It didn’t just happen but it is only now that I have come to fully understand how much arthritis has affected and changed the use of my mother’s hands in the kitchen. There is much that she can and still does but in different ways; there is a new kind of normal in the kitchen.
Mommy is currently visiting. The first day of her visit after she had finished eating, I noticed that she held the glass filled with water with both hands to bring it to her mouth. I thought it was cute and didn’t think much of it. Later in the day as we sat chatting she happened to mention that when she is at home (in Guyana) she uses a cup to drink water. I thought it strange given that my mother used to fuss about such things.
When I enquired why, she explained that the cups have handles that are easy for her to grip and hold on to and that she feels secure in holding the handles because of her arthritic hands that can sometimes be painful. The next day, and every day after, I served mom’s water and juices in a Mason jar glass jug.
A couple of days later, I gave her some fruit to snack on and instead of a breakable dinnerware, I accidentally put it on a melamine plate that was nearby. When she had finished eating the fruit and was handing me the plate she said, “From now on, please give me my food on this plate.” And that is when it truly hit me. Of course, the melamine plate was lighter, easier for her to lift and carry to the sink! And if it fell, she didn’t have to worry about it breaking. Life in a particular way had changed for my mom.
I sat down to chat with my mother about her changed life in the kitchen. She had a list.
Hand-grating anything was out of the question. Apart from having to grip anything the constant up and down movement meant that her shoulders would hurt too. Just a few years ago my mom’s hands were well enough to grate the cassava for the pone in my cookbook.
- Kneading dough is another task that restricts her ability; on her good days, she would knead just enough flour to make 2 – 3 sada roti.
- With all of us being grown, mommy no longer has to cook for a family but if she is having company, her helper has to turn/stir the pot for her. Mom can only manage with the small amounts that she would cook for herself.
- Washing dishes are challenging. She is careful to not lose her grip especially when the dishes are soapy.
- Only pre-cut meat and poultry are bought. Her helper cuts up all her veggies.
- Baking is another task that mom rarely undertakes when alone because the pans and dishes would be too heavy for her to transport to and from the oven. I understood this immediately because whenever I visit a family friend (who also has arthritis) and she is having company over for Sunday lunch, she always asks me to remove the roasts, casseroles and pies from the oven. This same family friend gifted me my first two pieces of Le Creuset cookware because she can no longer lift heavy pots and pans.
After listening to my mother I want to go in search of pots, pans, crockery and utensils made of safe, light materials to give back some independence and confidence to my mom. I think of the many people like my mother who, though they may not be as active in the kitchen, still have a significant contribution to make in keeping our food culture alive. There is a lot of knowledge there, skills to be shared, coaching to be done, apprenticing to experience.
Eating a home-cooked meal by my mother is a gift to be appreciated even more.