By TODAY show editor Sara Pines, a.k.a. Sandwich Mom When you are still a new parent, after you’ve learned to master the sleep deprivation and gotten in sync with the emerging sleep patterns of your 5 or 6-month-old, a new milestone looms on the horizon. Solid foods. What will you feed her? Jars or homemade? Regular ready-made jars or specialty organic? You read books, talk to friends, soloicit the input of strangers on the park bench, the pediatrician. Then, it’s time, you start with the carrots or sweet potatoes, something bound to be messing and staining. It’s a new adventure for you both, but an exciting new frontier that soon evolves to peas and eventually finely cubed mango or even chicken. “You are such a big girl!” Such a good eater,” you coo, another proud accomplishment and momentous skill under both your belts. You become adept at cutting up pancakes and cheese with the skill and precision of the chefs of Benihana. But feeding her is a thrill, seeing what she’ll take and what she doesn’t seem to like. And the frustration when that changes from day to day. My father was always a good eater. I wasn’t around for his introduction to solids, but I don’t’ think he ever met a solid he didn’t like. He liked a good steak or lobster, mussels and his mother’s stuffed cabbage. A good dinner in Chinatown -- a little throwback to his days in the DA’s office downtown -- was always fun. But he was always especially partial to Italian food. Angel hair pasta with a good Bolognese, osso buco , linguine in clam sauce … he loved all of it. He and my mom traveled to Italy a dozen times, each trip lovingly immortalized in carousels of slides that still sit up in the closet and punctuated by meals loving described, enjoyed and lingered over. I was lucky enough to join them on one of their trips that included a long stop in Bologna, ostensibly so he could learn the language, but secretly to enjoy the rich meals to be found there, I’m sure. So, a few months ago, when I was visiting him at the nursing home where he’s bedeviled and drained of personality by the cruel disease known as dementia, I learned that the latest indignity was that he’s lost the skill to feed himself. With my 4-year-old daughter by my side, being her smiley and bright self, I was reduced to tears once again by the disease when lunch came and I found myself cutting up and feeding Dad a meal of bland spaghetti and meatballs. How did we get here? From a distance, a well-meaning friend might point out that this was a loving gesture, at the time I was fighting the tears with every forkful. My daughter was asking “are those happy tears, Mama?” I come from a family of criers, so she’s not particularly alarmed, just curious. I change the subject. It is wrenching and sad and infuriating. The same gesture, the same loving ritual I have spent years reveling in with her has become a painful reminder of what was -- and what will never be again – a loving dad, full of live, enjoying a simple meal with his family. The next day, Isabelle and I travel downtown to visit my mom, who has just broken her wrist. Once again, I am called up to cut up the food, waffles this time. Isabelle is thrilled. I slice hers. Mom is resigned. I slice hers. I sit down, exhausted, drained, a little resentful and just plain sad … and cut up my toaster waffle. I think, I can’t cut this anymore. More posts from Sandwich Mom:
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