You know those train-wreck moments you can see coming but can’t avoid?
The ones where you look back and see clearly how and when things went wrong and, in retrospect, are amazed at your own stupidity?
No? Me neither. But I did have this other thing happen to me.
It all started earlier this summer, when our cottage guests brought home steak and live lobsters for dinner on their last night.
A little surf and turf …. What could possibly go wrong?
As my friend and I were inside setting the table and preparing salads the kids were out front playing with our dinner. They needed something to do while the … ahem…. water was boiling, so naturally they began racing the lobsters and playing rodeo on the backs of the dogs.
I knew three of the four kids, including my youngest, would have no problem dropping their buddies in the pot when the time came. But my oldest is another story. She named her lobster Lucky (don’t laugh) and, between races, stared lovingly into Lucky’s beady black eyes. She tucked him under arm, whispered words of encouragement and basically adopted him into her heart as though he were the crustacean sibling she’d been longing for her entire life.
You see where this is going don’t you? I would have too if I hadn’t been so busy melting butter.
Lucky no doubt knew the score as soon as he left his tank so he made an appeal for clemency the only way he could: by crawling his way into my daughter’s heart and, to spite me, winning all the races. Now, as if eating my girl’s new best friend wasn’t bad enough, I was about to kill the Usain Bolt of lobsters.
When my daughter kept popping her head inside to see how dinner was progressing I knew something was up. She’s never once taken an interest in how food gets on the table (food fairies, obvi) and when I saw her repeatedly eyeing the pot on the stove I knew we were going to have a problem.
My girl is an animal lover extraordinaire. Every living creature is worthy of her love and affection. Cats, dogs, bunnies, horses, pigs, ants, house flys, spiders, you name it. Our cottage was full of lidless Tupperware containers and bug houses containing moths, dragonflies, ants, worms and who knows what else. Only earwigs were shunned.
Had I not been so focused on finding bibs and crackers for everyone I might have been able to get in front of the lobster situation. But I didn’t and now I only have myself to blame.
“What’s that for?” she finally asked, pointing at the pot, Lucky tucked under her arm.
“The lobsters,” I said. Maybe she’d think we were just preparing a cool-down bath after all their exertion?
“What do you mean, the lobsters? They’re going in there? We’re EATING THEM?”
As I considered how to respond three competing schools of thought were tussling around in my brain, climbing all over one another, vying for profile like puppies on adoption day.
Option 1. Deny everything: “Nothing to see here, just a lobster bath. Can you grab some towels?”
Option 2. Brutal honesty: “Yes, we’re eating them and they’re going to be delicious. Go wash your hands.”
Option 3. Teachable moment: “Yes honey. We’re going to eat them. Animals exist to feed humans. It’s called the food chain. Or the circle of life. Or something.”
But I didn’t have to say anything because she knew. My heart broke when I realized she knew all along what was supposed to happen but thought her mom would stop it. She trusted me to right the lobster-eating wrong, to stop the friend-boiling atrocity and I did nothing but make sure everyone had a napkin. Instead of telling our friends “sorry, but we can’t kill these living creatures in front of our daughter” or even distracting her somehow while the deed was done, I let it unfold right in front of her eyes. It was an epic motherhood fail and in that moment I hated myself. I can joke about it now because time has passed and she doesn’t appear to hate me or need therapy, but truly, in that moment, I felt like she would be disappointed in me for the rest of her life.
What actually came out of my mouth was some sort of combo between option two and three. I tried to be honest, but gentle. And apparently I failed because she started sobbing immediately. (Quite frankly, sobbing is the reaction I hope we’d all have upon discovering a friend was about to be boiled alive and eaten).
So I took her aside and explained that the lobsters wouldn’t feel anything when they were placed in the pot, and that this was really okay because it was the lobster’s job to feed humans. I know, I know, don’t judge me. I was panicking (and hungry). Then I dug myself a further hole by pointing out that we also eat mussels, bacon and chicken fingers, which are living creatures too. I admit it, this was a terrible strategy, a Hail Mary, if you will.
“Don't cry for the lobsters sweetie, you’ve been eating animals your whole life. You’re nine, that’s a lot of cows!”
Like I said, this was not my best day.
And when she looked at me through her tears and said “but those guys weren’t my friends”, I realized I’d completely blown it. All kidding aside, it’s actually embarrassing to relive and write about now. Over the years there have been a few times where I’ve been so overwhelmed by her sensitivity and kindness that I’ve felt unworthy of being her mom. Not surprisingly, lobstergate is at the top of that list.
Eventually we got through it after a lot of tears and hugs. Lucky did end up in the pot but his short-term legacy was a promise to purchase and free a live lobster from Sobey’s the next day. Longer term, we’ve agreed to explore vegetarianism together and to better understand what it means to eat, or not eat, animals. My nine year old has got me thinking about something I’d never previously considered. So it was a teachable moment after all, but for me and not her.