You would think I would know this already; however, it transpired that when dealing with Alex’s nursery school, I had forgotten this one golden rule: communication is key.
When I first told the nursery staff about his vegan diet I suppose I was guilty of playing it down. I was conscious of them having preconceived notions of vegans as militant activists and I really wanted the teachers to see me as just a normal mum with a normal family.
With hindsight I can see that I failed to convey how important Alex’s new diet was. I was apologetic and probably gave the impression that it was no big deal.
I wanted to leave a good impression of vegans so that the next time any of the nursery staff comes across a negative stereotype of we plant eaters, they will think, ‘well Alex’s mum isn’t like that; she’s really nice’.
The thing with being nice though, is that sometimes you get walked over.
When things don’t go as you planned
A few months ago I noticed one of the teachers give Alex a Jelly Baby (I don’t know if these little globs of boiled up cow hooves have made it out of the UK but I’m sure those of you outside of this fine island can imagine exactly the kind of sweet I’m talking about). Anyway, I let it go. I assumed it was probably just a one off, a mistake – and of course I’m British – I just hate to make a fuss!
Then back in February, I completely forgot that ‘Pancake Day’ (as we heathens call Shrove Tuesday) was approaching. Had I remembered, I would have given the nursery a vegan pancake recipe well in advance. As it was, it slipped my mind and come the day, poor Alex just had to stand at the back and watch the other kids make pancakes.
My heart broke a little when I heard about it but I learned my lesson and vowed to try harder – to communicate more effectively.
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So I was a bit quicker to speak up when another problem reared its head. Just before the Easter holidays, Alex’s teacher tried to give him a Cadbury’s Creme Egg. I intervened and reminded the teacher that Alex doesn’t eat dairy. The blank face staring back at me had me completely perplexed and a little bit annoyed. How many times do I need to remind these people? Telling them once should suffice, but I’ve written to them outlining exactly what a vegan diet entails, I’ve given them lists of commonly found products and brands which are vegan friendly, I’ve even provided bags full of vegan chocolate, sweets and crisps for Alex to have when the other kids are having non vegan treats! Surely the message should be sinking in by now? Apparently not.
Luckily on this occasion Alex didn’t mind. He knew that Creme Eggs aren’t vegan and a quick word from me reassuring him that he could have some chocolate Easter egg as soon as we got home kept him happy. As any parent can imagine though, it could have played out very differently!
Goodbye Mrs. Doormat, hello vegan diva
And then it dawned on me: If I play the vegan issue down and act as if it’s no big deal, or even as if it’s something shameful, then how can I ever expect anyone to take it seriously?
Determined that Alex should not have to miss out again, nor be faced with the offer of something that he knows will taste nice but that he doesn’t want to eat (because of course like so many vegan children, it’s not a case of ‘Mummy says I can’t’ but rather ‘Mummy has told me what that’s made of, so I don’t want to’), I have set aside Mrs Doormat and introduced myself to my inner vegan diva.
Politely but firmly I have stated my case to one of the senior members of staff. I have explained once again what Alex will and won’t eat. I’ve explained that many, many recipes can be ‘veganised’ and assured them that if they are doing baking in class I can provide recipes and ingredients so that Alex can make a vegan version. I’ve told them that I’m more than happy to provide any form of snack item to ensure that he never feels left out. I have told them truthfully that Alex is dairy intolerant and that his veganism is to be treated seriously – just as they would treat any child with a food allergy or following a special diet for religious reasons.
No more playing it down. Our lifestyle is a valid choice: one that deserves to be met with respect.
With a few polite words, a big smile and a steely gaze, I’m sure we can all fight for our children’s needs without coming across as militant. Communication is key: lesson learned!