for battle. His dinner gets mixed up together in his stomach after he eats it, so what’s the big deal about having it presented ever-so-precisely on the plate?
And then I realized I’m a cynical and jaded adult, and Will’s predilections are based on a child’s innocence.
He wants it to be perfect because perfection is still his norm. A collection of toys eternally at his disposal lined up as he sees fit. Three meals a day prepared by loving parents just the way he likes it. Graham cracker snacks neatly broken in half much to his delight. Some might say Will is spoiled, I don’t see it that way. In my mind, he’s just got two parents (and a network of friends and family) who love him like hell, and do whatever they can to make his life as perfect as possible.
The sad part is thinking of kids, even as young as Will, who wouldn’t bat an eyelash at these small flaws because they’ve never had anyone work to make their world perfect. They don’t complain about their toys being out of place because they only have one. Or none. And they’re certainly not whining about how their food is presented because maybe they’re lucky just to get food. Same with toys.
Eventually Will will learn, as we all have, that life is not perfect or symmetrical. He’ll be fully aware the pot of money isn’t always equal to the pile of bills. That life is messy and filled with jagged edges . He’ll be fully aware that’s the way the graham cracker crumbles.
But right now all he knows is perfection. How things should be. So the next time he’s crying about some little inconsistency in his life, I’ll be smiling. Because every time he gets upset about that stuff, it means he hasn’t yet succumbed to another one of life’s inevitable letdowns. It means he’s not yet used to disappointment as the norm. It means we’re still doing our job as parents.
Or he just really hates uneven graham crackers.