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A Food Fight In A Nursing Home?

September 13, 2011

Lessons about limiting LIES are everywhere. Here’s a story about being attached to a definition – a labels that defines what a thing is for.

My Lovely Mother Cora Moore

Did you know you’re never too old for a food fight? No, I don’t mean the kind you remember from junior high. The food fight I’m referencing occurred between my mother, one of the wonderful caregivers where she lives, and me.

Recently, I showed up during breakfast. Rachel was in Mom’s room. I stood outside the door listening, learning, and trying to not interfere with their routine and relationship. Mom and Rachel get along well.

“Mrs. Moore, time for breakfast. Ready to eat?” I hear no response from my mother.

Rachel tries again, “Are you going to eat for me today, Mrs. Moore.”

This time, Mom responds. “No.”

“Please Mrs. Moore, just a little.”

“I don’t feel like it.”

“But it’s breakfast. You need breakfast so you’ll have a good start to your day.”

I heard Mom say, “I don’t want any.”

I stepped through the door as Rachel continued the negotiation. This time, she divided the food on the plate and pointed to the smallest of the piles, “Okay, Mrs. Moore, eat just this much.”

Mom looked at me and said, “I don’t know why she’s trying to get me to eat. I told her, I don’t feel like eating.”

I smiled empathically and wondered about Mom’s continued loss of interest in food. What did it mean? Did she not want to eat? Was it too early in the day for her to feel hungry? Did she not want what they were serving? This had become an ongoing problem. Several staff members had mentioned Mom’s lack of interest in food. A slight weight loss underscored the story.

I decided to give her a try. “Mom, this oatmeal looks good and it’s still hot. I can add the raisins and honey. Want to try some?”

“No.” Then she made a characteristic move: she changed the subject. “How’s Bill?” Since I was a kid, I’ve known a change in subject means Mom is finished with the topic and any further conversation is a waste of breath. Today, I decided to persevere.

I thought about the contrast between the kinds of foods Mom enjoyed before her illness and the relatively bland diet she now eats. Deciding to test her interest in food versus her interest in the food presented, I reached into my bag, grabbed the small snack baggie I had packed earlier that morning.

“I have some peanuts, Mom. Would you like some?”

“Yes,” she said with a smile.

Got her! Success! On her tray, I spread out a napkin and poured a nice-sized serving of peanuts. She began eating with apparent, deep pleasure. Rachel walked in.

“Are those peanuts, Mrs. Moore?” She spoke Mom’s name but her eyes were on me. Mom didn’t answer; she kept eating, one peanut at a time, eyes straight ahead.

I spoke up, “Yes, they’re peanuts.”

Rachel said, “That’s not breakfast food. Peanuts are a snack.”

“Not traditionally. But, she’s eating and enjoying them. Plus, they’re nutritious.”

“But, peanuts aren’t a real breakfast,” Rachel insisted.

It’s funny, the way we conceive of everyday things, and the labels [link] we apply, seem so real and defining until they become confining and limiting. Rachel’s response to me giving Mom peanuts for breakfast stayed with me; I was struck by it. I thought of the number of times I, and a lot of others I know, have had peanut butter on toast for breakfast. It’s both delicious and nutritious. Certainly, in this case, I was happy to find something Mom was willing to eat.

Getting back to my conversation with Rachel. In responding to her, I used a lesson I learned from my dear mother: I smiled and changed the subject. She and I talked a bit longer while Mom ate the rest of her peanuts and drank all of her orange juice. Then, Mom announced, “I’m full. That was soooo good.” With that, she put her head on the pillow and dozed off.

Limiting labels aside – “That’s not breakfast food. Peanuts are a snack,” – the food fight was over.

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