“Mama, Do Police Eat Animals?” A Preschooler Navigates a World of Contradictions and Confusion
The other day, my 5 year old asked papa and I, “Do police eat [animal] meat?”
“Yes Sun, most do,” I replied.
“Why? I thought they weren’t supposed to do bad things,” Sun said.
In Sun’s mind, police are supposed to protect and keep everyone safe, including animals. He does not understand why most police officers would eat non-human animals.
Oh my, how to I explain this to a five year old? How do I first explain that we live in a culture dominated by capitalism and that the police aren’t necessarily here to protect people and non-humans animals; that they are part of a system of domination and oppression that keep the 1% and their interests/investments/wealth ‘protected'; that the 1% are invested in speciesism, as well as racism, classism, and sexism to name a few? And how do I then try to explain that eating non-human animals vs. not eating non-human animals isn’t a simple binary of ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’?
But, he is 5 years old, and he and his little sister are the only ones at their nursery school whose ‘protein’ for lunch is plant meat. He notices these things and starting to ask pretty critical questions about what he observes his friends and peers doing.
The other day, I found out that Sun had ‘learned’ from his friends at the playground that ‘squishing ants is okay.’ Me and my husband were disturbed by this. We had both taught him to never kill or harm insects or spiders unless they were obviously hurting him (i.e. pulling a deer tick off of you). He has witnessed us peacefully and politely removing insects and spiders from the house, over a hundred times. While transporting the beings outside, he has heard us explain to him, over and over again, why it is so important to not kill or hurt them. We have spent a lot of time asking questions like, “You wouldn’t want a dinosaur to come along and squish you or your sister, would you?” And he has agreed with us many times that that isn’t something he would like to experience. We have even heard him explain to Eva Luna, his 2.5 year old sister, that she too shouldn’t hurt insects or spiders because, “Eva, how would you like it if someone squished you? Then you’d be dead and never see us again. We ‘d be so sad.” He seemed to get it.
But then, on Easter Sunday, while walking on our family hike, I heard him tell Eva Luna not to step on a beetle crossing in front of his feet. He said, “It’s not okay to step on insects….but it’s okay to squish ants.”
Hold up! Say what!?
I knew several of his friends at the playground were squishing ants for fun, and I had told Sun that what they were doing was wrong and not to do it. He seemed to get it at the time. However, after telling Eva Luna this during our hike, I said, “Where did you learn that from? Have you been killing ants at the playground?” He admitted that he recently had because his friends had done it. I asked him how many times he had done it and he said it had been more than once.
I told my husband and we both told him we were very disappointed as well as upset with his actions. We explained to him that what he had done was uncompassionate and that we didn’t care what his friends do: you simply don’t kill or harm insects and spiders.
Later that night, Oliver (my husband) sat with him to find videos of dying ants on YouTube so Sun could understand what it means to kill another being. However, I don’t know if he really understood the implications of “killing for the sake of killing”, even if it’s “just an ant.”
My mind has been spinning around on how to address his questions about police, animal meat eating, and also his own actions that contradict everything I have told him and everything he has seen me do. Yes, I know he is only 5 years old, and yes, though I’m his mom and telling him all these things, he will ‘stray’ and be influenced by a mainstream world in which it’s okay to eat animals without thinking deeply about it, it’s okay to treat females as sex objects, it’s okay to be hetero-sexist, etc.
Any suggestions on how to give him the tools he will need to think critically and act in a way that is more compassionate and mindful, despite what everyone else is doing? I’ve already read him Ruby Roth’s vegan books for children, many times. I know I can only do my best, as it may very well be that he still decides to do the exact opposite of everything I try to teach him.