Her face was already crumpling as she came up the sidewalk to meet me. We barely made it into the empty cafeteria before she fell into my arms, a sobbing bundle of gangly arms and bruised legs, smelling of sweat and playground dirt.
I held her close with one hand, signing her out of the after-care program with the other. She sobbed it out for a minute before the words finally came, in heaving, hiccuping stutters. “They killed it.”
Oh baby. What happened?
“The boys. They killed a saddleback caterpillar.”
Honey, I’m so sorry.
“They had a ball. The kept throwing it at him and he died.”
Oh baby. I’m so sorry. That’s so unkind. But I think maybe the caterpillar didn’t suffer. He probably got squished fast, and didn’t feel anything at all.
“No, mommy.” Heave. Sob. Sniffle. “They hit him in the back first, and he curled up. And then…”
A shuddering lower lip. Eyes brimming over with barely controlled tears.
“They just kept throwing it.”
Oh, my love. I’m so sorry, baby.
“I told them to stop.”
I know you did, baby. That was a really good thing to do. Thank you for being so brave.
She cried a little more, the heaving slowing down and her breathing settling back to normal.
“Penny says that when she’s President, she’ll pass a law that no one can ever hurt animals.” She’s barely breaking a whisper against my shoulder now.
That would be nice, huh baby?
She nods, and then is quiet for a while.
“Mama, we have to kill animals to eat them.”
Yes baby. But when we do, it’s much kinder. They don’t get squished. They aren’t in pain.
“I don’t think I want to eat them anymore.”
Okay baby. Let’s be vegetarians for a while.
Finally, her tears began to dry and her little spirit lifted a little. By the time we got in the car, she’d moved on to a much lighter discussion of how anyone could be so awful, and why the boys didn’t make any sense to her. And that she wasn’t sure she would permanently stop eating bacon. (#iknowright)
So for now, we’re trying it out. Meat-free until she decides otherwise. And I know I could “cheat” and eat meat at work, but then I’d have to tell her. I tell her everything, and I promised her I’d do this with her. I’ll be packing pbj or cheese tortillas for her lunch every day so that she has a meatless entree option, and we’ll be talking about how she’s feeling, what she’s thinking…
I’ve never seen her take anything so hard. My sweet, tender-hearted, fragile little bean.