They Swam and They Swam All Over the Dam

As we finished putting dinner on the table tonight, my two-year old burst into hysterical tears. It was the kind of cry that happens when he’s injured or very scared. My best friend Jocelyn and her daughter are staying with us this week and they were in the dining room with Cavanaugh but neither of them had any idea what had happened. Jocelyn held Cavanaugh while he sobbed and when he’d finished crying, he wanted to draw. I asked if he’d hit his head or if he’d slipped trying to get up in his chair, but he only hugged me tighter. He refused to sit at the dining table with us. We brought one of his little tables and a chair into the dining room and he drew while my husband sat across from him and offered him food. Cavanaugh wouldn’t eat.

After dinner, Cavanaugh and Mike went upstairs to start stories. I took leftover pizza up hoping Cavanaugh would eat something. When I walked into the bedroom, he looked up at me and said, “No fish” then curled into my lap and asked for milk. Since before I got pregnant, Mike and I have been debating whether or not we’d raise our child vegetarian. I have been a vegetarian since birth, but I never had much of a choice. My parents didn’t feed me meat because of spiritual beliefs and by the time I tried chicken, I didn’t have the enzymes to digest it. I threw up everything I tried, except the mildest fish, and by high school, I couldn’t even eat that.

Honestly I feel repulsed by meat, so wasn’t sure what to do. Every time I thought about Cavanaugh eating it, I got squeamish. As illogical as it seemed, it felt like feeding Cavanaugh meat would taint him but my not eating meat has definitely had its challenges, going to dinner at other peoples’ houses and while traveling especially. I wasn’t sure I should limit Cavanaugh’s choices in that way. If we gave him meat now, he could always choose to go vegetarian later.

Mike and I decided to hold off making a decision and kept talking. I asked vegetarian friends what they were doing and eventually decided that I could handle our introducing fish to Cavanaugh now and we could evaluate whether or not to feed him other meat later. The Omega 3’s and protein in fish were just too compelling. I even thought maybe I could start eating it again. During her visit, Joce offered to make Tilapia to see if either Cavanaugh or I would like it. So she cooked it tonight. After Cavanaugh said, “No fish” upstairs, I held him for a long time. His eyes teared up. His lower lip protruded. He got one of his cloth books that has a fish in it and pulled the fish out to hold against his chest. He told me, “No fish, no eat fish” over and over. We even came downstairs so he could tell Jocelyn. After Cavanaugh went to sleep, Jocelyn told me she’d asked Cavanaugh if he wanted to go check if the fish was done in the oven. He burst into tears when they returned from the kitchen.

Once everyone in the house acknowledged that we would eat no more fish here, Cavanaugh devoured his pizza. He was starving, but the fish on his plate had made him unwilling to even risk the broccoli trees, quinoa, or corn he normally loves. I feel so grateful that he knows we’re not going to have power struggles over food, that he can trust if he doesn’t want something he can tell me and we can talk about it. Both responding with the sensitivity Cavanaugh’s upset required and understanding that we aren’t going to be the ones who decide whether or not he’s a vegetarian became very clear this evening.

Sonya Feher is a co-leader of the South Austin Chapter of API and blogs at

Author: Sonya Feher

Sonya Fehér is mama to Cavanaugh True. She is the leader of the S. Austin chapter of API and is a professional organizer with spaceWise Organizing where she helps individuals and families create space for how they want to live.

3 thoughts on “They Swam and They Swam All Over the Dam”

  1. This made me tear up. I’m vegetarian too, and 2 of my children have made that choice too. The younger two are too little to understand and my DH and I haven’t quite figured out what to do with that. I don’t cook meat at home, but in terms of, eating out or at someone’s house etc.
    Thanks for this precious post.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your post. Kudos to you for really “listening” to your child and not forcing him to eat fish when he did not want to. In our zeal to have our kids get good nutrition (omega acids and so on), sometimes we forget that they may not really want to eat a particular food item at that time. Later on it might be perfectly ok. As a parent, it is really quite hard to tune ourselves to really listen to our kids, because we feel we know it all. Guess what, we don’t know it all because when it comes to feelings and sensitivities, every child is different. And as it turns out in our case, we have boy/girl twins who have their very different personalities and preferences. So we work hard to tune ourselves to both at the same time.

    Does it mean that you should let your child eat whatever he wants whenever he wants? Clearly no, but there is no use getting into a power struggle in the moment. You can correct undesirable habits (candy, junk foods etc) slowly by setting an example yourself and then by positive reinforcement when he makes more desirable choices.


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