California Cousin

jesshikeFor part of Winter Break, we had a 17-1/2 year old visitor from the southern California coastal area. This cousin had last visited us when he was 14 and he was pretty quiet back then. It was with great delight we found ourselves hosting a much more mature, outgoing, confident and healthy nearly 18 year old. Due to graduate in June, he seems to have some reasonable and pragmatic plans for his future. He was instantly adored by his five year old cousin and had ample time to play video games with cousins aged 10 and 15 as well. His stand on my veganism was summed up thus, “I will love anything you make for me.” That is pretty much what the 15 year old believes, too. Both of these young man are very gracious and seem to appreciate every little thing you do for them. They are not as concerned with life philosophy yet, but food matters.

Introducing a Teen to a Plant-Based Diet

Learning from other bloggers and vegans, I decided to go slowly on moving this grandson into a plant-based diet by offering food that was familiar, although veganized.  I had a few vegan snack items on hand and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.  I would say two of his favorite items were the Vegan Pot Pies (not a scrap was left) and the pizzas made with olives, mushrooms, peppers, marinara and Daiya cheese. Vegan pizza has become a weekly occurence and each one seems to get better — but they are far from perfected yet. Still, this dinner was gobbled down one slice after another, with no complaints. For breakfast, a definite favorite was Orange Chocolate Chip Scones. Living next door to omnivorous relatives, this cousin had plenty of culinary choices.

Luckily, one of his California cousins has become a vegetarian, even though she is only thirteen, so he was familiar with alternative eating styles. The family in which he lives and dines is definitely Middle American in eating habits, with lots of high fat animal products. They are also a very loving and generous family who has taught me many good ideas over the years. When the children were tiny, I always kept bottled water in the car, pillows and blankets on any longer trips (ideas from this family), and this sibling set could be heard giggling in the back and having a lot of fun. This family taught me a great idea – Even/Odd. On even numbered days, little sister got to choose (lunch, cartoon, activity) and on odd days, little brother reigned supreme. This stopped a lot of conflict and helped the children learn to share and take turns. We went places every weekend, from live theater in the park to art festivals and picnics at the beach. We picked our own vegetables and explored the harbor. We all fell in love with our Japanese exchange student, Yukiyo, who returned to live and brought more Japanese students with her. We shared a lot of wonderful experiences.

From Hikes to Flights

I was afforded a few opportunities to really talk to this young man, now over six feet tall and towering over my diminutive frame.  He used to be my little hiking buddy. The very first hike we went on was supposed to be four or five miles but ended up being ten. We both got blisters within a few minutes which I treated with paper towels – all I had on hand. This little guy, only about six or seven at the time, skipped all the way until we reached the stairs in my house. Then he groaned, Ow! ow! my legs! laughing as he climbed up into a good hot bath to soak. By the next month, he was ready to hike once again. His sunny disposition was always appreciated by the adults on the hikes – he even found a real buddy in one midlife gentleman who had never had much of a childhood  and brought the inner child out in him. They would both hike up a hill and slide down in the dirt – THE DIRT! – and laugh all the way down. He listened keenly and learned from the Sierra Club members that knew the trails so well. It was a great way to increase his appreciation for the natural world and to share my love of physical activity.

Dropping him off at the airport, I realized there is no way to know when we will next see him. I am certain we will once again see a different young man before us with maturation becoming more and more in evidence. There was no vegan conversion on this visit, nor did I expect there to be. Still, one hopes the next generation will pause to think about the ways of this world, and consider how they want things to change in their own lifetime.  I am not nearly done working to effect change, but know that this young man is about to launch into adulthood and will select his own priorities. I was happy to hear he is running, something I did every day for an hour or more, until my knees gave out. I hope I have added something to his life and allowed him to think about things a bit differently.

I miss him already.