Our first family dinner took place on a cold kitchen floor at 2am. Our son, Graham, was a reluctant sleeper and my husband and I were both up, desperately trying to cajole him into a somnambulistic state….to no avail.
While Steven held Graham in his arms in a child’s basket chair, (we were all feeling tired and small at this hour) I had the inspiration that perhaps a bit of solid food (his first) might just assuage a need we hadn’t anticipated. So, I made a pot of oatmeal and just as I was about to give Graham his first morsel of food, I stopped and ran into the dining room where I had carefully saved a tiny, silver spoon. Even at 2am, utterly exhausted from a chronic lack of sleep, I wanted to dignify this occasion with a beautiful utensil. While it did nothing to encourage a dream state, this would be the harbinger of meals to come.
Graham was born with severe cerebral palsy so the reel we played in our heads that showed the three of us cheerfully sitting at table, watching our exquisitely beautiful son enjoy his finger food, then wield a spoon only to evolve into a chatty dinner companion was tossed out. He was a challenged eater whose sustenance had to be specially prepared in advance; three hot, calorie-laden meals that were the perfect consistency to adhere to a spoon. There was a great deal of effort that went into these steamy bowls, mostly concocted late at night when, occasionally, sleep descended upon our beautiful baby. If he couldn’t make those other milestones, I could nourish him with food, patience and an envelope of calm at every meal.
…And so began our mealtime rituals that would last for 23 years. Whether he was in an adapted high chair or ultimately, a wheelchair (we called it the ‘throne,’ for he gave it a noble air) Graham, Steven and I would light candles, choose the perfect music and ‘chat’ between each, oft-challenging spoonful until the bowl was emptied or an hour and a half had passed. There was great dignity in these meals, even as ‘clothing protectors’ were donned and sippy cups were used, long after his peers had forsworn them.
Five hours a day could be devoted to mealtime…five hours of seemingly one-sided conversations. But we knew better. We knew that we were engaging in a different kind of communion. Graham gave us the gift of his gilded, soul-filling company even as we clumsily and not always patiently tried to navigate the spoon into his mouth. He gave us the gift of time where we sat and had no choice but to stop, enjoy each other…and take stock of our life three times a day. He knew that the food was full of nourishment, but more important was the exceptional love that we imbibed during these unscripted hours. Sustenance for all….
We blew the candles out after every meal and made wishes. Every day was a silver spoon celebration.