I firmly believe that almost all of life can be understood better by embracing the wisdom of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing (AKA the best TV show ever). One of the most basic tenets of The Sagacity of The West Wing is when communications director Toby admits that he was intimidated by the president’s Catholicism, thinking Bartlet might disapprove of Toby on that basis. Bartlet assures him, “It’s my Catholicism, Toby. It works for me.”
It’s fascinating, isn’t it, how easy it is to become defensive or hurt when interacting with someone who has made different life choices based on their values and priorities. I may have strong reasons for the things I do, but that doesn’t ever mean that anyone who doesn’t employ the same reasoning is innately wrong. I struggle with this as much as anyone else.
Two specific choices that my little family has made seem to be mysteries to some people or communities with whom I come into contact. There are plenty of other things that we might seem weird for, but these are the most common (and mundane) items that confuse and have even offended others: our one-kid status and being vegetarians. Some place else, these might be perceived as “The Norm.” It’s nothing earth-shattering or criminal, but it’s been curious to ponder.
FAMILY OF THREE
When I first began taking my child to or picking him up from school, several people thought I was a nanny. When it became clear that he was indeed my own kid, I got pointed looks and questions about whether or not I was married and if The Boy had been an accident that sped up our wedding date. Really. That’s been the worst of it. Usually, we’re just asked if we think we’ll have more kids. On occasion, a well-meaning individual or two have expressed repeatedly and forcefully that we’ll eventually change or minds, that every child deserves to have a sibling, etc.
I was 25, almost 26 when I had The Boy. The Hubs and I had been married for two years, and we were intending to have a child. I had a job with excellent benefits (that that had to be a consideration as well as my access to birth control now is a whole other blog post and veers dangerously close to rant territory). In the community we were in at the time, we were the youngest new parents by a good decade, but it felt right for us. At first we thought that maybe we would have more children later, but then we discovered that my body didn’t take to pregnancy very kindly. Nothing drastic, but I was not the glowing mother-to-be. I was the green, broken-backed, miserable, bloated, and perpetually depressed spitting-image of Grimace.
After The Boy was born, things didn’t get easier right away. I was sick and fighting infections for my entire six-week maternity leave and have spinal and nerve issues still.
But not all of the decision was based on my health. Of course, we discovered The Boy was the perfect child and completed our little family, but we also came to realize how vastly our footprint had increased with the addition of a tiny human. As a youngest offspring married to someone else’s youngest offspring, I’m incredibly grateful that people have had more than one child before. However, we knew that we would limit the environmental impact of our family by not having more babies. The world’s growing population isn’t going to be sustainable in the long run, and it seemed like a small thing that we could do (or not do, in this case) to reduce our part in it. The Boy would undoubtedly be a stellar older brother, but by only having one kid, we can give him all the more of ourselves and resources. We find other ways for him to strengthen his caring and nurturing side, which admittedly, comes pretty darn naturally to him anyway.
Neighbor kids have stared open-mouthed at our answers to their questions about what we do eat since we don’t have meat. Wedding receptions are a nightmare, because we’re always the ones whose meals are inconvenient and frequently just plain missing. My amazing, talented, supportive, and industrious sister-in-law once searched for (and found) the most delicious recipe for a curry-stuffed pumpkin for the family Thanksgiving so there could be a main dish that wasn’t turkey. In the process of talking to an acquaintance about relatives that were vegetarians, the acquaintance who does not know us at all become very concerned and agitated and proclaimed, “But… PROTEIN!?!” Simply stating that I don’t eat anything that came from a dead animal elicits the best responses: “oof, I could never give up meat” or “how could you not like bacon?”
None of we three started out as vegetarians. I was never really wild about chicken or fish, but pork, mmm, that was a different story. In my twenties, I started having less of an appetite for meat, and I thought I couldn’t afford many of the products that assured humanely raised and slaughtered animals. A couple of years ago, I began to feel sick after eating meat. Whether it was physical or mental, I don’t know, and I don’t really care. I didn’t like it, it made me feel gross, and mostly, I knew I didn’t need it. I quit eating meat, wait for it, cold turkey. (I amuse myself.) Didn’t miss it except for the convenience of choice in the middle of Indiana, and yeah, that part was hard. The Hubs supported me and didn’t mind removing meat from our home diet. Family gatherings were a little weird. I would get sick whenever someone accidentally used beef or chicken stock in something, but we adapted. A year later, The Hubs decided to make the leap, and after that, we left it to The Boy to decide for himself. He was free to ask questions, try it out, go at his own speed, and disagree with us. He knew that we wouldn’t have meat at our house, but if he was at a party or eating at a friend’s house, we were fine with him having whatever they were. After several months or conversation and thinking, he decided to be a vegetarian too.
The bottom line is that we feel better when we don’t eat meat. Yes, we get plenty of protein. Simply, meat is something that, in our life situation, we don’t need, and when there are so many things that we do consume, this was an easy one for us to give up. Meat was expensive. It didn’t feel right asking some other thinking and feeling creature to die so that I could have a BLT. And it made sense with our efforts to be environmentally conscious.
Our values and priorities have shaped what we do with the resources and opportunities that we are fortunate enough to steward. They might not jam with someone else’s; I can still appreciate their perspective too. As long as I understand that my priorities are limited by whether or not they harm someone else, differences in life choices aren’t always a bad thing.