"Mom, Dad, I'm a Vegan" - Preface to the Croatian Edition

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Dear parents,

have you ever had an experience of your child telling you that he or she is a vegan? I'm sure you have noticed there is something strange going on with them lately, that they have persistently been trying to avoid family meals, and when they couldn't, they have been picking only vegetarian food while nervously looking left and right and squirming in their seats as if trying to escape. I'm sure they have told you excuses like "I'm not feeling like eating a stake today", or "No, thank you, I don't want that fried cheese either!"
While you have been trying to stuff that big piece of chicken in your mouth, maybe you have caught the terror on their face as if you have been trying to eat them. And when you asked them if everything was O.K., you got a nervous answer: "Erm, I don't know, it doesn't matter, never mind."

Maybe the story didn't go exactly like that and the signs of the big change weren't that obvious, but I'm sure you found something strange in their questions about your dog, and pigs, and cows, and chickens, especially when they would get out of their room in tears after watching some movie on the internet. Maybe the questions became more frequent and stranger, and them hugging the family dog or cat more apparent and longer than before. Maybe you noticed that the cage door of your pet parrot are opened all the time, or that your hamster already made several nests all over your apartment, under the sofa, and under the kitchen cabinets. Maybe you had a hard time believing your child when they shrugged their shoulders and told you pretty unconvincingly that they had absolutely no idea how the hamster got out again.

Yes, I'm sure there were signs. But nothing could have prepared you to the day your child announced that he or she wanted to talk to you.

Do you remember? They blocked your view of the TV and you had to reluctantly put the remote aside and try to come up with a convincing reply: "No, we don't have enough money this month for that!" Because the last time that happened, it hit your wallet so hard it hurt for a very long time. Or maybe the story went differently and they caught you while you were waiting for the traffic light to turn green... You with your hands on the wheel, your child on the passenger seat. You stopped breathing because all that strange details you had noticed lately went through your head, numerous awkward behaviours, their reservedness, thoughtfulness, avoiding conversation, and family meals. And you knew. Oh, yes, you knew! Oh, my God, please don't let it be drugs! Or pregnancy! It's all because of that punk, the one with a part of his head shaved, the one you saw in front of your building a few times! Oh, when you put your hands on him! Or that kid with five colours on her hair, yes, the one you saw smiling from your only son's phone screen... while you were trying to unlock it just to see something, and you mistakenly thought that the owner of the phone was in the bathroom, and then a major fight ensued when he caught you. And when you tried to defend yourself by saying that it was you who bought the phone in the first place. Yes! It must be her!

And while the cars behind you were honking because the light turned green, the thought popped into your mind that lately your child had been mostly wearing T-shirts with messages like, "Respect all creatures", and pictures of a cow saying, "How would you like it if I ate you, human?". When you realised at that moment how it is all somehow connected and that there is something serious and big going on, the truth came from your child's mouth.

That is how you found out.
Your child was a vegan.
How did you deal with that? What did you think? How did you feel?

Did you even know what a vegan was or did you feel scared and had a need to lock your child in the basement and beat him up because you didn't know what being a vegan meant, but you knew very well that you weren't one. You must have thought to yourself that there must be someone behind it.

Did you let him explain to you not only what a vegan was but also why he chose to be one? Or did you interrupt his explanation while deeply hiding your own fear, discomfort, maybe even anger? Was it like that? Why was it like that?

Did the alarm sound inside of you while you were confronted with the fact that your child is making such a big step forward, contrary to your family customs, contrary to all social norms which you grew up and live in, contrary to everything you are accustomed to, everything you value, love, and consider to be right and desirable? Did the noise of your thoughts racing through your mind and the feel of losing control make you forget to look at your child and see in their eyes that the decision they made didn't exclude you, but that the thing they needed most to live the life by the values they considered right was your support? He doesn't need you to be a mentor to his new lifestyle; he needs you to be the emotional support. And that also includes the choices you cannot understand and accept at this moment. The decision they faced you with was for this reason, not because they wanted to go through the shopping list or the menu for next Saturday.

What happened next?

Did a family meal become a situation in which you show your parenting powers? Did you not catch or did you interrupt your child's attempts to explain the new diet? Did you continue claiming that they would get sick if they "ate only grass"? Did you by any chance not catch the attempts of your child to list all the successful vegan athletes, and instead continued making jokes on their account, jokes bordering on ridicule? Did you do all that by persistently breaking their personal barriers all the way into confrontation for which you would hold them accountable?

Or did you go much, much further, in the opposite direction altogether, and invest your knowledge and experience into teaching him how to be as healthy and as successful as possible in his new life choice? What direction did you go in? Where are you right now?

Have you finally realised that there isn't any cult behind your child's choice or do you still have strained relations over your rationalising things in that way?

Did you catch yourself thinking about what members of your extended family, or your work colleagues would think and how they would react when they found out? Or has the support that you have shown to your child help you to finally realise how limited you were by being what other people expected you to be, by letting other people's opinions matter to you so much for so long? Have you realised that the person who is now changed is you? Has something like that crossed your mind?

Do you see deeper meaning in this story? Do you see in your child the things you buried deep inside you while you were fighting your way out of this socially acceptable beliefs, choices, and paths? Things from your childhood that you can still remember – the ability to feel compassion, empathy, to recognise life wherever life is and the need to protect it? Do you remember being brave enough to advocate and live by the ideas you wanted to create? Look! Do you see that in your child?

The poet Khalil Gibran said about children and parents: "For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth."

Dear parents, I am aware of the state the world is in and of the moment we live in. I look at the same fog as you, the same cold seeps into my bones too sometimes. In this avalanche of double standards, contradictory information, violence, apathy, the sense of desolation the mankind is in, and ahead of the future that is so uncertain, your children have chosen the path determined by the one criterion that has always been clear to both our ancestors and to us. That criterion is Life.

So please, for their future's sake, be stable and steady bows. Let arrows fly.

Vedran Romac, graduated social worker

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