My children argue. Like many other sibling pairs, they will argue about anything and everything. In between times, they like to shock me by playing beautifully together and appearing to be inseparable siblings who love each other and enjoy one another’s company, but the rest of the time they argue. They argue about who gets up with me in the mornings on their own; about whose turn it is to sit in the front of the car; about whether Faith is permitted to observe Ana’s archery session; or if Ana is allowed to watch the tennis tournament on Southsea seafront when, by rights, tennis ‘belongs’ to Faith. Literally anything can be turned into a source of conflict. During this summer holiday however, I found myself having to arbitrate one of the more irrational and frankly ridiculous examples of sibling rivalry and jealousy exhibited by my offspring: Clarke ‘v’ Clarke in the ‘great Pescatarianism debate of 2017’.
I need to mention first off, that I have been a pescatarian for over 27 years (I used to call it being ‘a vegetarian who eats fish‘, but then they invented a whole new posh-sounding term for it somewhere around the early 2000s which enabled me to sound more hip and less of a ‘vegetarian who cheats a bit‘.). Anyway, I don’t eat meat, but my children always did until one day in the summer of 2015 when Faith decided apropos of nothing that she no longer wanted to eat animals ‘because I feel bad for them getting eaten all the time’ and decided to join me as a pescatarian.
Naturally – as she was only 7 at the time and it had taken me a full 2 years to let go of the joy of eating sausages when I was 12 years old – I assumed it would be a fad that would soon fade to a distant memory (‘remember when you were pescatarian for a week!‘ we would say laughingly in the years to come), but I had underestimated Faith’s tenacity and – more crucially – the unexpected bonus it would bring for her in terms of sibling one-upmanship. For NOW whenever meat was offered at a friend’s house, or choices were being made from a menu, Faith could pipe up with “actually, I’m a pescatarian so I don’t eat meat.” and feel the satisfying swell of moral superiority over her sister (I can’t say that feeling hasn’t kept me on track at times in the last 27 years, at least until mention is made of my penchant for Haribo sweets (containing gelatine) or the fact that I wear leather shoes).
So, there she was glorying in her virtue when suddenly Faith realised that this was also an opportunity to stake some claim over ME. Because now, in her eyes, we were a team. Daddy and Ana could share their love of pork chops and Faith and I could persevere with finding tasty things to make with tofu. Perfect. Two siblings + two parents = one for each and everyone was happy, until…
This summer on our trip to the Brecon Beacons, Ana was suddenly struck by the reality of her food choices when she stood next to a Waitrose chiller in Abergavenny whilst her father tried to persuade her to get some lamb for the BBQ. Inevitably, given that we were in South Wales and had spent much of the day in the lush valleys and hills, Ana had seen a fair number of lambs gambolling in the fields and on this day she decided that she didn’t fancy eating them anymore.
And so, Ana declared her intention to become a pescatarian, renouncing her meat eating ways and joining our happy band of pretend vegetarians. Was Faith pleased with this plan? Did she joyfully welcome Ana into the fold? I think you can probably guess that she did no such thing. I’m fact, she was apoplectic with rage. How DARE Ana muscle in on HER territory! How could I possibly allow it?! It must be stopped and quickly.
Faith’s attempts to halt this insurgency started with an all-out effort to ORDER Ana to eat meat and – when this failed – to order us to order Ana to eat meat. No amount of rational explanation that ‘it really isn’t OK to tell someone they HAVE to eat meat when they don’t want to, particularly if your only justification is your desire to retain ‘solo pescatarian child’ status in the family group.’ would sway her from her goal. Faith’s mission was set.
When orders failed, Faith moved to emotional blackmail, explaining to me that ‘I started being pescatarian because I wanted to be kind to animals, but now it’s our thing that we do together and I don’t want to lose our special time.’ and when even that approach failed (although she managed to pull a little on my heart strings even if my rational mind remained resolute against ordering my 11 year old to ‘EAT A BURGER, OR ELSE!!’), Faith began to wage a more subtle war of attrition on her sister with sly under-the-breath comments about how tasty the meat being cooked must be and empathetic comments to Ana commending her for giving up meat when she had always liked it so very much.
Eventually, these sneaky tactics won the day and Ana remembered that she really did like eating meat and resolved to compromise a little on her new principles by deciding to eat only free range chicken and no other meat. Surprisingly, this has led to everyone being a winner: Ana has been able to take a slice of that virtuous feeling of moral superiority; Faith has been able to keep hold of the exclusive pescatarian-child label; and I have been left with one less argument to arbitrate….
… until Ana decides to take up tennis, that is!