By Reannon Branchesi on April 14, 2016
Last night, a parent from my girls’ preschool made me cry. She invited all the kids in my girls’ class to her son’s fourth birthday party, and Abby and Izzy were very excited. I work in the same building as their preschool, and the girls showed every person in my office the birthday party invitation. While they’ve been invited to birthday parties at our neighbor’s house (awesome people who made all-vegan, Mexican food last year other than one small pan of meat to appease their extended family), my girls haven’t attended too many non-family social events. But they LOVE birthdays, and I was excited for them.
I was optimistic but also a bit nervous when I emailed the birthday boy’s mom about what food they’d be serving. I explained that our family is vegan, and I’d be happy to call the mini-golf place where they’re holding the party to ask about food; of course, I also offered to bring food and cupcakes for the girls. She quickly responded to say that they were going to serve popcorn, lemonade, and water at the party to better accommodate everyone’s dietary needs. However, since she was planning to bring cupcakes to school the week of the party, she offered to email me the recipe so she could make sure it was vegan, and that the girls could eat them.
And then, I cried. I’m crying right now just thinking about it. The kindness and graciousness of other people can be overwhelming. Abby and Izzy have special vegan cupcakes in the freezer at school for times when parents bring non-vegan treats to school. They love their special cupcakes and had a great time picking them up with me at the bakery, but I don’t want them to always have to be the “special” kids who bring their own snack, eat their own freezer cupcake, and are just a little separate from the other kids. It probably seems like a small gesture to most people, but the fact that another parent would go out of his or her way to help my girls feel included affected me more than I could have expected.
Sometimes raising vegan kids can be a hassle. You often have to plan ahead, pack your own food, explain more about your family than you might prefer to people you don’t know that well, and worry that your kid may feel different or like they don’t fit in. Ultimately, you worry your child will reject veganism because it’s too hard to navigate being a kid and a lifestyle that is outside of the cultural mainstream at the same time. This is to say nothing of dealing with unsupportive extended family and medical professionals. While I’ve never had any issues with our girls’ pre-school or other parents, I’ve heard stories of preschool teachers forcing vegan kids to drink cow’s milk; parents making snide comments about how our children are “weird” or “unhealthy,” and families being left out of social events because they’re vegan. It’s not too surprising that many new vegan parents prepare themselves for a struggle when ushering their child into a non-vegan world.
Since we live in Wisconsin, the “Dairyland State,” I was certainly expecting more of a struggle when my girls started school, and I’m sure there will be occasional issues as they grow. I wondered if I should even put them in school, and I know many vegan parents contemplate this question very seriously. It creates a lot of anxiety in the vegan parenting world. Can I still protect my child if they’re in a school setting? Will I be able to instill compassionate and kind values in them? What happens if they are offered or forced to eat non-vegan food? It takes a lot of trust for any parent to hand their child over to another adult, but it’s of special concern to vegans who worry their child will be treated differently and may be pulled into a culture which rejects animals’ lives as unimportant.
I think this boy’s mom was just being a nice person who wanted to make sure her son’s friends are treated well. I doubt she thought anything of her offer to make vegan cupcakes. While I’ve heard vegan parenting horror stories, I’ve heard just as many (if not more) stories of fellow parents, teachers, coaches, and others being kind, considerate people who make the effort to ensure our vegan kids are included, and that our values are respected. If you’re a new vegan parent, a vegan who is expecting or planning to adopt a baby, or simply someone who has considered raising vegan kids someday, please know that it can be a wonderful, humbling, and inspiring experience. For every one person who makes an ignorant comment about cow’s milk and bone development, there are likely to be three others who ask you genuine questions about your child’s diet and why your family is vegan, and many others who will work with you to ensure your child is fully included in activities. And, sometimes, their support and kindness come with cupcakes, which is a wonderful bonus.