Ever have a partner all of a sudden declare that instead of sharing intimate moments with you, they'd prefer the company of someone with whom they share certain anatomical parts?
Me neither, but I can now sort of imagine how that might feel. How you would instinctively look inward and question yourself in some way, even though we know that would be idiotic, scientifically speaking?
My oldest girl, age 9 1/2, announced it out of nowhere at the dining room table last week. We were roughly 75 percent of the way through her current favorite home-cooked meal, Orange Chicken (low sodium edition) when she made her proclamation, as casual as anything.
Pass the rice. My sock has a hole in it. We're out of toilet paper.
"I don't want to eat animals any more."
Oh no, was it because I skipped the orange zest this time around? Too many sesame seeds?? What did I do wrong???
(And we're not really out of TP, right?)
Nothing, it turns out. I did nothing wrong. In fact, as luck would have it, or "isn't it ironic," Alanis Morissette might've remarked, that particular orange chicken was the best orange chicken I'd made yet. And we're cool, we've got a dozen more rolls of potty paper.
My daughter has simply become too uncomfortable with the idea of consuming animals to continue doing so. Eggs, milk, ice cream, other yummy stuff that's in some way derived from generous still-breathing creatures, those are fair game. But if an animal had to give their life for a meal to be prepared, nope. Not even if they are grass-fed and treated humanly. Massaged and given season tickets to the theater. Nope and nope.
I think some dads would be inclined to respond in a snide way, off the cuff, with something mean-spirited like "yeah, we'll see how long that lasts." I'm sure I've heard that tone before out and about. You probably have too.
But I proved nimble again, something I am getting pretty good at, if only to selfishly be awash, however briefly, in the self-righteous glow of being an awesome daddy. Hey, it doesn't happen often, those moments when I can actually feel myself looking at myself and admiring myself. Whoa. I think I need an aspirin after that sentence. I softly told my girl that I deeply respect her decision and that I will do everything I can from my kitchen to make this transition easier for her. Granted, I won't have to do too much. She's a perfect candidate for a non-meat lifestyle, what with loving nearly every vegetable, fruit, grain, and such anyway. This shouldn't be hard for her at all, at least not until the next time she spies a Philly cheese steak. Then all bets are off. That's not sarcasm. That's a fact. But I won't intentionally tempt or tease her with one or with any other meat-food for that matter. That wouldn't be nimble, or cool, in the least.
Last night I made a small pork tenderloin for my youngest and me, with a tasty red wine reduction, of course. Man, that's good stuff! With it, I whipped up a few spinach and onion pirogi for my oldest specifically, although I had one too, and green beans and roasted mini potatoes for all three of us. Yeah, a little overkill on the potatoes but whatevs. I might need a bit more time to completely sort out the new menu planning going forward. Oh, and we each started with a salad. It was a pretty epic mid-week meal while my wife was away on a business trip. I pretty much used every pot and pan I've got to craft and serve a well-balanced, tasty, meat + non-meat dinner.
I returned to the grocery store the following morning, after the gym, and a quick stop for some blood work. Fun! Save for having blood sucked from my veins, I do this routine often. I prefer to do my food shopping daily, so I don't have to plot an entire week's worth of meals (it also allows me to feel vaguely small-village European.) This drives my wife nuts, to not know ahead of time what I'll be making for dinner, but it's one of the perks of being an at-home dad. I went with an easy classic for the next evening, after the prior night's pot and pan festival: a rotisserie chicken, stuffing and cranberry sauce, plus I cooked up more of those beans I bought the other day. I also picked up a box of organic creamy tomato soup (low-sodium edition) to replace the chicken for my new vegetarian child.
I never wanted to play short order cook as a dad, and never really have until now. But this feels different because I'm finding a substitute for only single piece of the family meal puzzle, and not even every night since we try to only eat meat a few times each week anyway. This is also not because a child is being picky. Rather, my oldest daughter is being thoughtful and is growing up into herself and I have nothing but mad respect for that, so I will do what I can to facilitate such growth and I will stand and admire her as I always do. You see, she is the person I always wished I could be. I don't say that out loud too often, because I try not to burden her with expectations, and that sentence, while honest and true, is awfully heavy for a child, even an amazing one, to grasp fully.
It is an honor to have the opportunity to bear witness to her life, to call myself her dad, and to serve her plate upon plate of fresh fruits and vegetables, and, if she ever asks for one again, a hot Philly cheese steak with no side order of judgement.