Vegan Deli

Vegan Deli  by Jo Stepaniak

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Raising Vegetarian Children
by Jo Stepaniak, M.S.Ed., & Vesanto Melina M.S., R.D.

Raising Vegetarian Children

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Children

I used to get uncomfortable telling people that I was a teen mom. I was afraid of being faced with criticism. However, things have changed. I got pregnant out of wedlock (big no-no for a former Christian girl) when I was eighteen years old. The father, my present husband, Sam, wanted me to have the baby. However, my mother and father, as well as my co-workers and supervisors, were pushing me to have an abortion. I was young and naive. I had just started college and I was suddenly faced with "losing my chances" at a better life. Somehow, everyone thought that having a baby would ruin my life -- I was destined to quit college and become a supermarket cashier (which I truly believe is not a bad job, anyway!) Part of me begged and prayed for a miscarriage. Another part wanted the abortion. Part of me wanted to keep the child. Finally, I decided, within a matter of weeks, that I would keep the child. This was the toughest decision I'd ever had to make. My mother insisted that we get married. My father refused to speak to Sam or come to the wedding (which was a very simple ceremony in the magistrate's office). My father's blatant disapproval hurt me more than anything. I'd always been daddy's girl. But I knew then that if I chose abortion, I would feel like a murderer.

So, at only eighteen years old, I chose to have a baby and marry. I suddenly moved out of my parents home and moved to an apartment in Chapel Hill, where my only furniture was an inflatable mattress and a black chest full of dishes and personal supplies. I didn't even have an air conditioner. As Sam was working back at home, 90 miles away, he was away from me early on in my pregnancy. I stayed in Chapel Hill because I was determined to finish school there. I didn't think that having a child should stop me from pursing my dreams. I kept going to school right up until I had the baby. Then I took about six weeks off and started back the next semester.

Sam and I were too poor to afford daycare, so I took Joel with me to class that first semester. I would take exams with the baby in the professor's office. Joel was pretty quiet during class, and my professors were very understanding. However, my GPA plummeted because I couldn't very well study and raise a newborn at the same time. Sam and I would argue all the time, and we would even argue about why we had the baby.

As harsh as these things may sound, they are a part of my becoming a woman and a mother. Today, things are very different. Sam has a good job, Joel has been in daycare almost a full year, and I have been able to continue school and also work part time. While sometimes I feel guilty leaving my son at daycare to go to school, I know that I will soon be able to provide him with a better life. My point of view on life has changed dramatically since having Joel. It used to be that getting ahead and going to school were everything. I was always the best where I had come from -- salutatorian of my high school class, Ms. Intellectual, and I won tons of awards on awards night. When I got pregnant, I sunk down in the eyes of my peers and my parents. It took two years to show them that I was responsible. It took two years to show everyone that choosing Joel, and choosing not to end his life, was the right choice. My father adores Joel now. He understands that I am not going to quit college. Becoming pregnant so young did not condemn me to a life of unhappiness. Sure, there are things I miss. I can't go out and party on the college town. I have to come home, cook supper, get the baby ready for bed, spend time with my husband, study, and manage to find time for sleep.

Having Joel was a life-changing decision. I learned to live for myself, and it was the first time I had truly stood up against everyone else for what I thought was right. I learned that the most important things in life aren't always being on top. Sometimes it takes being on the very bottom -- broke, diaperless, and running low on formula while waiting on that paycheck -- to understand what the top is all about. There is so much more to life than material goods. Just watching my son grow and learn, exploring the wonderful world around him, I have come to understand myself and learn what I stand for.

Tracy P.
North Carolina

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