Just as I began my search in earnest for my love of all things food, my father is diagnosed with colon cancer. It was a devastating blow to all of us. There is the worry and concern for my father, and then the worry and resentment my mother is in no way able to take care of him. There was one day of complete worry about the future for him or if there would be one. Then he saw his surgeon and hope sprang eternal when he was informed he would have a less invasive surgery and basically resume a normal life.
My sister and I sat at the table with our parents, and we both pleaded the case for healthier eating. My father is the type to eat a dinner, a second helping then a bologna sandwich an hour later. Their cupboards are stocked with chips, sweet treats and enough carbs to fuel the Boston Marathon. Their freezer is overflowing with frozen food and ice cream. My sister and I insisted he needed to change his diet not only for this latest health set back, but also because of his twenty year battle with heart disease.
The first thing my mother did is angrily insist his diet does not need to change. Our relationship now is cold and distant, there is resentment and anger simmering between us like a volatile moltov cocktail waiting to explode at any moment. There have been several times I’ve pleaded with my mother to not bring boxes of Ho Ho’s and Twinkies into the house. She insists my father should have more willpower and be able to not eat the things he shouldn’t.
When I first returned to Kentucky, I began cooking healthy foods for my father. We attempted a strict heart healthy diet in hopes of helping him lose pounds quickly after yet another heart stint was necessary. My mother doubled her efforts to bring home his favorite fatty foods and by the time I moved out, the diet was long forgotten and he had returned to enjoying fried foods with mom again. My mother also refuses to smoke outside despite begin informed by a Cardiologist she should for my father’s health.
So, I thought about food again but this time as a way to nourish and heal the body. I’m making double steel cut oatmeal this morning and I wish I could convince my father how it’s not only healthy, but delicious. I believe the biggest obstacle to my father changing his eating habits, is indeed my mother. She likes the attention on her and her illnesses. Yesterday, when we sat at the table, she began crying and everyone there completely ignored her. Within seconds, her tears were dried and she stomped off to another room. My father’s health has now become the focus of our attention and she does not like it.
I’m now not thinking about my love of food, but what it does for my body. When I eat healthy, I feel healthy. With the gene pool I’ve been cursed with, it’s more important than ever that I am mindful of what I do put in my body. It’s not enough I’ve given up meat and maintain a vegetarian lifestyle. I’ve given up coffee and have replaced my tea with decaf. I’m insisting my daughter make healthier choices. Who knows maybe by example I can convince my father to replace his ice cream with Greek yogurt.
So I woke up feeling fruity so I made a smoothie with almond mild (so yummy) and frozen strawberries and mango. This time I didn’t include my usual two packets of Splenda. I had my usual coffee sans cream. For lunch, I had a salad with sunflower seeds and feta cheese. Dinner was leftover butternut squash and greens.
Let’s be honest. Nothing exciting about today’s food. But the smoothie was delicious and the salad was filling. Dinner was more of a throw together because I was exhausted by the time I got home. I really wanted a piece of caramel, but of course I want a piece of salted caramel, so decadent and delicious a Werther’s will not do.
I’m feuding with my parents again. It’s a culmination of all these years with a dash of how they treat my daughter sprinkled on top. But exploring food, brings me home again. It was always food that brought us together as a family, that was a catalyst for a visit or celebration. It was food my mother taught me was a balm for the blues. Having traveled and explored, I learned to differentiate between good food and mediocre. There really is no going back. Not with food, not with my family.
So I’ll look for that salted caramel this week and try to be a little more adventurous.
This morning I asked myself what I really wanted for breakfast. Instead of a cereal, I made hash browns with red pepper flakes, lots of pepper and one perfect over easy egg. Then I chopped it all up and ate slowly while I enjoyed an orange flavored coffee. It’s easy to cook on the weekends, but much harder during the week when I’m rushing out the door.
For lunch, I made a proper English cucumber sandwich with the crusts cut off fluffy white bread. I smeared the bread with horseradish sauce then layered on fresh cucumber. A side of salad with balsamic vinegar and olive oil to dress it. I sprinkled on feta cheese and sunflower seeds and it was delicious. I then ate a bowl of fresh cut cantaloupe. It was delicious and I was reminded I have not had it in a long time. I remember reading somewhere you should only eat fruit before lunch and I’m wondering how true that statement is.
Dinner was our now traditional Sunday dinner. I made a butternut squash and collard green stir fry and fresh ears of corn. For dessert we sat outside in the heat and ate dripping organic blueberry popsicles.
It’s easier to eat like this on the weekend. I wonder how I’m going to fare during the week.
This morning I woke up to my daughter climbing in bed with me and wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day. As is tradition, we ate eggs over easy, toast with grape jelly (I made this time because she’s nursing the flu) and then we settled in to watch Godzilla on Netflix. She gave me a coffee mug this year that says “Mom, I love you more every day.” She also made me an assortment of bead bracelets and drew me a picture for the fridge. I am reminded just how lucky I am.
Motherhood, like everything in my life, did not occur in a normal manner. I was married to someone who could not have children and I had just accepted this was my fate. I convinced myself maybe I wasn’t meant to be a mother. I had very little, if any, motherly instinct anyway. And I’m a klutz. I could not imagine carrying a baby anywhere.
The truth is, I always knew I would be a mother. I had been almost five years older than my sister, and would like to think I helped raise her. I knew I was capable and I knew it was in my destiny to have a child. Sometimes you just have to accept things on faith, whether you are religious or not. There was a plan I was certain of.
Then once upon a time, I had received a phone call from a friend who knew of a young girl wanting to find adoptive parents for her unborn baby. She said she had immediately thought of me and would I want her phone number. Without consulting anyone, including my ex-husband, I contacted the girl and she said she would like to meet.
I told no one but a friend I had asked to accompany me for courage. We met at a diner in the subversive Bardstown Road area of Kentucky, Twig and Leaf. It was a diner meant for the cool kids and I felt out of place as I sat waiting for this teenage couple to appear. When they walked in, I swallowed whatever fear I had been trembling with and managed to answer their questions. We talked easily and found we had a lot in common. For the girl, the most important thing was that her baby would be loved. I did not promise perfection, but I would love the baby as my own I had said. She asked me what names I would like, so I told her a couple of girl and boy names. We hugged goodbye and then I heard nothing from them.
For six months, no phone calls, no letters. I mourned the loss of what I thought was meant to be, but I had accepted it. Then one Monday night, I was up later than normal, the phone rang. It was the birth father who asked me if I still wanted to adopt the baby. I had felt the room spin as he told me it was a girl, she was a week old, and they named her one of the names I had mentioned. He asked me if I wanted to meet her and we arranged a meeting for the next day. I had sat down on the couch for nearly an hour, in shock and then began making phone calls.
The first time I held my daughter, I knew it was meant to be. She had been crying and the instant she was in my arms she had quieted. She had looked up at me with those huge blue eyes and I instantly and irrevocably fell in love. Leaving her that afternoon was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to endure. Everyone kept telling me they could change their mind, but I knew they wouldn’t.
Five days later, after obtaining temporary custody of her and beginning adoption proceedings, I took my daughter home. Despite being married, I knew she was meant for me. I also knew her presence in our marriage would mean the end to it. Not because he could not love her, but because he was in no way ready to become a parent, might not ever be. But I was.
I am not a perfect mother. But I have lived up to my promise. I love her as if she were my own flesh and blood. There has never been a moment when I didn’t feel as if I was her rightful parent. Our relationship has weathered our differences and our personality clashes. Sometimes we are too much alike, and other times not at all. If you met us on the street, you would never suspect she is not mine biologically.
I am sometimes a too strict parent. I have smothered her with love and concern. I have learned to accept she is not like every other person on the planet and I must nurture who she is to become. There are days when I sit quietly thinking of the baby she was. Looking up at me with those large doe eyes and always laughing. I could make her giggle just by wrinkling my nose. These days it takes much more than that. The teen years are not kind to those going through it and those enduring it.
Today she told me she felt lucky. It’s like winning a gold medal in parenting. Despite everything we’ve been through together, she feels lucky because through it all we’ve always had each other. I didn’t say what I was thinking, that she does not know anything yet about luck, about a woman who fell into motherhood like winning the lottery. That no matter what has happened before or has happened since; I have never lost my gratitude for how fortunate I’ve been in my life. I brought my daughter home one Saturday morning and life has been the most amazing journey since.
So, on this Mother’s Day, I say a thank you to the fate or to destiny or to whatever it was that brought us together. Now, I’m off to watch more Godzilla and laugh with my daughter. And smother her with love.