Senior Moments: Remembering the wisdom and compassion of mothers

As my mother told the story, she was a nervous new mother trying to feed her baby his first tastes of solid food.

Mom had left a job she loved and did quite well to be a stay-at-home mother. I don’t think that term was even used in the 1940s when “mom” and “stay at home” were pretty much synonymous.

Her boss valued her work so much that he had offered to pay for a nanny, so she could return to work after the baby was born. But mom couldn’t find anyone to live up to her standards, and my parents lived in a one-bedroom apartment with no room to house a caretaker.

I’m guessing, though she never said it, that my mother missed her routine of dressing for work each morning and taking the train from the Bronx to New York City where she worked at J. Walter Lampl, designers of gold jewelry including charm bracelets, one of which she started for me as a baby. She enjoyed spending her days in interesting pursuits that she learned, mastered and was recognized for. Her days at home, where she had full responsibility for a new baby, was a life she struggled to navigate.

On the morning that she was to begin my older brother’s foray into solid foods, Mom sat at the kitchen table, reading and rereading the directions on the Pablum baby cereal box trying to find out how to prepare only one teaspoonful, which is what the doctor had told her to give the baby. No matter how hard she tried to pare down the recipe to make such a small amount, nothing worked.

She was in tears when her mother, who lived across the alley from her, stopped by to see her new grandson. “What is it?” she asked in Yiddish, when she saw my pale and agitated mother. When mom explained her plight, my grandma Sarah went to the stove and prepared one portion of Pablum. She did not read the box directions as she didn’t speak, or read English, but she had raised eight children. She didn’t need instructions.

Mom watched her mother intently trying to explain that she had already attempted that, and it didn’t work. When the cereal was done, Grandma took a teaspoonful and fed it to the baby. Then she poured the rest in a bowl and gave it to my mother.

Motherhood is its own education.

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