The Influence Of Daycare
I knew from the beginning that I'd be going back to work after I had my baby. Even when I was on maternity leave and would get sad at the thought of leaving her, I knew I'd be going back. For us, that meant we'd be sending our baby to daycare. I never had any qualms about sending her to the place we chose. It's a wonderful place and the teachers there love our girl! However, always knowing that I'd be sending my baby to daycare came with also always knowing she'd most certainly be the only vegan there. Before we chose this place, I contacted the owner and asked if it would be acceptable for us to bring food for her to supplement if what they served wouldn't work for us. That includes regular meals and any special events they hold for families. For example, they serve ice cream for Father's Day, and there's one event (I can't remember what it is) where they serve the kids hot dogs. We were free and welcome to bring our own.
That's all well and good (it really is because some places do not allow you to bring outside food), but what about as she gets older and sees her buddies eating differently than she's eating? I don't exactly know at what age she will start recognizing that, but I know it will happen. She's still an infant, so I know we're a while away from that. But it's an issue I have to acknowledge, and I plan on having a conversation with her teachers every time she moves to a different class. And it isn't just about her and what she knows about herself and us. What will her teachers and friends be like? Will they make her feel weird? Will it even be a thing? I thought I caught a glimpse early on when I started bringing solids for her. Her teacher mentioned that we could bring stuff for her or we could choose things off the monthly menu that we'd want her to be fed. Her teacher said, "like, if maybe one day you want her to eat chicken..." I shook my head and said, not TOO emphatically, "yeah, no. Never." She responded, somewhat incredulously, "really?! OK, welllll that's fine, too!" I could tell she thought it was weird, which I understand, and I thought about how we probably have our work cut out for us and what it would mean for all the years she'll likely spend there. I am certain it will probably take a few conversations, especially because not everyone knows what being vegan really entails or what kinds of products could have animal ingredients.
However, about a month ago, the same teacher and I were texting back and forth about something. I think she was telling me about how she was grateful that we elected to do baby-led weaning rather than starting her on purees. (More on baby-led weaning in another post; it is definitely not for everyone but we're loving it!) She said it's easier for them when they have to teach kids how to feed themselves and teach them about new textures. In any case, we were having a conversation about food so I took the opportunity to bring up the vegan thing again and test the waters. I reminded her that I had already mentioned it in passing but that our baby was being raised vegan and I asked how that would be with her teachers and friends. She said there was no judgment and she'll eat what she eats and it's no problem! She said the place was really like a big family (which I completely believe; the people there really are so warm and inviting) and is very supportive. I realize this is probably not the last time I'll have to deal with it, especially because she's so young still and she has no idea what's going on, but I did feel more comfortable after I received that response from her teacher. I mean, I can't imagine there hasn't been a SINGLE kid there who has been allergic to dairy or eggs or wheat or whatever. And I also I can't imagine there hasn't been a single kid there who has abstained from eating certain foods because of cultural or religious reasons.
While this isn't something a majority of parents who have to address things like this, parents who have had those kids (the allergic kids and the abstainers) have had to deal with it. They have had to have the conversations with teachers, and they have had to figure out how to explain to their children that their way of eating might be a little different than how others eat. I'm hopeful that it won't be too big of an issue, at least between the kids, because why do they care? And do they REALLY know or care whether their friends are eating meat? Do kids (I'm talking toddlers and preschool-aged kids) already think on their own that meat is a thing and that it's important? Doubtful. As they get older, however, they do begin to understand because it's ingrained by their parents, just like everything else kids believe is, at least at first. Most parents these days were raised by parents who believed meat was important for kids to grow "big and strong," so of course they passed that on to their children, and those children became parents or daycare/preschool teachers who pass it on to their children. A majority of people will disagree with me, but there is plenty of evidence to show that kids inherently love animals and do not want to eat them. (True carnivores/omnivores would see an animal and start salivating; they would not want to pet or cuddle with it.) Thankfully, there seems to be a growing population that understands it's the NUTRIENTS found in meat, dairy, and eggs that people need, not the animal products themselves, and that those nutrients are plentiful in plants without all the bad stuff. Anyhow, maybe that's naive of me, but I am more concerned about the teachers than I am the kids at this point. I'm concerned because I know they'll think it's weird and it might rub off on the other kids and her, and I'm concerned that they won't do enough supervising when it's time for kids to eat and they won't be able to stop her from sticking her hand in another child's plate and grabbing something that looks good. I get that it's the nature of sending your child somewhere for someone else to mind her. It's still stressful! But it would be similarly stressful for a parent whose child is allergic to a certain food. How does the parent make sure everyone is on board? I guess you just do what you can and stay involved. And that parent would be just as concerned about teaching and explaining to his or her child about how the child can't eat certain foods because of an allergy. What do kids know about allergies? (I can tell you from personal experience that they don't know much and that parents have to be REALLY specific. I am DEATHLY allergic to aspirin and ibuprofen, and I didn't know what "name brands" were. So, when I was offered Bayer, I figured it was fine because it wasn't aspirin or ibuprofen. And I wasn't even that young!)
I will say, though, that I know this will keep me on my toes. I will ALWAYS have to be prepared by making sure they always have some treats for her in case a child has birthday and they're sharing sweets with the entire class. Or, another example of something they do at this particular daycare with the preschoolers is make gingerbread houses. I know I have a couple of years until she's doing that, but I'll have to find vegan alternatives to every single thing one normally uses when decorating one of those. As long as I have advance notice, it shouldn't be an issue to make sure she has something for her. Sticking to our values does not mean I don't want her to participate in activities (believe it or not, I already have a solid plan in place for when trick-or-treating is a thing she does). I'm hopeful she'll eventually be one of those children who understand what we're doing and why we're doing it and won't mind eating a little differently. Those kids exist! Heck, there are kids who decided on their own at the age of three to give up eating animals because they made the connection on their own. All I can do is lead by example and set her up for success as best I can. That includes teaching her and explaining how this works to her teachers.