the hand that fed

Such a lovely, joyful image. Hard to imagine that not long after this image was taken the woman was murdered by her husband, leaving that smiling child alone, this beautiful child who laughed and played with her friends at school within walking distance of where I sit.

She was flown to England—I read in the local paper—flanked by two social workers, so that she might attend the funeral of her mother whose body was taken there earlier. Arrived on Friday, torn from her only family’s arms on Saturday to return to the U.S. until custody plans are sorted out.

An unspeakable crime yet far too common. A tragedy beyond comprehension.

What reached me at my core were the words of the child’s Aunt (who the article said has worked as a war-zone photographer for AP and Reuters):

“Our niece is the only living witness to this case […] and up to now I believe she hasn’t spoken […] Even at the funeral she was cold. I have watched my sister raise this child. Samara has hardly ever eaten food on her own. Her mother would hand feed her. Samara was the only child my sister ever had. My sister loved her dearly and every meal was fed to Samara. And now suddenly there’s no one there feeding her. There’s no one there doing anything for her.”

What an image. Such sadness in those last two phrases, “there’s no one there feeding her…”

I know all too well that for many Americans the thought that a mother might hand-feed a child might ring odd, even offensive after a certain point in the child’s development. Yet this very image represents for me the deep love of her mother, the intense loss for the child. Let me explain why…

In our culture children are taught to be self-sufficient, independent and strong, practically from birth. We “train” them to sleep alone, letting them cry it out in cribs behind closed doors. We prop them up in high chairs and present them with bowls of finger foods, encouraging them to explore and toss the food around, to smear it over fingers and face and walls, teaching them that to eat they must learn how, alone. Independence. Self-reliance. Self-control. We instill in our children from a young age these goals (although I would hasten to say not always so successfully).

“Until now, feeding your baby has been your job. But as your baby gets older, your little one will want to do this more and more on his or her own. […] Encouraging finger feeding helps your child develop independent, healthy eating habits. Finger feeding — and using utensils a little later — gives babies a measure of control over what they eat and how much. Sometimes they’ll eat the food, sometimes not, and that’s all part of the process of learning self-regulation.” (

The idea is that if your child gets used to having you rock him to sleep, or he always falls asleep while nursing, he won’t learn to fall asleep on his own. When he wakes up during the night — as all children and adults do as part of the natural sleep cycle — he’ll become alarmed and cry for you instead of being able to go back to sleep. (

Do a google search for hand feeding and you come up with things like “hand-feeding a koi” or “hand-feeding a moose,” but few references to hand-feeding a child, yet it is done in so many parts of the world. You also come across a bunch of crazy forums where people debate the “crazy” immigrants who do this bizarre thing, one of which cites a dictionary definition of “spoon-fed” which notes that beyond the literal meaning of feeding with a spoon it is also “treating another in a way that discourages independent thought or action, as by overindulgence.” God forbid…

The passage about the mother hand-feeding her child struck me so deeply because I know that within her culture that is an act of love, of nurturing, of sharing, of intimacy.

I read the passage to my husband with tears in my eyes. He understood the weight of those words, coming as he does from a culture where hand-feeding a young child is quite common. He understood the intimacy of the act, the poignancy of the Aunt’s words and what they really meant. Together we mulled over for the gravity of the situation.

He then ever so gently reminded me that one of the reasons that children are hand-fed in developing nations is that food is not so plentiful, so by controlling what goes into a child’s mouth food stores are not only maximized but the mother can be certain that the child is fed the sufficient amount. Practical wisdom at its very best.

But that’s not the only reason, of course. We sat for several minutes reflecting on this child and hoping that she will soon be united with family and will be nurtured and loved and comforted.

Far more important than the fact of hand-feeding was the hand that fed.


29 thoughts on “the hand that fed

  1. The fact that these tragedies are so commonplace is something I still can’t get over…

    Here in Houston, a woman shot her son-in-law because he barged into her apartment with a crowbar and started beating her daughter and her grandchild. Fearing for their lives, the grandmother ran upstairs and retrieved her gun. She then shot her son-in-law. The son-in-law, now hospitalized, will serve a few years at the most.

    What will happen then? Who will pay the price when he is released from prison?

    I never spoon fed my children after a certain age. They all wanted to feed themselves. I am loathe to admit it to other mothers, who think it strange, but my 5 and 8 year old daughters still sleep with me. Sometimes, they’re ok with sleeping by themselves in their own room, and I am proud of them when they do so, but they will never need me this much again. And I indulge them.

    1. I suppose there has always been violence in our world, but some seems particularly cruel and senseless.

      As for indulging your children… did I mention that I have to tuck a certain little one’s stuffed tigers behind my pillows each morning as I make the bed, the evidence that we had a visitor the night before? If it’s any consolation, we’ve always had a family bed, but eventually they do move on. Evidence is my son who’s now 6+ feet tall and off to college in a few weeks… while he still loves a hug every now and then, clearly he’s moved on from crawling into our bed at night! Indulge away…and enjoy the sweetness!

  2. What an incredibly sad story. We all need to feel nourished and loved and connected, and that is what this what this poor girl lost in one fell swoop. I do hope she is brought into a loving circle very soon. MMF

  3. Hello from the She Writes Blog Hop! I am glad to have found you, I have to admit that your post touched me, and I was sad for samara. I hope that she will find the strength to continue to live.

    1. It seems from what I read that she has family abroad who are very very anxious to get her there, to love and nurture her. From what I’ve heard she’s a lovely child and while the trauma will be there forever, that resiliency that children are blessed with will no doubt help her to move on and live her life as her mother would have wanted…

  4. I love the idea of hand-feeding those you love — it’s such an act of nurturance, and it’s sad that this girl and so many children out there lose their parents to such violence and so suddenly.

    Followed you from SheWrites and expected writing tips, but pleasantly surprised to find such an inspirational post. Thanks for bringing attention to it.

    1. Actually I’d wanted to talk more in the post about the act of feeding, whether it be by hand or just by cooking, as a way of expressing love and caring for others, most specifically our children. I find it fascinating, actually, to see how food plays in our relationships, and how our modern lives have altered that.

      Thanks for coming from SheWrites. I couldn’t seem to get the bookstore logo to work so that you’d have a clear way “home” to Meg’s blog, my apologies!

  5. I wish there was something more we could do for the precious little girl who is all alone without her dear mother…and yet you have. You are sharing her story, attempting to open minds and hearts to different ways of being, of even a potentially deeper, more loving way to parent. Brave, Tracey. If I could bring you flowers with a hug, I would. For now, I just send you loving energy and heartfelt thanks.

  6. SheWrites Blog Hop brought me to you. I was so moved by your story, a beautiful woman with her adoring child destroyed in an instant. It’s hard to understand hatred that strong dwelling in one human being. I’m comforted knowing Samara has an aunt who will love and care for her, but she can never erase the memory. Thank you for sharing this touching story.

  7. I’m also here via the blog hop. Hi!

    This is a moving and difficult story. I have a daughter (2) and I lost my mom when I was 22, and the idea of something happening to me before my daughter’s, you know, 65, scares the daylights out of me.

    1. 22 is far too young to lose your Mom. Must have been tough, and I can see why it adds to that fear all mothers have of not being there for their kids… just squeeze her tight and close your eyes and when you awaken she’ll be ready for AARP. 🙂

  8. Over from bloghop!

    Never forget, no matter how much it’s stigmatized, hand-feeding is part of pretty every wedding ritual in the world, which cements its status as as the giving of true love.

  9. What a beautiful mother child. What and evil thing that happened to her. My heart breaks for that child and I pray that she gets into loving arms asap. Every moment counts. I was all for teaching my kids to self feed as soon as possible but sleeping alone was a different matter. I heard all the expert advice and listened to my more disciplined friends and fought guilt for years about letting my son crawl into our bad and not doing bedtime right. What a waste of guilt! Like your son he is now a healthy well-adjusted 6’2″ 18-year-old getting ready for college. I need to warn the the younger mothers to stop the agonizing!

    1. Yes! Stop the agonizing and do what feels right and what works for you and your family, that seems the wiser and healthier route. Parenting theories are constantly in flux and if you take them (or any other mainstream advice) too seriously you’ll go bonkers!

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