On the bus home from school today Lily told me how she ate Chicken Chow Mein for lunch today. Not that unusual you might say ... but Lily has, until lunchtime today, always been a vegetarian. To be honest I wasn't really that shocked or surprised by her confession. She said that she put her name on the vegetarian list, but they didn't have that information in the dining hall. I asked if she questioned it with a dinner lady and she said 'no'. It obviously didn't bother her very much, this dish of Chicken Chow Mein.
David and I stopped eating meat some twenty-one years ago, so it just seemed natural to bring up our children with a meat-free diet. Lily eats well and generally enjoys her food and until recently just accepted the fact that she didn't eat meat. She was quite proud to wear the 'vegetarian' label.
But recently at school peer pressure has been creeping in. She's not being mocked for being vegetarian, but she sees her friends eating this forbidden food and is inquisitive to try it for herself. She has told me on a few occasions that she want to eat meat because her friends do. I've had the 'why we are vegetarians' conversation with her. I explain to her my reasons for avoiding meat whilst not forcing my principles onto her. It's a careful balance. Sometimes she'll respond with 'Yuk! I'm never going to eat meat', other time she shrugs matter-of-factly and says 'Well, I just want to try a bit'.
Some days I've swayed towards letting her try it other days I've thought, no she eats as we eat until she is old enough to make an education decision. If she asked for sweets for breakfast, I would say no, so why is this any different?
But today, she made the decision for me. She said she quite enjoyed her chicken. Maybe that's it - an experience realised, or maybe she'll want more. All I know is that as children grow older and find their independence the parent has to learn that sometime their children have to make choices for themselves. We, as parents, can't force them to be any such way. Arthur has long hair; that is my choice, it makes him look cute. But I know that once he is old enough to voice an opinion, he probably say 'Mum, please cut off my girly hair!' So, I'll just sit tight and see where the vegetarian thing goes. I read an interview not long ago given by Paul McCartney; his children did exactly this and it didn't stick with them. My money is on it being a whim of the moment.