17 October 2011

Fear and loving in Las Veganland: An open letter to my future adopted child

Dear son- or daughter-to-be,

You don't know it, but your dad and I have been waiting for you for quite some time.

First, you were the child we were going to conceive till infertility crashed the party like an obnoxious, uninvited guest.

Later on you were the child we would adopt from a foreign country. But then that didn't seem right for us for a number of reasons — such as the exorbitant financial costs and our misgivings about removing you from the country and culture of your birth. (It had happened to me as a child, and it hadn't been good.)

Finally, you were the child we'd adopt from right here in the U.S. not an infant from a pregnant unwed mother, but one of the tens of thousands of older children stuck in foster care limbo.

So we did what needed to be done: we took the mandatory classes, we had our backgrounds checked and our fingerprints printed, we had our home and our finances and our medical records inspected and approved, we underwent hours of interviews, wrote pages narrating our entire lives and our families' histories, we attended adoption parties, made inquiries, met countless social workers . . . until we finally found you.

Everyone tells us this is going to be difficult. And we believe them. Like all kids who wind up in the "system," you've been dealt a crummy hand. You've been neglected. You've been physically abused. You've seen things no child should see. Every relative you have — your mom, your dad, your grandparents — has let you down. Has washed their hands of you, has turned you over to the state. No one fought to get you back. No one calls you, or sends a card on your birthday. No one has shown you how special you are.

Our social worker is concerned. She reminds us of the challenges we're certain to face. You're going to be defiant, you're going to act up and act out and test us in ways we can't imagine. You're not going to trust us. You won't believe that we really, truly want you. That we'll stick by you no matter what. That we'll never, ever, send you away.

And out of all the things I worry about — from your ADHD and your depression, to your attachment and cognitive issues, to your aggressive behaviors and your history of self-injury — the thing I feel least equipped to handle is the thing nobody mentions: Food.

Because, you see, your dad and I are vegans. And we're struggling with how — or even whether — to incorporate our diet into your life.

If you were a baby, this wouldn't be such a big deal. But you're not. You're a teenager, and like any teenager you have clearcut ideas about what you like and dislike, whether it's fashion or music or subjects in school or even, ugh, food.

And here's the thing. Your dad and I get it. We understand that no one made us become vegans. We've chosen to eat this way, after many years of vegetarianism, and many more years of eating meat before that. So we see the hypocrisy of trying to force a vegan diet on you. But at the same time . . . can I imagine roasting you a chicken? Or picking up a Happy Meal for you on my way home from work? Or sending out for pizza and wings? No, I can't.

So what are we to do? When I imagine the best case scenario, it goes like this: We explain to you, calmly, gently, and clearly, why we're vegan. We take the time to educate you, not by pressuring you, but by sharing what we know. You'll come with us to volunteer at the local farm animal sanctuary, where you can meet and touch and learn about the animals — like Annie, the rescued dairy cow who spent her entire life as a pregnant milk machine, who never nursed any of her calves, and who was about to be sent off to slaughter when her production dropped. We'll have fun in the kitchen making delicious vegan foods together — like a mile-high lasagna gooey with Daiya cheese, or your dad's ridiculously good raspberry chocolate ice cream, or the savory potstickers I'm known for bringing to every potluck. We'll take you with us to the vegan festivals we attend each year, where you'll see that there are hundreds of people of every age, of every color, who take animal welfare seriously, just like your dad and I do.

But will it be enough? Will food, of all things, become our family's sticking point? And if you reject veganism, will it feel like you're rejecting me, or vice versa?

I wish I knew someone — adoptive parent, adopted child, family friend or relative — who'd already been through this. Even though we've met a lot of adoptive families, not one has been vegan, or even vegetarian. If you're out there and can share your experiences, please leave a comment. There are two adults and one child who could truly benefit from it.

Elizabeth Gordon | Facebook
Elizabeth is an Asian-Appalachian writer, activist, and college professor living in north central Massachusetts. Once an avowed carnivore, she was a vegetarian for 15 years before making the conversion to veganism. She is passionate about trying to live a life that lessens, rather than contributes to, the amount of cruelty and suffering in this world. Follow Elizabeth on her Vegosphere blog and Facebook page.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/thecampbells