Half way through her ham and cheese sandwich today, Rae asks the inevitable.

“Mommy, where does ham come from?”

“Uh…um…er…the farm.”

“The farm? But what is it made of?”

“Erm…meat.”

“Meat?”

“Yes…like, pork.”

“What is pork made of?”

I look away. I blink. I clear my throat.

“Pork is made…from a pig.”

Her little face freezes. A small piece of ham she’s chewing stops its passage into her mouth and hangs off it, slack. A second later, it falls out. Rae does not spit it out. She doesn’t cry. She simply lets the thing drop onto her plate, her eyes resting heavily on me, accusing, shaming, basically stunned in coagulating disbelief that I’d made her eat Babe the last five years or so.

“But pigs…are nice.”

“I know, baby. But they…are good for you.”

“But…that’s painful,” Rae’s eyes start to glisten.

“Well…the pigs are already dead…when they make the ham, baby,” I struggle to explain.

Unable to stomach her lunch – and my treachery – Rae pushes her sandwich away. I sigh pitifully, reflecting on the days ahead. What the heck do I know about cooking vegetarian? I’m already struggling with just…cooking.

I feel like the Meat Grinch.

I look over at Skyler, who’s attacking her slices of slaughtered animal with blissful ignorance. What I will not give for Rae to have that uncaring trust again, that whatever I’ve put on my children’s plates could not, should not, would not have involved bloodshed and carnage.

“Yummy!” Sky declares, chomping gleefully on a leg, as if to reinforce my silent gratitude.

Rae swipes her sleeve over her eyes and bravely picks up a cheese stick.

“And what’s CHEESE made of?” she asks, louder this time, her eyes steadily on mine. It’s as if she’s bracing herself for more ugly, horrific facts about nutrition. I gulp and catch myself. Haplessly turning my daughter into a vegetarian the last five seconds is one thing. I don’t think I can handle turning her into a vegan the next two seconds.

Choose. Your. Words.

“They’re made from milk. From cows. And cows don’t have to die to make cheese,” I answer as seriously as I can.

Rae eyes me warily. She slowly peels a string of cheese, and places it into her mouth. What seems like a century later, she chews. She keeps chewing. She swallows. I exhale.

“I love cows,” she says softly, looking at her string cheese as though it’s a gift from the divine (or should I say, bovine).

My thoughts turn to the 2lb pack of minced beef in my freezer.

And my husband’s shiny new grill.

Time to look up how to bake beef into bread.

Update: So far, Rae is only associating ham with carnage and death. Not pork, chicken or any other meat. And I’m not saying a word until she asks again.