British Columbia·First Person

My mom's memory is failing. But rolling dumplings is something she can do intuitively

Even when her memory was failing, Tarn Tayanuth’s mom worked her way around the kitchen rolling dumplings with confidence.

Food has bridged past and present in our family, and now it’s helping with my mom’s Alzheimer’s symptoms

Tarn Tayanuth, left, owner of the Dumpling Drop restaurant in Victoria, with her mother Toom. Even when her memory was failing, Toom worked her way around the kitchen rolling dumplings with confidence. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

This First Person article is the experience of Tarn Tayanuth, a Thai-born chef who lives in Victoria and cares for her mom. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ

I'm an only Asian child, and that comes with its own baggage. 

But I'm also a queer woman in the restaurant business and I am supporting my mother with Alzheimer's disease. Now that's baggage.

Obligation isn't quite the right word because, of course, I love my mom — but in our culture, there is huge emphasis on familial responsibilities.

The reality is, caring for a parent with Alzheimer's can feel isolating and overwhelming. Diseases that affect the mind, and memory in particular, have an uncanny way of making you feel powerless to help a loved one. 

I couldn't see it, but I knew my mother's mind was slowly deteriorating. The hardest thing was, and maybe still is, the sense of guilt that hangs over me each time I felt frustrated with her forgetting.

There is a fine line between worrying about the safety and well-being of my Mæ̀ and frustration at the lack of control I have because I can't reverse or change anything about my mother's condition. 

But I can roll dumplings. It turns out, my mom still can too — and it's the greatest gift I could ever have been given. 

Tayanuth launched Dumpling Drop, a restaurant in Victoria, B.C., to support her mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2016. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

We moved to Canada 25 years ago when my mom married my stepdad, who was from Victoria. I was just 14 years old. I feel indebted to the effort my mom went through to bring us here, and I feel I was given this big opportunity and responsibility to make something out of it. 

In a way, that indebtedness guides me; it might sound like a negative emotion, but I've learned the importance of gratitude in life and a good work ethic. My mom and I have worked in the restaurant industry for over 20 years. Her first job in Victoria was at a local Thai restaurant, the same restaurant where I worked for 16 years myself. 

We both faced difficulties as Asian immigrants — racism and language barriers — and those painful experiences can be hard to forget, but we made this our home. 

Food was the bridge. The Thai food and community of Thai people in Victoria connected our homeland to our new chosen home. 

My mom was working as a server at that same Thai restaurant when she started having trouble remembering orders. The diagnosis came in 2016. It was Alzheimer's, and at an unusually early age.

She couldn't work anymore, and that feeling of indebtedness I mentioned previously told me I had to care for her. 

Tayanuth appreciates the time she and her family are able to spend with her mother after launching Dumpling Drop. She says it has shown her the healing power of food. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

When her neurologist told us that fine-motor activity kept symptoms at bay, I thought of how we used to roll dumplings together with all of my neighbourhood aunties in Thailand. So my mom and I started doing just that. 

She would forget why we were rolling so many pork and chive dumplings, but she would wrap each dumpling by hand with such intuitive confidence and muscle memory, I knew it was worth it. 

She would tease me: "You shouldn't be eating so many dumplings, you're going to get chubby." 

Eventually, the amount of dumplings got out of hand. Friends began to encourage me to sell the surplus, and a few pop-ups later I now run a dumpling restaurant in Victoria, all to support my mom. 

Tayanuth and her mother, pictured, worked in the restaurant industry for over 20 years. Now they are the owners of Dumpling Drop, a dumpling restaurant on Pandora Street. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

It's been five years since her diagnosis, and my mom still comes in and rolls dumplings with me at Dumpling Drop. We roll dumplings with her "beautiful angels" — that's what she calls the staff.

Dumpling Drop has given me and my family the gift of time with my mom, and that's all that really matters to us now. It goes to show the healing power of food. 

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Tarn Tayanuth is the owner of Dumpling Drop, a restaurant she launched to support her mother who lives with Alzheimer’s.