One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.
~ Luciano Pavarotti
Food has always been important to me. I love to cook good food, I love to eat good food, I love to share good food. My mum was always good about making food a family affair, letting us putter in the kitchen with her from an early age. My dad worked in commercial kitchens for years and always put his unique spin on whatever it was he was cooking on any given night. And it was food that solidified the relationship for both Don and me—he says he knew I was the girl for him when I ordered a bacon cheeseburger on our first date; I knew he was the man for me when I sent him out to get veg for dinner one night and he came home with brussels sprouts. Food is the common thread between all people: no matter who we are or where we come from or what we believe in, we all have an affinity for a delicious meal prepared with fine ingredients and assembled with love.
We want Nyana to have this same appreciation for food, and I still remember how it felt like defeat in the hospital when we finally agreed to let Mr. Button come along for the ride. In retrospect, of course the tube was the best decision for her, and we’ve found many positives to having a g-tube baby. But we know that Mr. Button won’t be a card-carrying member of the Sunshine Brigade forever, and the sooner we can start getting food into Nyana the right way, the better chance we’ll have at Nyana finding food just as enjoyable as her parents do.
We been vehemently warned by our respirology team against any oral feeding, and we’ve been strongly cautioned by our occupational therapist that if we don’t start feeding by mouth soon, the non-existent oral aversion we’ve thus far avoided may rear its ugly head and we will have a picky eater on our hands for years to come. Once again trying to find balance between her stomach and her lungs, Don and I have opted to side with the occupational therapist and have begun feeding solids—only once per day with breakfast, and only ever during a maskless trial. So far she’s tolerated everything from strawberries to avocado to green beans to chicken. At her last weigh-in at the pediatrician’s office though, about two weeks after starting her on solids, she’d lost nearly a quarter of a pound from her previous visit. It’s not enough of a loss to be concerned yet, but there is a risk that her little lungs just aren’t strong enough to tackle solids yet, and that the simple act of eating and digesting the food is burning more calories than we’re feeding. Talk about an evil catch-22. We’ve been instructed to continue as we are, and to keep an eye on it.
In the meantime, we continue to build healthy habits around food. Where breakfast is her time to learn how to eat, dinner is her time to learn how to enjoy a meal. For as long as Don and I have been together, we’ve eaten almost all of our meals on the couch in front of the TV, half ignoring each other and half ignoring our food. But now that Nyana is here, we just can’t justify that anymore. Both Don and I were raised around a dinner table; the evening meal was always family time and a good excuse was needed to be allowed to be absent. Don and I know that to instill good habits, we need to start early. So every night after Jeopardy, we turn off the TV, we turn on the stereo, and we turn our attention to each other. Nyana sits in her big girl seat at the kitchen table and enjoys cantaloupe or yams in her mesh feeder while Don and I enjoy our dinner. We talk about our days and we include Nyana in the conversation. She watches us eat and she reaches out towards our plate, as though the cantaloupe we’ve offered her isn’t good enough.
And wouldn’t you know it, dinner time suddenly feels different. We’re finding that by respecting the dinner hour, we’re appreciating our food more. We’re taking smaller bites, eating slower, stopping to talk with each other and making faces with Nyana. We’re building new childhood memories around the dinner table. Don and I love looking to the future, dreaming of when Nyana isn’t an only child and of days when the kids are older. We talk of everyone taking turns choosing the background music for dinner, of teaching the kids how to cook and how to clean as they go, of explaining where their food came from and instilling an appreciation for what they’re eating. A plate of food is so much more than just that; it’s a labour of love if done right, sustinance and comfort that can transport a person to another time and place. And we’re starting to teach that to Nyana by doing something as simple as turning off the television and sharing a meal together at the dinner table.
Life moves so quickly and our days are so rushed, and if we’re not careful we’re going to look around one day and find that Nyana is grown and away at college. I love knowing that as quickly as she grows, we’re guaranteeing half an hour every day where it’s just us, with no distractions and no excuses. A half an hour every day to be a family, to talk about school or work or weekend plans, to teach Nyana and her future siblings that some of the most important things in life aren’t actually things at all, but moments. Some of my best childhood memories are either in the kitchen or around the dinner table, and Nyana deserves no less.