Two nights ago we dusted off a book from the shelf in M’s room that we hadn’t read in quite a while, Hungry Mr. Gator, by Julie McLaughlin. It was a gift a few years ago from M’s grandparents living in South Carolina, where the author also happens to be from. We had put it on the shelf for a while because at the end of the book the alligator eats a bunch of fish. Because the book does not mince words, the fatal ending does kind of take you by surprise, considering it’s a kid’s book and all. Not that we try to shield her from the nitty gritty of nature, but at the time she had received it, she was a bit young in our eyes so we shelved it for a bit. But she’s not too young anymore.
Still, I was curious about what her reaction would be at the end of the book, especially considering she recently tried to watch Cinderella but got afraid in the first ten minutes when Lucifer (the cat) chases the cute mice. At worst, I was expecting a brief pre-bedtime slumber discussion about alligators eating fish. I was ready for it.
This is the conversation that ACTUALLY took place, both out loud and in my head:
M: [A few pages in, M notices a colorful frog] You can’t touch the colored frogs because they have poison. Why do they have poison? (I’m thinking to myself, oh! that’s great — they must be learning about frogs at preschool. How cute.)
Me: It warns other animals not to eat them because it might make them sick. (Hmm…guess her preschool teacher didn’t get that far into the lesson plan…)
M: Do people eat frogs? (Fair question. She’s so inquisitive! Can’t wait to finish this book so I can go have a glass of wine….)
Me: Some do. (No sense in sugar coating survival of the fittest now…)
M: Do people eat sheep? (OK….there are NO sheep in this book…where is this going??)
Me: Some people do. (For the past couple of years, we have not eaten any chicken, turkey, beef, sheep or any other kind of animal except the very occasional piece of fish, so maybe she just doesn’t yet realize that the majority of people in the world do eat these things on a regular basis. No worries! I’m happy, delighted even, to have this little opportunity to the highlight the culinary diversity that is all around us.)
M: How do they fit the sheep in the pot? (Wait, what? OOOOOKKKK….this is NOT where I thought we’d end up with this book! How did we go from poison frogs to sheep in a pot in 30 seconds?)
Me: Well, they have to cut it into smaller pieces, kind of like the fish you sometimes eat. (My lame attempt to put it into relevant terms….and REALLY hoping that she moves on.)
M: How do they cut it up? (I give her a brief blank stare…)
Me: Well, they first need to make the animal stop breathing. (Is it getting hot in here??)
M: How do they do that? (Cue the images I already have stored in my brain from various animal welfare groups…and where is your Dad right now? Oh, great, he’s already asleep on the floor, or at least pretending to be so that he doesn’t have to answer these questions!)
Me: Well, there are different ways… (NO idea where I am even going to go with this at this point…)
M: [interrupting me before I can even finish my answer] How do they make chickens stop breathing? (OK so she DOES know other people eat chicken…gee, silly me….)
Me: Well….(again, still playing the loop of footage in my brain of how this usually goes down for most birds…) they put them in a bath of water that has some strong electric current going through it that makes them stop breathing and living.
M: Oh….OK, keep reading, Mommy.
And here I was worried about the alligator eating some silly old fish.
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