If you have ever met me or one of my siblings before you’ve probably heard us say this. With a weird lisp, “you woo-wined my life!” and a petulant stomp. We quote movies and TV shows incessantly (Arrested Development is really applicable to almost any life situation), but this line is from our cousin who was wound pretty tight as a little kid. He threw a fork at his mother in a restaurant once. We greeted his outbursts with a combination of amusement and concern. One day, during a family vacation, he found a stick and decided to beat Ben around the shins with it. Naturally, Ben took the stick and threw it away. “You woo-wined my life!” howled the red faced monster, the prominent vein in his forehead straining against the skin. We giggled.
My mom tells me I’m ruining her life all the time. I explain to her why we can’t buy certain brands or eat certain foods. “You’re ruining my life,” she sighs. But even far away from my disapproving gaze she still can’t bring herself to buy most varieties of fish anymore.
My parents’ well-developed environmental consciousness pre-dates my own discovery of environmentalism. Mom gardened with native plants and composted. My father put bricks in the toilet tank to use less water with each flush and collected water from a dripping shower faucet to pour on the house plants. We were raised in a household of “waste not want not”.
It was inevitable that once I stopped eating meat (for reasons both moral and environmental) my family would ask why. In fact, extended family gatherings can sometimes feel like extended opportunities to parse my dietary decisions. My answers range from comments about the ethically ambiguous meat industry to remarks about the environmental impact of raising large animals for food.
“Pigs are as smart as dogs,” I tell my mother. She looks at Roxie, her achingly loyal and splendidly handsome rescued Shepherd mix, and pork is off the menu.
My mom has always been a foodie, before that title became a trendy thing to photoblog on tumblr. She has always loved to cook and to try new foods. She has always appreciated simple, quality elegance over the all-you-can-eat buffet. What is ruined for her is the ability to indulge in such refined pleasures with abandon. She can’t just eat a delicious meal without wondering how the animal was treated, what chemicals were used, what impact the industry has on the lives of the human beings it employs…
As you might be able to guess, I can actually take very little credit for this. When she sighs about things being ruined, my mother is expressing her nostalgia for the “ignorance is bliss” days. This has next to nothing to do with me. She is the one who seeks out seasonal produce, the one who works with poor farmers in Latin America, the one who despairs of being able to keep on top of changing rules of farm-raised versus wild caught fish. Sometimes, for a few moments, I believe her that I am taking something away from her and if I could just keep silent I could let her live in happy peace.
But Mom doesn’t want that. More than blissful ignorance she really does want the world to be a better place and for us all to do what we can to get us there. I’ll probably keep updating her on how bad things are. I can’t help it; I am an inveterate pain in the ass. Even if I don’t tell her she’ll find out anyway. But I also see the hopeful world my mom sees and I want to live there too.
We aren’t ruined, but we are aware. It’s hard to get used to.