Help! -- My daughter just came out to me.
Sat Apr 01, 2006 at 09:03:45 AM PDT
This is a story from an angry, angry mother. I hope you'll forgive this rant: ours is a family in crisis.
My lovely blue-eyed daughter, so full of promise and energy, told me last night that she thinks she might be vegetarian. She carefully explained to me that some children have brown hair, and some have black hair, and some are vegetarian. Then she asked if she could go watch "Dragon Tales".
I could only stand there, numb, staring at the pound of pork cutlets I'd just unwrapped.
I'd noticed her pushing her chicken dinosaurs aside at dinner sometimes, and occasionally she'd leave pieces of her hot dog in her napkin, but I'd thought it was just a phase -- kids are funny about food, right?
As these incidents occurred with more frequency I found myself making excuses for her behavior -- she just wasn't all that hungry, or her body was telling her to get more fiber, so she was concentrating on her veggies. That was it. That was all. And when her little girlfriends would come over wearing "Love Animals. Don't Eat Them" T-shirts, I laughed it off as another fad. She's a normal, red-blooded American kid! And we live in a very diverse part of the country, and we encourage tolerance! Those little shirts were kind of cute! They made me laugh! Ha-ha-ha!
Some part of me noticed, though, that my laughter was becoming a bit hysterical.
Those size 6x shirts had touched a nerve.
You see, my daughter comes from a family with a shameful secret. A dark-green, bulgur-scented secret, running through it like a rogue varicose vein: deep, ugly, painful.
One beautiful evening in the spring of 1972, my father declared his vegetarianism to us. I was almost ten years old. To this day, I remember the look on my mother's face: confusion, shock, guilt. A whole 9 X 13 pan of Hamburger Helper went into the garbage that night untouched, and the five children of one suburban family went to bed with only Nutty Buddies and Kool-Aide in their stomachs.
Now, as a married woman myself, I can appreciate how hard Mom had tried to make it work -- the "soybean spread" sandwiches, the lentil patties, many quiches -- but in the end, she realized there was nothing she could have done. It breaks my heart to think of it now. She was younger then than I am now. The poor kid.
After the divorce, Mom went through the usual angry period. She made a bunch of new, meat-eating friends, and she made a rather large point of having huge BBQ parties with "all meat" menus: no salads allowed. No cream-cheese filled celery sticks. Even the water chestnut in the popular finger-food 'rumaki' was declared "sissy".
She seemed to be having the time of her life, but my siblings and I all knew the truth: inside, she was hurting. And she was almost certainly constipated.
We decided to give her some space.
That turned out to be a fatal choice. Within a year of the divorce, Mom was starting to sneak in trips to the salad bar at the Pizza Hut. She'd said she'd just been out to Kentucky Fried Chicken (this was back when things could declare themselves "fried" without shame), but we could smell the Green Goddess dressing on her breath, and more than once we caught her whisking crouton crumbs from her pantsuit. One night, my sister "Q" was taking out the garbage and found several empty tofu containers. When confronted, Mom claimed she'd found them among my dad's "things" and she just wanted to get rid of them, but none of us fell for that. Just two months later, she sat us down and gave us the news.
After that, it was like dominoes. First "Q", then "Meme". Then "Duke" started dabbling -- first it was "no red meat", then "only fish". "Duke" has continued to go back and forth over the years. "Q" is, sadly, still fully entangled. She won't even eat Jello. It's been over 25 years now.
Only my brother "T" and I have stayed proudly, Americanly carnivorous.
My sister "Meme"s experimentation with vegetarianism was perhaps the hardest for me to bear. We'd always been close, and the thought of losing her this way was almost too painful for me to contemplate. It gives me great joy to report that she's started to recover a bit. I had to give her small sips of bouillon at first, and then slowly got her to work up to some chicken ("it tastes sort of like tempeh," I told her). I haven't seen her independently order a burger or anything (yet!), but there is hope. There is hope.
And there is my daughter.
We live in a part of the country that's crawling (now) with vegetarians. While we believe in tolerance, some things become very hard to tolerate once they pass a certain threshold of ubiquity.
The vegetarians have their own restaurants now, for heaven's sake. There's even an ultra-orthodox sect (the "Vegans") who are inserting the tendrils of their food choice "lifestyle" into formerly-safe parts of our society -- the most innocent-looking brownie for sale at the coffee counter these days could easily be sporting a "Vegan" label. Must they be so in-your-face about it?
Even the lunch menu at my daughter's grade school has a "non-meat selection" every day. How did this happen? She's being assaulted left and right with a message about good old meat. The message is: there are "alternatives". What kind of lifestyle are these people promoting? Humans are meant to eat meat. And children are vulnerable, and easily influenced by their surroundings.
I find my own home has become a front in the war on carnivores taking place in this country.
And I, with my guilty secret, am torn up inside, wondering if I should tell her that she shouldn't blame herself, that this runs in our family as strongly as our tendency to always have a pocket-pak of tissues handy. Should I tell her? Should I wait until she has children of her own (if she ever does?)?
Help! Thanks for listening