We’re Different, and That’s OK
by Mary Eileen Finch
How do we explain to our children that we are vegan? This question was one I worried about since the day my daughter, Rebecca, was born. How would I get her friends to accept her? How would I tell her that not everyone eats the same as her? Would she feel left out?
When I was nine, I knew a girl who was a vegetarian. She was very annoying, always making gross faces and disapproving comments about everyone’s food. I avoided her whenever possible and for a long time had a negative view of vegetarians. This is not what I wanted for my daughter.
Finally I realized that I didn’t need to teach her that she was different but that we are all different. I didn’t need to tell others to accept her but I needed to allow her to accept others. I would tell her that being different is good, that our differences make us special. When we would talk I would explain to her how each of us has different tastes.
“Mommy my favorite color is pink. What is yours?”
“Mine is red.”
“That’s not the same color I like.”
“No it’s not, we like different colors and that’s ok.”
“Mommy I like tacos best. What about you?
“I like pizza best.”
“That’s not the same as me.”
“No it’s not, we like different food and that’s ok.”
“Mommy my eyes are blue and yours are green.”
“Yes, everyone has different colored eyes, different beliefs and different tastes. We all talk different, live in different places, read different books and sing different songs, and that’s ok. The world would be boring if we were all the same.”
Still, once again I was worried. It was the first day of Rebecca’s home school group and it was snack time. I had called ahead to see what was being served so that I could bring the vegan equivalent. But what if the other children made fun of her food? What if Rebecca got her feelings hurt? Rebecca sat down next to another little girl, and I placed her snack in front of her. She looked at the girl next to her and said:
“I’m having carob chip cookies and soy milk. What about you?”
“I’m eating chocolate chip cookies and normal milk” the little girl replied.
Rebecca smiled and said. “Well, I guess we are different and that’s ok.”
Rebecca is six now and has never had a problem with being vegan. She understands that she eats differently but she doesn’t feel like an outsider; to her, she is just as different as everyone else. And I’ve noticed that she is far more accepting of differences than her playmates. We know a family that is Hispanic and while other children tell them that they talk funny, Rebecca has them teaching her Spanish. The same thing with a little girl we know that has three fingers on her left hand. Rebecca never even noticed until another child pointed it out to her; “Why are you playing with her? She only has eight fingers.” My daughter replied. “So, I’ve only got ten”. She took the girl’s hand and they walked off together. They’re different and that’s ok.
It seems to me that children try so hard to fit in, to be like everyone else. But how can they be themselves if they are trying to copy others? I’m glad my daughter knows that it is ok to be different. Today she was coloring with her little brother, Jarod. He would watch to see what crayon she used and then pick up the same color to use on his picture. “No, Jarod,” she told him “Don’t copy me. You need to color it the way YOU like.”