I would have never have anticipated how going vegetarian would disrupt my family in any way, but it turns out a five year old child notices a lot of stuff and asks a lot of questions. First there was last night, where as we passed the fridge case of hotdogs et cetera I commented – out loud, but almost to myself – I would no longer buy those products as I am a vegetarian.
Sophie asks: “Why?”
Mama (pause): “Because they are mean to the animals before they kill him.” (our family is OK with the killing and my children know this is how it goes down).
Sophie, looking intently into my face with wide-kitten eyes: “Are you nice to animals?”
Mama (nervously): “Well, I guess.”
Sophie, pause, then: “I will be nice to animals too.”
Mama (amused): “Oh, you’re going to be a vegetarian too?”
Sophie (finite): “Yes.”
Very tender, no? THREE MINUTES LATER as we pass the bacon Ralph makes a comment about bacon and Sophie goes nuts:
Sophie (wild, scrabbing motions with her claws): “Bacon bacon I love bacon so much it’s so good! I want some bacon!”
Mama (laughing): “Oh! You just told me you were a vegetarian now.”
Sophie, stunned: “Bacon isn’t meat!” (betrayal, confusion in her eyes)
Mama: “Yes it is.”
Sophie (after a beat): “Bacon is the only meat I eat.”
Now how many adult vegetarians have said the same thing?
And today, on the drive home from school – the issue of McDonalds, which has become an issue since we moved here and was not one before:
Sophie, smiling coyly: “Daddy, I see it.”
Ralph: “Oh, McDonalds?”
Sophie: “Yeah, we should go there!” (As though Ralph had just suggested it!)
Ralph: “You know, I don’t really like their food. It makes me feel sick. I liked their food when I was little but I don’t anymore.”
Sophie: “Oh, daddy. That’s just pretend!”
Ralph: “What’s pretend?”
Sophie: “Real life is not the like movies, daddy.” (oddly, astutely, referring to Fast Food Nation, although we have not given one lecture on the subject but she did watch the film with us).
Ralph: “Unless it is a documentary.”
Sophie (condescending laughter): “Oh daddy! I was just joking.”
Ralph: “If you want to go, find someone to take you, baby.”
Sophie: “It makes Mama sick, too. I know! Grandpa can take me to McDonalds!!!”
A few minutes later at home she is sitting down with Nels and I. “Thank you for lunch,” she tells me as she tucks in (Sophie’s pronunciation of the word is more like “lunkchs” and I will be very sad when she pronounces it correctly). She pauses, soup up to her lips. “Is this a nice lunch?”
I don’t need to elaborate further. This discussion is not one I chose for us but Sophie has grasped the import of my lifestyle change and I’m not sure what to tell her. I am not going to give her a fussy, holier-than-thou vegetarian tirade. Absolutely as a parent it is my choice to not bring certain foods into my home. I mean that is our job; left to their own our children might ask for a steady diet of popcorn, candy and ice cream if we let them. My concern is their accidental misplacement of my moral code as their own and any time this threatens I get nervous, with good reason or without I do not know.
Tonight I made two kinds of vegetarian calzones (recipe pending) and the kids ate up. I know I’m feeding them properly (even well-meaning friends and family have immediately been asking me, “Are you finding your kids protein sources?” I believe because their is an age-old Western bias that being veggie means you are exposing yourself to weakness and disease) I just don’t want them to mistake my preference and choices for theirs.
Hopefully in short order our changes will seem less novel and we can go on like we usually do, existing and cooking and living our lives as fun as we have them.