When you’re the parent of teenaged girls, they ask you all sorts of questions. These questions seem straightforward enough, but like a desert in a war zone, they’re really booby trapped. Let’s face it, the reality is that we didn’t actually DO (or NOT do) many of the things we advise our own kids to do (or not do.) That’s how I found myself talking to kids about drinking the other night.
Let me set the scene: we were enjoying a sushi dinner the other night, with all three children, along with our “fourth child” – a friend of the girls’, who spends so much time with us that she might as well move in. Which, by the way, would be fine, because she’s definitely the most responsible of our kids. Considering our recent track record for peaceful meals out, we were having a surprisingly pleasant time. And then…
“Stad (their name for Dave, Step-dad compressed), when did you have your first drink?”
Dave froze, chopsticks in mid-air.
Slowly, he turned to me, eyes wide with fear. Yes, fear.
“Go ahead, Dave” I said. “Tell them the truth.”
“Seventeen…?” he said, his voice inflecting upward slightly, suggesting a question more than a statement of fact. He looked more terrified than he had moments before. He understood that the wrong answer might suggest that the message we had been drilling into their heads for years was really all parental posturing, a conflicting message that suggested that we had rules for them but we never followed them and didn’t we turn out okay?
And that, my friends, is the conundrum we find ourselves in. Do we, as parents, admit our own fallibility? Do we bend the truth and reply that we drank a sip of a beer on our twenty-first birthday, and it wasn’t even that good anyway? Or do we offer our own story, framed as a cautionary tale so that our children might not err in the same way we had?
I opted to shove another California roll in my mouth and contemplate my options.
There is no right answer. We’re screwed no matter what. Much like an arrest, except our Miranda right are implied rather than expressly conveyed: anything we say can and will be used against us.
I went with the latter and dove in.
I told the kids how, at the ripe old age of 17, I had my very first drink: an entire Bartles and James wine cooler and then proceeded to nearly drown in a friends’ pool at a track team party. (I was a lightweight then just like I am now.) I told them how I distinctly recalled looking up at the surface of the water from the bottom of the deep end of the pool, genuinely unsure how I might get back up there. In the end, after somehow making my way out of the pool, choking and flailing, I swore I wouldn’t drink again. And I didn’t, until I was in college – but by then it was Zima, not wine coolers. (I hear the current trend among the underage set are the Bud Light Lime-a-Ritas.)
We do the best we can. Ultimately, some choice we made at 17, while trying to impress our high school crush come back to bite us in the ass. The road to parenting hell is paved with hormone-laden intentions.
My kids looked at me. I waited for their reaction, prepared to launch into a deep discussion about the hazards of underage drinking, how their brains aren’t fully developed yet, how they should make better choices than me. I thought about my precious little babies and imagined them taking their first sips of some-a-Rita, and hoped they would be 21 at the time. And then…
“Mom, when was the first time you kissed a boy?”