The last time we spoke about preteen animal right's groups, Maya was fending off the likes of Allie, The Spirit-Squashing Tween Vegan. We never did have another meeting at my house. Instead, Maya took her act to a higher level; she infiltrated her middle school. Maya has a great gym teacher, who happens to be vegan, and who was so thrilled when learning about Maya's group, she offered to oversee them in the P.E. office one lunch a week as they discussed their world-changing plans. Maya knew this meant she could possibly get more kids in the group. When she told Allie about the new plan, Allie responded, "Ug, give up lunch?" Here's the thing about Allie, she infuriates, then marginally redeems. Infuriates, marginally redeems. She came to the first meeting with two friends and let Maya lead it with hardly an interruption or one-upper.
The group has been humming along. I bring in baked goods and they organize stuff and try to get more kids to come. About six to seven kids come regularly. As many as eleven have shown. Not too long ago, I baked a bunch of stuff for an animal rights group at UCLA, a kind and conscientious group called
Bruins for Animals! In exchange, the president of the group came and spoke at Maya's meeting. She answered questions and encouraged them that they could make a difference at this age. She was fantastic and the experience left Maya on a high for weeks.
Oscar is a boy that's been coming to the meetings regularly. He's a thoughtful kid with a good, swollen heart. He tries to hide out in the Regular Guy category, but still manages to get made fun of now and then. He seems, so far, the most touched by the group and he told Maya that he's been trying hard to be a vegetarian. His father lives in Mexico, works six days a week, ten hours a day and thinks the idea is ridiculous. His mother tells him ok and packs him ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch. Concerned and softly he sighs, "I asked her not to pack me ham." And then he throws the sandwiches away and scrounges up change to buy something else. He offers to help Maya at the meetings and asks her questions. And Maya almost beat up the kid that called him "Cupcake" the other day.
Two meetings ago was a rough one. They were organizing a field trip to Animal Acres and the gym teacher had to go to a faculty meeting. Left alone, Allie was raring to stir up some shit. "Why do you talk so much, Maya?" she blurted out, sitting on the PE office couch between her two friends. "Your meetings are so boring." Allie and her friends then talked to each other for most of the meeting, until one of Allie's friend interrupted Maya and said, "Can I have a cookie?" Maya said, "You're not getting anything until we get this trip organized." Maya was ready to throw in the towel when she came home, pulling at her hair in near-tears and telling me about the meeting, but I told her she was doing such a amazing job, that she's doing way more than she thinks she is. And the trip to Animal Acres might re-spark everyone.
Maya avoided Allie at school during the days leading up to the trip. Even when we met her at Animal Acres, it was a bit tense, but when the tour got started and plights and tales and tragedies and triumphs were told, it fizzled into nothingness. It wasn't important anymore. We were grateful to be there and the animals were glad to see us too.
Look, Oscar met a friend. And the pig is named Oscar too.
In November, Animal Acres rescued hundreds of animals from an animal hoarder. I didn't know much about this illness until the field trip. The animals were found starving and without shelter. Almost all of them suffered from severe pink eye, which left a few animals blind. There were one hundred and seventy dogs on the property, many of them neutered and microchipped, evidences that he took them from local pounds or just off the street. The dogs were crazed; packs of them were gathering in dangerous ways. Others had eaten newborn puppies. But our guide said that when the rescuers showed up, many of the dogs peed themselves because they were so happy to have some human contact and affection. Many exotic chickens were rescued too. Tons of sheep and goats, including the little pygmy goat Squirt who we adopted earlier this year. Two weeks ago, I had gotten a call from Animal Acres telling me that Squirt had unexpectedly gone into labor(!) They didn't realize she was pregnant because she seemed too young. At the hoarder's, she had been mated with a goat much larger than her. The baby died in utero and Squirt required an emergency C section; the baby was way too big. She's recovering well now and she's tired of being cooped up, healing.
That was the order of business when the kids got back to school. They're now organizing a bake sale to help off set Squirt's surgery costs. And Allie was completely on board and involved. She even begged her mom to adopted a goat that had to have an infected ear lopped off, which created so much nerve damage that the entire left side of his face doesn't work now. His tongue just hangs out of is mouth. He softens my heart in ways where I want to tackle him and spoil him rotten.
One more note about Allie: Maya told me last week that she gets teased pretty regularly at school. They call her weird. They call her a duck. Maya says Allie laughs and plays it off, trying to tease back. And I'm bummed that she hurts enough to rip others down. That cycle sucks and it makes me feel protective of her.
After our field trip, we invited Oscar to eat at Real Food Daily. He lit up and said, "My first real vegetarian meal!" On the car ride there, we talked about our favorite parts of the day, our favorite animals. We talked about family pressure and cultural differences. I told him that I thought he was really brave. That he was a great, smart kid. At RFD, he ordered the soy "meatloaf" with mash potatoes and vegetables. He stared at the stemmed parsnips on his plate and I thought, Uhoh. Slowly and methodically he stabbed one with a fork and ate it. Thoughtfully, he slowly ate another. Nervously I said, "Uh so, what do you think, Oscar?" He hadn't tried anything else on his plate yet and quietly he said, "I think I've been missing out on a lot." I spontaneously teared up a bit, and then rubbed Maya on her back.