My 10 year old daughter, Maya, told me yesterday while we ate at Ruby's Diner, "I think I want to be a vegetarian."
I choked a little on my veggie burger out of surprise, even as I beamed a little. I said, "Really, baby?"
She said, "Yes," very proud of the announcement as she bit into her turkey burger.
I said, "I think that's totally cool, but do you know what a vegetarian is exactly?"
She said, "They don't eat animals."
I said, "That includes fish." She thought and then nodded, "Ok."
I said, "Or turkey burgers or turkey bacon . . .” She seemed a little surprised by this.
I put my hand on hers and said, "Tell me why you want to be a vegetarian." She giggled and blushed. After squirming a bit, she said, "Because it's good for the environment?" She looked at me to make sure she had said the right thing.
I said, "Great! How is that good for the environment?"
She said, "Because meat has a lot fat." (Huh?)
I said, "That's actually a great reason why eating less meat is healthier."
She said, "I want to be healthier. I want to me like you, Mami." She looked down shyly. And I almost put my forehead on the table and cried my eyes out.
I said, "Oh baby, that's awesome, thank you. But you know, if you really want to be a vegetarian, you can work your way there. You can try not eating red meat and see how that goes."
She thought for a second and said, "Ok!"
"And if you're cool with that," I said, "then try cutting something else out if you want. But you have to eat a lot of vegetables and fruits and good stuff, ok?"
I looked over at my 6 year old, Mina, who was munching quietly on a corn dog which I only let her have one out of eleven requests. She loves those nitrates on a stick and I gave in last night only because Ruby's serves a turkey corn dog. I said, "Mina couldn't give up the pork, could you Mina? Just like Papi." And Mina said, "Rice and beans is my favorite food." And I said, "Me too! What else is your favorite food?" Mina said, "Candy." Which is true. She'd eat all candy meals if allowed. We battle every single day about the limit of sugar she's permitted to consume. She'll take whatever she can get, but it doesn't stop her from asking every hour. I'm always trying to get her to eat more healthy sweet options. I used to work with a girl that grew up on a commune and her mother used to tell her that wheat crackers where cookies, and aren't they good? Mina knows the difference between a cookie and a goddamn wheat cracker from a hundred yards out. But, thank God, she likes Fabes All Natural Bakery stuff which is mostly vegan and fruit sweetened. She'll also take some sugar free gum as a treat, and of course Luna Bars. She eats so many Luna Bars, we call her the Luna Bar Princess. This last Valentine's Day, when all the kids volunteered to bring heart-shaped cookies and sprinkled cupcakes and candied kisses to their class party, Mina signed us up for Luna Bars and I had to buy boxes of Lemon Zest and S'mores. Mina's very picky about her flavors though she will try them all at least once, like a connoisseur. I emailed Luna Bar once and told them no one likes Luna Bars as much as Mina. They didn't dispute this.
Maya spoke up again, "When my friends try to pressure me into eating a hamburger, I'll tell them, Look, I'm trying to become a vegetarian so please try to respect that." This piece of dialogue sounded exactly like the Peer-Pressure-Drug/Alcohol role play we do regularly. I found it hilarious that she had turned this into a Dare Not to Do Drugs/Alcohol/Red Meat campaign. Good for her, I thought. But I decided to leave out the part that she'll get far more pressure to eat the things she's given up than she will to try weed or beer.
Then she said, "Mami, I'll give up red meat when I get back from New York." Both daughters left this morning for New York to stay with Mama Luz and Big Papi for three weeks. Waiting to start her Road to Vegetarianism was brilliant because eliminating red meat from the grandparent's meal plans would have caused utter chaos. "Great idea, Maya," I said. "Then you'll really be ready."
"Oh yea," she said.