I have a scene in my latest manuscript that I’ve worried about. In it, a five-year-old boy realizes that the turkey they’ve eaten at Thanksgiving comes from an actual turkey. This may sound strange to you, but I still remember finding out that the chicken we ate for dinner was the same thing as the chickens in my picture books. Talk about an unpleasant surprise. I blame this childhood trauma on Disney for making all of those talking cartoon animals. Sesame Street also shares the blame. Muppet chickens are unappetizingly cute.
My older kids have all gone through the same thing—that day of recognition, along with the accompanying outrage that meat is actually animals. This was always followed by weeks of them playing guess-which-animal-we’re-eating-tonight. It’s enough to discourage anyone from cooking. And it was nice, really, to tell them I didn’t know where hot dogs came from.
But the problem was, I couldn’t really remember how old the kids were when these events happened. Were they five, four, three perhaps? Five seemed so old to not know that chicken is chicken, fish is indeed fish, and yes Thanksgiving dinner used to say, “gobble gobble” just like in the picture books. And don’t ask me to explain chicken eggs, because I just don’t want to.
My editor, the bow-tied one, doesn’t have children. He probably won’t believe that a five year old doesn’t know what meat is.
I wanted to ask my five year old if she knew, but then again, I didn’t really.
Last night we had a chicken and rice dish. (See, I can cook some things without nearly destroying my kitchen in the process.) As we ate, my middle daughter forked through her food, examining it. She is convinced we are trying to slip something evil into her dinner and so she must be vigilant searching through it.
“What is this black thing?” she asked me.
“That’s a part of a mushroom from the cream of mushroom soup,” I told her.
“Hmmmm,” she said disapprovingly. Only she could even find a mushroom piece in the cream of mushroom soup. It ought to be called essence-of-mushroom soup or perhaps just thinking-about-but-not-really-using-mushrooms soup. I mean really, they must include about a half a stem in each can.
Since middle daughter still seemed unhappy about actually receiving something besides the ‘cream of’ part of the soup, I added, “Mushrooms are in mushroom soup.”
My five-year old held up a piece of chicken on her fork. “Where does this come from?”
“It’s chicken,” I told her.
“But where does it come from?”
“It’s chicken. It comes from a chicken,” I said.
Middle daughter leaned across the table and added, “Don’t worry. It wanted to die.”
Sometimes older sisters don’t really make things better.
“This is a chicken!” my younger daughter proclaimed indignantly. “Gross! I’m not eating it!”
So apparently five is about the right age.
We had pizza tonight, but I dodged the pepperoni question. It’s probably for the best. I’m not actually sure where pepperoni comes from.