Chef Joey parked in Rose’s space! … Surprise! You’re a dad!

By Chef Joey

Picture yourself over 50 and semi-retired, you have things to do, places to go, restaurants to dine at – the usual. How about forgetting that you applied to be a foster parent, and you get the call, and willingly convert your guest room into a little girl’s room, complete with crib, stuffed animals and, of course, everything pink.

Day one – Hi, I’m Papa!

I’m 55 and you’re 16 months, Oh, and here is your new bedroom! Here is your other Papa; he’s much younger than I am, but he has parenting skills too so let’s start with getting you used to our three dogs – check. Now our kitties – check.

How about a snack?

Sure, you smile back and are excited when I reach into your bag and pull out packets of hydrogenated cookies and snacks that I’ve never seen or heard of. What do bright orange cheese puffs taste like, anyways? How about some blueberries instead? I offer them to “Gigi” and set her into the high chair. I place 3 or 4 blueberries on her tray and a series of blinks and looking at them, then me followed by me eating one and smiling and saying things like “Yummy” and “Mmmmmm.”

She takes the bait and pops one in her mouth and crunches and a pause for dramatic effect and her eyes fly open, eyebrows up and we have lift off – 80 berries or so later she is asking for more, but I have a dinner planned and it is only 4 pm.

So a walking we shall go! And we went into the stroller … and down the street we went, birds chirping squirrels snapping branches, her little head turning left to right, right to left then the abrupt stop. Her mind said: “How is this happening???” and with a muscle wrenching turn of her head she looked back, saw me and smiled.

That’s when I knew I had to make a difference in her life – and mine.

We go for walks all the time taking advantage of the beautiful fall weather. Eating is an enjoyment and the giving and receiving of hugs is more than I wished for! The first smile of the day makes you appreciate the impact one has on a child.

Every day after we wake up, I put her in her chair and we talk – she has fresh fruit while I make her porridge. Usually I add fresh jam, maple syrup or honey, then a whisked egg for protein. This is her favorite, and some mornings we even have fresh yogurt. Lunch is an amalgam of snacks, small pieces of veggies and meats and a homemade pudding for dessert.

Dinner time is now a tradition: spaghetti pie is her favorite. Meatballs, meatloaf are second contenders and salmon with sautéed leeks is right up there too. Every day I try to introduce Gigi to new foods because by the age of two they kind of resist items they are not used to.

Roll the calendar ahead 12 weeks now and we had our first door to door experience with Trick or Treating! By the third house she got the concept, we limited it to 15 houses in my sister’s Shrewsbury neighborhood filled with hundreds of like-minded candy seekers. The fact that she was carried most of the way added to her energy, but we have a routine to follow, and sleepy time is at 7 PM and we were at 6:30 PM.

After a quick and not loved taste of Halloween candy (thank goodness) we donated our candy to the communal bowl to pass along to others and headed home, only to meet with opposition about removing the costume. Who could blame her? It was so cuddly and warm!

Gigi also loves my Mikey, a Wheaton Terrier puppy. He is so great with her – she constantly gives him hugs and lays on top of him any chance she can get. Being a new dad, a new experience for us, has forced us to drive more responsibly, wake up earlier, and go walking more and refocus on what is important: teaching this little girl the bounties of nature, the joy of being loved and the happiness to come back to the same home and familiar settings every day – and shrieking with glee when it is time to eat! This alone keeps me smiling!

Thanksgiving and Christmas are around the corner! So many photo ops!