Food is one of the ways we love each other,
and the table is one of the most sacred places we gather.
~ Shauna Niequist
Cooper has been on my mind today – a lot. October 23 is a special day for him, but I will save that story for another time. Instead, my post today starts with an epic mom-fail.
While reviewing the last couple of blog posts, I discovered (in horror) that I didn’t post anything for Cooper’s birthday. I guess the easiest way to explain overlooking such a monumental occasion is by claiming either the ‘second child’ or ‘middle child’ defense. I could also go into a detailed explanation about traveling on his birthday, which was over the Labor Day weekend. I went to see my parents – which is another story for another time.
I guess I did mentioned Cooper several times over the summer. He’s the kid who offers me great physical and moral support when it comes to Patch405. And he’s also the kid who is always up for an adventure. He’s determined to suck the most out of life. Part of that stems from his father; Brad is the author of that philosophy in our family. And part of it stems from having days, weeks, and years stolen from him by pediatric cancer. At the age of nine, Cooper was diagnosed with leukemia and most of his adventures came to a screeching halt.
Food became a major factor in his life. For the first couple of weeks (yes, weeks) of treatment, he was not permitted to eat because his colon was irritated and inflamed – which is not unusual for leukemia patients. An inflamed colon tears easily, and inflammation makes it more susceptible to infection. Since food and drink cause the colon to move, and movement in the colon causes more irritation and inflammation, Cooper was not allowed to eat or drink. In the weeks that followed, he didn’t want to eat because he didn’t feel well; and when he did eat, it came right back up. Eventually, he was able to resume regular food consumption. However, his palate became quite picky. Smells, textures, and combinations affected him like never before. He became interested in cooking in an effort to be more in control of the tastes he was craving (or avoiding).
For his eleventh birthday, we issued a request for recipes to Coop’s Clan – his legion of blog followers. And the recipes came pouring in. Some are family favorites. Some are secret recipes handed down for generations. Some were regional traditions. All were contributed in love to this kid who touched so many lives during the fight for his own. The cookbook was a huge hit. It gave everyone a way to gift Cooper with something special. Along the way, we were introduced to new cuisines (Lebanese, German, Dutch), methods we had never tried (pressure cooker), and new twists on old favorites (shrimp and grits).
Food truly brings people together. Our biggest Coop’s Clan cookbook adventure came from having a guest chef in our home. One of my husband’s best friends – John Walsh – sent Cooper a family recipe for spaghetti and meatballs. Real meatballs – something Cooper had never eaten. I prepped for the meal days in advance. This included a visit to the butcher with the specified list of meats, including sausage links, pork chops, racks of ribs, ground beef, ground veal and ground pork. Yes – all of those meats were cooked in the sauce. I purchased a new gigantic pot to hold everything – and it is still referred to by everyone in my family as “the John Walsh pot.” I purchased wine for John and sparkling cider for Cooper. The recipe dictates specific times for taking a sip. On the day of the event, Cooper and John began at 8:00am. They prepped and measured and mixed and stirred and simmered and tasted and seasoned and tasted some more. And while the sauce was cooking, they prepared stuffed mushrooms as an appetizer, salad, and garlic bread. (And they cleaned the kitchen as they went!) Ten and a half long hours later, their masterpiece was ready for consumption. As you might imagine, we had a table full of guests that night. We ate. We talked. We laughed. We loved on one another. And we celebrated Cooper. It truly was a special evening for all of us.
Today, Cooper still loves food. He’s no longer picky about smells, textures, or combinations. He loves to cook. He’s always willing to try new things. And he certainly has a long list of favorites.
On September 3rd, Cooper celebrated his 21st birthday. For those of you who know anything about cancer, remission, and cancer-free anniversaries – September 3rd also marked Cooper’s 11th annual cancer-free day. Yes – Cooper was declared to be in remission on his 10th birthday. Yes – there were still over three years of chemo treatment to follow, but he was in remission. So for each true birthday, Cooper also celebrates another year of being free from cancer.
I have no doubt that my kid knows he is loved. I hate that I didn’t commemorate his birthday with a blog post on that very day – but I know that he understands and graciously forgives me. Cooper celebrates life every day – so I celebrate with him today … even though it’s not really his birthday.