I drank more than usual during the months of November and December.There was Thanksgiving, Christmas, a few parties, and my birthday thrown in there. Good friends wanted to get together, laugh, trade stories, and this always seemed to included a drink or two.
To be clear, I’m not talking about binging, beer pong (what is that, anyway?), slurred words or hungover mornings. I’m not sure whether this is a good thing or not, but I’m kind of a pro at drinking. I know how much is enough and I always stop there. I learned this through years of diligent study during my 20’s. Thank god I lived through that decade without Instagram or Facebook, although I’m sure there are more than a few incriminating polaroids floating around junk drawers on the east coast. Anyway, I learned my lessons and now I’m a very responsible social drinker, IMHO.
Which would be fine, except that eventually kids came into the picture, staring at me with their giant eyeballs that say “teach me how to live,” and made me take a good hard look at one of my life’s simple pleasures.
Having grown up the child of an alcoholic, I am aware of how a parent’s heavy drinking can erode a kid’s sense of reality. You feel scared but you’re not sure why. Other adults say they love you and yet no one protects you. You have to be the parent of your parent— wtf? Or, you pretend everything is normal, only, since you have no idea what normal is, you get it from The Partridge Family and Love American Style. Except for the go-go boots and tambourine playing, I wouldn’t recommend it as a blueprint for happiness.
So when I had kids, I was going to do different. (Can I hear an amen!?) And I have succeeded in many ways, including the fact that, unlike my mother, I am not an alcoholic. I’m not even what I would consider a heavy drinker, but I am a drinker*.
Which brings me back to the kids. Those little people who, all too soon, will be offered a drink (or several) at a party and will or won’t say yes. They will or won’t have the genetic predisposition to alcoholism that seems to run in my family. They will or won’t down a few and get behind the wheel of a car. They will or won’t make the kind of stupid choices that are scattered, like mines, through the trippy land of adolescence. I dodged a hundred of them as a teen and young adult, so I know they are there, but I can’t for the life of me (or my kids) say where.
Maybe, instead of looking down the road for trouble, I should take a peek at my own cozy little life.
At Christmas, we had some people over to our house. There were kids and adults, a good mix. It was a fun night. Over the course of several hours I had some wine, not too much, but more than I would have if I was out at dinner or a bar, since I didn’t have to go anywhere. Late in the evening a few friends left with their kids, to drive home. I had heard a conversation between a couple, in which they confirmed who was driving, and vaguely noticed that the designated driver stopped drinking quite a while before they left. Looking back, I really do believe that everyone holding car keys was sober, but at the time it didn’t occur to me to ask.
It didn’t even occur to me to ask.
I don’t remember the last time I asked a friend if they were ok to drive. It just never comes up. Maybe, with our partying days in the distant past, a big night out now consisting of dinner, a couple of drinks and home by nine-thirty, we assume we’ve crossed some imaginary finish line and can avoid those awkward conversations. Now it’s civilized, fun, and we’re grown-ups, for god’s sake. In other word, we got this.
Which is exactly what happened that night at my house. But it turns out that there was one person there, a twelve year old kid I love and have known since he entered the world, who, I learned only later, wasn’t so cool with it. He wondered about riding in a car with adults who he knew had had a drink, but hadn’t said anything at the time.
It took that, my friends, to get me thinking.
I remembered how often I felt afraid, riding home from a party with my mother, after she’d been drinking all evening. I remember grown-ups who professed to love me, bundling me up with a kiss and instructions to “keep her talking,” as she weaved her way down the driveway.
That night at our house, I didn’t see anyone drinking like that. But that doesn’t mean my young guest’s worries weren’t valid. Who knows if the person driving him home was in some small way impaired? Not me, I was eating leftover chicken wings in the kitchen, by the time they said goodnight. And even though I know it’s not unusual for kids of that age to be pretty judgy about things like drinking and smoking, I hate that it happened on what should have been my watch.
Even though this experience was a wake-up call regarding my responsibility as a host and, most importantly, a friend, I’ve thought before about how alcohol always seems to be present anytime the adults are socializing. Dinner party? Definitely. Friends over to hang out? Yep. Out for a meal? Sure. Drinking is everywhere the fun is, and I wonder about this message. I asked my friend and reality-checker JoDee what she thought:
“Do we always have to drink at every gathering?”
“Yes.” she laughs.
“Even when the kids are around?”
“Especially when the kids are around!” (She’s kidding, you guys.)
“I mean, are we saying that anytime adults are together and having a good time, alcohol has to be there?”
“I think we are. But I don’t really want to hang out at a party without having a glass of wine.”
“I know, but why is that?”
“I don’t know. It’s boring.”
Would we ever want our children to hear us have this conversation? Never. Is it the truth? Well, kinda, a little bit. Yeah. So the question is, do we reign it in for the sake of The Big Eyed Ones, or do we make like our neighbors across the pond and live la dolce vita?
My friend Sophie Venable, who is full of sage advice and, by the way, no stranger to a cocktail, says she makes an effort to only drink around her young teenage daughters if it’s a special occasion. So, for example, she wouldn’t just have a beer with dinner on a Tuesday. But, if you really enjoy a good glass of wine with dinner, and you’re of legal age, what’s the big deal? I always thought that showing my kids that one can drink responsibly and demystifying the whole thing was a positive approach.
Once again, I’m stumped. What would Shirley Jones do? I wonder…
Until further notice, I’ve decided to just be more mindful of when I crack open the Malbec. I’ll learn to use Uber, or carpool more, and I’ll tell my kids why. If you come over to hang out at my house and have a few drinks (and I hope you do!) I might have one, two, none. Either way, I bet we’ll have a great time. I will meet you for a beer, or a coffee, or a hike, because our friendship is what I’m here for, and that, dear one, is never boring.
* I can’t help myself. I have to tell you that I’m a little worried that writing a blog post about drinking will make some people worried. My in-laws, my sister. What happens if I apply for a job as a school bus driver? Hey, it could happen. You’re all just going to have to take my word for it that I like to write about things I’m trying to figure out. That’s why I’m writing about drinking and how I sometimes wonder what my kids learn about it by watching me. I’ve talked about this stuff with my mom friends, so I know I’m not the only one. All I’m saying is, don’t look at me funny when I order a margarita-rocks-no salt, ok? Good. Glad we cleared that up:)