Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Lessons of a Young Vegan

Maya has started storming down her own animal-rights war path. She's all fired up. Around Christmas she read a pamphlet about how turkeys are raised. It was graphic and nauseating. And later she cried her eyes out asking me why people were so mean. She resolved to become an animal rights activist! That she would start a club at school! She said, "Somebody told me I'd make a good lawyer. I'm going to be an animal-rights lawyer." I told her all those things were fantastic. She said, "I want to be vegan."

In the fiery moments of truth, resolutions made are powerful and well-intended. I know this to be true of all people no matter the age. I knew it was not for me to follow up on any of the world-changing plans Maya had made in the midst of her emotional epiphany. But I proudly watched as she read information and animal-rights sites on her own during the next few days. I watched her email PETAKids directly and ask advise to which she received a personal response pledging to send her stickers and comic books for her newly formed animal-rights group for kids. I answered all her questions about veganism. I showed her how to read food labels and made her read nutritional guides for vegans. Though her loyalty is rightfully with the welfare of animals, her responsibility to her health is key. Armed with knowledge, she could optimally serve both. It can't all be cereal and cupcakes, regrettably. For 2008, she made the commitment and became a vegan. She's a dream vegan. Though there was one little incident where she snidely asked me if what I was eating was vegan. I was like, "Bro, come on." She got a nice lecture on being judgemental and self righteous; let's squash those vegan stereotypes! And there was that other time when she went to a local breakfast joint with Papi and Mina and came back dragging her feet and sighing dramatically, whoaing the plight of a vegan having had a salad for breakfast. I quickly ended that shit too. I asked her if she ever heard me say that veganism was hard. She thought and said no. I told her that's because I love every aspect of it and if it's terribly hard and if she feels the need to tell us and everyone else about how hard it is, then don't become vegan yet. She was startled by my response when she clearly was looking for an insider's validation. "Nobody likes a (vegan) martyr, Maya. You should consider yourself lucky that you don't have to eat 99% of the junk served at a mainstream restaurant. It's all just crap anyway." "I was nervous," she admitted, "and couldn't think of anything other than a salad to order." I told her she was just learning and it was ok. Plain oatmeal with fruit is a safe bet at a breakfast place. "Oh yea," she said in a heart-breaking way. I knew she was still hungry so I made her sprouted toast with peanut butter, agave and blackberries. She lit up and chowed it down and told me how good it was. "Are you still bummed that you couldn't have eggs and buttermilk pancakes?" "Not at all!" she said. Once again she's a dreamy veganette.

At school, Maya diligently tried to recruit other middle schoolers for her animal-rights group just like she said she would. Impressively she spoke to the principal and her counselor about parameters for handing out fliers and having kids sign petitions. In the end, she had two other girls on board: A vegan in her grade named Ally, and Tasha, Ally's friend. Last night was their first meeting on our living room floor. Maya laid out notes and tortilla chips. I told all the girls how wildly proud I was of them and disappeared to the kitchen.

And then Ally proceeded to squash all of Maya's ideas, talk over her, tossing out sneering sarcasm with sharpened points. I kept my mouth shut and Maya floundered a bit and did the best she could. She really was pretty impressive considering I wanted to grab Ally by the scruff and throw her out the front door. Ally said nastily as they sat down to start, "Uh, nice leather couch." Maya: "Oh we've had that for years before my mom was vegan. We just don't want to waste things." Ally: "Well, we don't have any leather furniture in our house, thank you." Maya, moving on, said, "Ok, hey I got an email back from PETA and---" Ally: "Was it from Ingrid Newkirk herself (the founder and head of PETA) ? Let me see it." Maya: "Well, I get some emails from her, but this girl's name--" Ally: "The email from Ingrid goes to everyone Maya. It's a form email?" Eyes rolled. Maya: "The one I'm talking about is from Ashley at PETA. She --" Ally: "From her directly?" Maya: "Yea. She said she'll send us stickers and comic books to pass out to --" Ally: "How creepy that she wants your address."

It went like this for the majority of the meeting. It was really hard to take. As Maya suggested to pitch in money to buy some kid's animal rights books to donate to the local libraries, Ally waved her off insinuating that was beneath a real animal-rights group. There were many other comments and Maya was finally saying things like, "Ally, just stop it" and "Enough with the sarcastic remarks." Ally's friend Tasha hardly said a word. Maya suggested they try to get kids to go vegetarian one day a week, like a campaign and Ally suggested that the group watch gory animal-cruelty videos where chinchillas' necks are broken with a man's boot and tested-on monkeys scream in pain. It was unnecessary overkill for them, in my opinion, but Maya and Mina and Tasha watched the videos in horror as Ally made comments. Before Ally and Tasha left I handed them fliers about the Farm Animals Protection Initiative and asked if they could pass them out to all the adults they knew. They were very polite to me. The door closed behind them and I hugged Maya and she cried. She said, "That didn't go how I thought it would." I said, "I'm sorry, baby." She was emotionally spent from the videos and fending off Ally. She picked up her head from my shoulder and said, "You mean judgemental like that?" I said, "Holy cow." She said, "Maybe I'll just do things by myself, if the group falls apart, I mean." I said, "I'm right here for you whatever happens. I'll pitch in half for the books for the library and I bet Mina wants to be involved." We looked over at Mina and she nodded enthusiastically.

17 comments:

degan said...

wow, you must be so proud! what a great little vegan...especially for not punching that other girl's teeth in as I surely would have done. sigh.

T said...

I thought this was a really sweet story. Its so hard being a kid. But she is lucky to have you. When I told my Mom I wanted to be a vegetarian she said, "If I wanted to be a short-order cook I would work at a restaurant."

Thanks for sharing.

Betsy Kimmel said...

AHHHHHHHHH, DAMN! that was painful to read, like i was right there, squirming in my chair. you're amazing to have held back comments and criticism, and to just let maya figure it all out. where'd you learn that master parenting from???!!!!! awesome maya!!!! stay tough.

madness rivera said...

Oh man, right Degan? I really had to hold back. And yea, I'm super proud. She's so great.

T - Your mom's comment saddened me. I'm sorry. Way to stay strong through it all though.

B - girl, if you think that was painful to read . . .eesh. That girl tested me! But Maya was great and Ally even came up to her today and was all enthusiastic about next week's meeting. Maya said she'd try another week with her. That's some patience, man!

michelle/weaker vessel said...

Is a knuckle sandwich considered vegan? Sorry, couldn't resist. But seriously, Madness -- what an awesome little blossom you've sprouted. When I grow up, I want to be an openhearted, fiercely supportive mom like you. In fact, I vow to this year. Thanks to all of you for the constant inspiration.

Lyvvie said...

Well done to Maya for standing up to Ally by the end. A bit more of that and hopefully Ally will come to respect Maya and not just see her a vehicle for Vegan Domination! She had a good idea with getting kids to try vegetarian meals one day a week - something to talk to the school lunch folks about. I'm sure they'd be keen to give it a try as it'll probably save them some money.

As for making the kids watch the videos, I'm not sure it'll be helpful. Most folks just tune it out. The gorier and more violent the bigger the tune-out. Not exactly what you want when promoting a happy vegan lifestyle.

I wish her heaps of luck!

Marigoldie said...

It's almost like Ally was sent over from the "How Bad Do You Want It" Vegan Training Camp. I'm so proud of Maya -- your girls are way beyond their years.

Don't Get Mad Get Vegan! said...

i've said it before and i'll say it likely a million more times. you girls are all three such an inspiration. thank you for sharing this.

madness rivera said...

Man Michelle you made me laugh out loud. And thanks for the kind words.

Thanks Lyvvie. I think Maya is going to start her campaign anyway with or without the group. I'll report on how that's going when it gets going.

Holy cow, Marigoldie, I was thinking the same thing. It was such a crazy extreme.

Thanks DGMGV. You'll be dealing with all this fun stuff before you know it.

Jamie said...

I was a vegetarian (for health reasons that have now worked themselves out) for years, and always wondered how I would handle this particular set of food choices with my kids. I don't have kids yet, but this is an awfully good lesson for me. Keep up the great work - no wonder your daughters are so lovely and bright - they have a great role model. :)

Rebel Girl said...

You're a great mama and you have terrific and strong daughters!

We're in some of that territory as we're raising our little guy vegetarian...we do A LOT of talking and thinking with him about why. It's all good - but it's work.

Miss you.

julie hasson said...

What a cool and compassionate daughter you have there. But then, she's got a cool mom.

madness rivera said...

Thank you Jamie & Julie!

And Rebel, definitly a lot of work; nonstop-24/7-type work, but 100% worth is all.

Melisser; the Urban Housewife said...

Ooh, this is heartbreaking & inspiring all at once! You must be so proud of Maya, I know I would be.
I only hope that Ally calms down & things work out. I went vegetarian at 13 and it was made easier by having other veg friends. It's great that she has another vegan at her school, but not with that poor attitude!

jennifer said...

your girls are awesome! it must've been rough having to listen to ally bully the meeting. hopefully she'll lighten up and the girls get something going. i like the idea of going vegetarian for one day a week.

greenish said...

You are a model of restraint and a fantastic mother.
Maya sounds so wise.

madness rivera said...

Thanks Jennifer. Yea, going veggie one day/week is pretty managable to start for anyone. Seems like a baby step, but that would be significant if a lot a kids/people did it.

Thanks so much greenish.