History will tell you that Cookie Monster was born on November 2, 1966 as the brainchild of Jim Henson. But I know better. Cookie Monster’s true birthday is April 3, 1939. He is also known as my Father.
The only son of a tobacco farmer, Jack was born with a sweet tooth that he inherited from his mother, a kind, God-fearing woman who could work in the fields just as hard as any man, while making three meals a day from scratch and raising 5 children. She was the epitome of a sweet grandmother, believing her grandchildren to be perfect and without fault. Many a time when we’d disobeyed my parents, she would stand between us and our Father, making the case that we didn’t deserve punishment. Once during a weekend visit, our grandmother was left in charge while my parents went out for the afternoon. Before leaving, they specifically told us not to play in the creek on their farm. As soon as their tail lights cleared the dirt road, we scampered down to the creek and accumulated so much mud on our shoes that there was no way we could hide the evidence against us. Our grandmother brought out a space heater and butter knives so we could dry our shoes and try to pry the mud from the bottom. We worked feverishly against the clock, but to no avail. Our parents walked in and my grandmother stood in front of us – all 4’11” of her – to defend our actions before her son. We hoped she would win him over. She didn’t.
But what she lacked in negotiating skills, she more than made up for in the kitchen. Behind her long, dining room table where hundreds of meals were enjoyed by many relatives, there stood a table filled with cakes, pies, cobblers, cookies and other sweet treats. We flocked to that table like moths to a flame and got a sugar high just looking at all the desserts. There was my grandmother’s famous Apple Stack Cake with seven layers of moist cake sandwiched between homemade apple butter. At Christmas she made her famous peanut-butter candy, with alternating swirls of peanut butter and powdered sugar that literally melted in your mouth. If ever there was a surplus of fruit in the house, it became preserves or was baked in a pie. Cookies were an ever-present feature to the dessert table ~ chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal raisin and molasses. Those were some of our favorites because, while forbidden between meals, they could easily be hidden in a pocket and carried outside for secret enjoyment.
So it’s no surprise that my Father loves cookies. They’re in his DNA. He gravitates to the cookie jar like a bear to a bee hive and empties it as fast as we can fill it.
When a person develops dementia, their senses change, including taste buds. Foods don’t taste the way they used to so it’s very common for them to develop new food preferences. Alzheimer’s has brought about many changes in my Father’s body, from his mood and memory to his cognition and comprehension. But his craving for cookies has not changed. It’s so hard wired in him that last week he finished his lunch and walked over toward the cookie jar. I asked him what he wanted and he said he didn’t know. Eventually, he lifted the lid to the cookie jar.
“This is what I’m looking for!”
He may be 79 years old. But when it comes to cookie consumption, he turns into a little boy, trying to hide treats from Mom. Once I found a half-eaten cookie in the refrigerator and another time, I found one hidden behind the mixer. The problem is, when he hides a cookie, he forgets where he put it or even that he hid it in the first place. When he does indulge in his favorite treat, he forgets how many he’s had.
Caregivers do their own balancing act of allowing their loved ones to enjoy their favorite foods and withholding too much sugar for health reasons. We want my Father to enjoy his cookies. We just don’t want him to make a meal out of them. Thankfully, his doctor agrees.
Last year Dad had to get his blood tested. They wanted him to fast, so we didn’t give him any breakfast that morning. We got him ready and put him in his favorite chair. When I came upstairs to get him, the chair was empty. I walked into the kitchen and literally caught him with his hand in the cookie jar. He had one cookie in his hand and another in his mouth.
“Dad! You’re not supposed to have anything to eat until after your bloodwork!”
He looked at me sheepishly and stopped chewing.
“Do you want me to spit it out?” he asked.
“No,” I laughed. “You can swallow, but don’t eat anymore.”
When he had his follow up appointment with his cardiologist, I explained about the cookie. The doctor just smiled and said, “You know, sometimes if you need a cookie, then you need a cookie.”
Dad just smiled. Cookie Monster couldn’t have said it any better.