Note: I miss my mother. She is a phone call away and lately those phone calls haven’t been made as often. When made, they are shorter. She thinks my girlfriend is always around, a specter she’d rather avoid. I didn’t tell her when we broke up, although she is usually the one who holds my heart when it is broken. I miss my mother and I often think of my sister’s post, bravely written when our blog first started. This post is a comedic meditation on the ways that parents grieve when their children live in ways the parents never imagined. This is also a post with a lot of penis jokes.
Parents of Vegetarians is an organization that stages family intervention retreats for vegetarians whose parents just don’t get it. The parents go through process groups to understand the relationship (or lack thereof) between their parenting and their children’s choices. Often, the parents of vegetarians go through the stages of grief as they come to terms with their children’s lifestyles, whether those children were born with a disposition to/ intolerance for meat or whether they chose to live as vegetarians. This is one mother’s journal.
This is my first day at the Parents of Vegetarians retreat. My daughter has been begging me to come to one of these things since she tore the family apart by coming out as a vegetarian. It was a big mess and I’m still working through my feelings about it; thankfully I have this “100 % recycled” journal to help me do that. Of course, I write that sarcastically as vegetarians have become a bunch of tree huggers who think they can change the world with the things they put in their mouths. Ugh. And I’m not lost to the fact that the acronym of this group is P.O.V. as if the decision to live a life without meat is as simple as having a different point of view than the people around you. The nerve. I came here to appease her but I’m not going to learn anything. In fact, I know that this is just a phase for her. She will grow up, find some meat she likes, and all of this will be over. I know it will.
I feel totally deceived. Here I was, doing the cupid shuffle, eating my meatballs and thinking, “Well, there’s one thing good about the vegetarians. They sure do know how to throw a damn party.” Thankfully, one of the other forced-parent-attendees whispered in my ear, “You know what you’re eating is soy, right?” I gagged. The lies! You can no more turn a pork chop into a cornstalk than you can a soy nut into a meatball! The thing about the vegetarians is that as much as they cry, “Just let me be myself,” they go through hell to change their natural food into something that God never intended it to be. If you don’t want meat, why in the hell would you try to change what you do prefer into something that looks and tastes like meat? It just seems ass-backwards. Why not just eat the meat?
I can’t shake this one thought: it’s all unnatural. From the beginning of time women across all cultures and climates have been gatherers and mean have been hunters. Our biologically determined job is to gather grains and fruits to provide cobbler desserts for the men to eat when they bring home the meat, which we are to gratefully take and enjoy. If we are lucky, they will also enjoy eating our sweets afterward. My daughter has shirked the natural order for this “thing she just wanted to try.” The nerve! To laugh in the face of the God who told Noah to take animals, not plants, into the arc so that the rest of humanity would forever have meat. And after all of this—after the sacrifices of Noah, of our ancestors and of her parents to guarantee that she would always be filled with meat—she has the NERVE to deny its salty goodness?
I remember now that her vegetarian ways didn’t mean much to me until she started to get all flamboyant about it. I mean, it’s one thing to eat wha you eat in the dark, but to outright reject all meat for the whole world to see? It’s unnecessary and uncalled for. So there was this day when she came home from college for a weekend break. She walked through the door in a tee-shirt that said, “Vegetarians Taste Better” and before she could stumble through her explanation of the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs, I’d fallen down the steps trying to grab her and bring her into the house.
Perhaps if I hadn’t overreacted, she would be eating meat today. If I could take that reaction back, I would. I would give her my grandmother’s fine china if she would just put a pork chop on it. What would it hurt? I’m not asking her to eat a meat entrée; I’ll settle for an appetizer.
Today I’m supposed to write about the feelings I had the day my daughter came out to me. My first thought was a mother’s thought: baby, it’s going to be okay. My second and third thoughts were about the fallout: what would my friends say? How would her father feel? What did this mean for my future grandchildren? Everybody knows that vegetarians have a harder time conceiving than people who build their iron the natural way—with meat. Is she endangering the grandbabies I’ve already started knitting blankets for? The thought makes me so sad.
My biggest worry is about my husband. He is convinced that my daughter has rejected meat because his wasn’t good enough. By his reasoning, she grew up noticing that I wasn’t really enjoying his meat, so she decided to reject meat altogether. I don’t know how he came to this conclusion. His meat has always been great. I love his meat—always have. I thought, how did I end up getting blamed here? But I told him, “Hank, she must have had a bad experience with some kind of meat that made her sick. Don’t worry; it wasn’t anything you did.” But when I’m feeling low, I do wonder if there is some truth to what he said. Did I appear unhappy? Was I too unforgiving when he dried out the steak? Did I show my disapproval as I gnawed the sinewy meat? Is it me?
There was this one time in college when I tried going meatless for a while. One of those idiot freshman boys had given me some unprepared meat and I was sick for what seemed like days. I lost ten pounds, I missed a week of classes and I thought I would need to pack my bags and go home. I said to myself, I will never eat meat again. So I tried it and I will admit, only in these recycled pages, that it was glorious. I felt so alive, so energized! I felt lighter than ever. Meat weighs you down sometimes, the way it insists on just sitting in your stomach, filling you up until you want to go to sleep. With veggies, I can eat to my heart’s content and it’s not the kind of eating that ends with a long slumber. I can take a quick nap and then eat some more. But Christmas changed all that. I went home convinced that my new lifestyle would be accepted by all who loved me. I knew it would take some adjusting, but I didn’t think it would be so offensive. My mother would hardly let me sit at the table. She even suggested that I spend Christmas with one of my “veggie” friends, as she called them, who would cook what I wanted to eat. All I wanted was a seat at the table; I wasn’t trying to recruit my family members to my lifestyle. My mother acted as if I would be taking my little cousins aside, whispering to them the many benefits of carrots. Ain’t nobody got time for that! I remember that Christmas, silently picking the pork out of the collard greens (the only pseudo-vegetable) , trying to ignore my mother’s insistent “Come on. Have some meat!” as my thoughts strayed to all the delicious vegetables and fruits I’d eaten just weeks before.
The following spring, I met my husband. When he offered me his meat, I imagined my mother’s face and I ate it…
I don’t want to be my mother. After our breakfast of waffles, soy sausage and fruit salad, I plan to go home and have a talk with my child, who is still my child no matter what she prefers.