He looked at me across the table at the restaurant. His eyes were wide. “Mom?”
I was lost. What could I say? My baby boy was in the midst of his month of being a vegan and the waitress had just told us that the pasta contained eggs.
We had yet to order and, normally, this might have just been deflected. But it was a bit more complicated: A week earlier, I had assured him there were no eggs in the pasta at another restaurant, The Corner Bakery. “Go ahead,” I said. “You know you want it. Order it. It will be OK.”
Call me the pasta pusher. My temporary vegan boy had ordered it on my say so and eaten it.
My sweet baby boy had decided that to be a vegan for 30 days was a test that he must take, a challenge that he must meet. I’d like to say this was a path he felt he must walk on his own, but the truth was he dragged us behind him every step of the way.
I had no problem when he sprung this plan on us one evening at 10:30 p.m. He told us he planned to start the 30 days at midnight.
I’ve always taught the boys: While your word is your bond, your actions speak louder than your words. You just never know if you are getting your message across. Ever so briefly, I had hoped this experiment was tied to a set of deep beliefs. I embrace the idea that one person can make a difference. And when the Vegan Society began in 1944 in London it was the founders’ taking action on their belief that people should be more respectful of life.
Perhaps, I thought, my boy was listening to the message. That is, until he ordered a Meat Lovers Pizza to eat before the start of his new regime.
Still, it took a lot of effort. It’s not easy to be a vegan. This is not a “no meat, no dairy” society.
You have to become a food detective. You have to know everything about what is going into your mouth. You have to study ingredients. Who knew honey was in so many foods? (Honey doesn’t cut it because you are taking away a bee’s life work.)
Veganism really makes you take responsibility for your food—unless, of course, you are a teenage boy. “Mom, this is your fault,” he whispered to me behind a wall of menus. “You told me the pasta was OK.”
He was trying for subtle. But teenagers don’t do subtle well—particularly teenage boys. His attempt at whispering wafted over the table as an amplified hiss, right to the unsuspecting ears of my sister, her friends and our family, all gathered to celebrate another brilliant afternoon of my nieces’ ballet performances.
“What’s wrong with him?” my unsympathetic younger boy cried from the opposite end of the table.
“I didn’t know about the pasta,” I whispered to the older boy behind the menu, popping my head up to address the whole table, “Everything’s fine. We’re just fine. No problem here.”
“Mom, I’m 27 days into this. I’m going to have start all over again. It has to be 30 days. How could you do this?”
I floated into a schizophrenic parental out-of-body moment. I floated above the table looking at the scene, while the adult in me laughed, “What the hell are you talking about? Were you not there when I cooked vegetable stock to make your couscous creamy? Do you realize I almost had to take out a second mortgage to afford the vegan cookies at Whole Foods? Who packed those lunches? Thirty more days? I don’t think so. You, young man, are not driving the rest of us crazy for one more day. You are on your own buddy.”
Yet, the parent in me saw something totally different, “My poor baby boy. This is so important to you. You are frustrated and disappointed. How can I help?”
Needless to say, the latter was the internal voice that moved me. It was late, but I grabbed the cell phone. I called The Corner Bakery. It was closed. I called my husband to chase the restaurant chain across the time zones.
Meanwhile, I tried to keep things together at the table. The dear boy was sulking, saying too often, “I’m fine. I don’t care.” The whole table was on the verge of being sucked into his black hole. The phone rang. A Corner Bakery in California was open. “No,” the man had said, “We do not use eggs in the pasta. Some places do, but we don’t.”
Yes. There is a God. I shut down the cell phone and turned to the boy. The rest of the table was rejoicing with me. But the boy was not impressed.
Quietly, I fumed. Why do we do so much for them?
Later, after the vegan month was over, it took a long distance phone call to discover what he was thinking. I was on a business trip to New York and I had called for a brief “I love you.” But when I heard his voice, I knew he wanted to talk. I left my meeting and sat in the hotel lobby—hoping the battery would hold until he had said all he needed to.
“You know Mom, when I was being a vegan,” he said, waxing nostalgic about his past—a full 14 days ago. “It was like I was struggling to survive. There were days, I didn’t know if I was going to make it. I really know what it feels like to starve.
“And that night in the restaurant when I found out about the pasta... I just didn’t think I could take it.”
I gripped my chest and was glad we were on the phone so my tears would not distract him. Amidst teenage drama, there is always this heartfelt struggle to really grow. I said to him, “I didn’t realize. Why did you do that? No one was making you. You should have stopped. No one would have known.”
“No, Mom, I couldn’t have stopped,” he said to me firmly. “I would have known. And I gave my word.” I guess he was listening.