Part I: The other day in the car
My daughter and son were singing made-up songs (one of their favorite pastimes). My daughter said, “Listen to this one!” She proceeded to sing two lines of a silly song, and the final word of the rhyming couplet was “beer.” I stopped her and asked why she was singing about beer. She answered that she was repeating a song she had heard at school.
“Beer is a grown-up drink and it’s not appropriate for kids to sing or joke about it,” I said.
“Well, because beer is not something kids can have. And if a grown-up drinks too much of it, he or she can get sick.”
We left it at that, my daughter and son jumping back into their silly songs; and me reeling, trying to replay the conversation and figure out if I needed to say anything else, wondering who was singing about beer at school, and, admittedly, judging the kid and his or her parents.
Part II: Bedtime, Super Bowl Sunday
Perhaps spurred on by seeing beer commercials during the Super Bowl, my daughter asked, “Mommy, what’s alcohol?”
“Alcohol is a drink for grown-ups. Beer and wine are types of alcohol.”
“Oh right. And if you drink too much of it you get sick, right?”
“Then why would a grown-up drink it?”
“Well, some grown-ups like the taste of it. And if you drink a small amount, you don’t get sick.”
“Do you drink alcohol?”
“Actually, right now I am not drinking alcohol. I used to drink wine, but I decided I didn’t like how it made me feel. So I stopped. I am not drinking alcohol for a whole year to see how healthy and good I can feel without it.”
“Are you ever going to drink alcohol again?”
Before I could stop these cowardly words, out they came:
“I don’t know. I might. But it would only be for special occasions, like if Daddy and I go out for a nice dinner or maybe at Christmas-”
Pause here. As these words came out of my mouth, they felt like a betrayal. To my daughter and to myself. After all, I was just telling her I don’t like how alcohol makes me feel, and then there I was telling her that I was going to go back to drinking it. And I used Christmas as an example! UGH. This past Christmas was so much more wonderful without wine. And yet there I was, admitting to my daughter that because it is a “special occasion” that that meant I would choose to drink. In that moment I enforced a subconscious neural pathway in her mind that grown-ups need to drink alcohol to celebrate and enjoy holidays. F.
I could see the confusion on her face. “But why would you drink it if it makes you feel sick?” She rightfully asked.
“Well, in small amounts it doesn’t make you feel sick.” UGH WHY ARE YOU MAKING EXCUSES FOR POISON AND REINFORCING PRO-ALCOHOL MESSAGING WITH YOUR OWN CHILD?! STOP!
“Does Daddy drink alcohol?”
“Yes, he drinks something called hard cider which is like apple cider but with alcohol in it. He likes the way it tastes so that is why he drinks it. He drinks maybe one or two every month, which is not a lot at all.”
“Well I am never going to drink alcohol.”
“I think that is a great choice and a strong choice and I’m very proud of you.” [And kicking myself for how I just handled this critical exchange.]
Part III: The next evening, while out for a walk with dogs and scooters
“Take my hand, Mama,” she said.
As we held hands and walked with her scooter I said, “I wanted to talk to you about something. Yesterday, when you asked me if I would start drinking alcohol again and I told you I might drink at Christmas, it bothered me that I said that. Because last Christmas was, like, the funnest ever, and I didn’t have any wine then, so why would I want to have any on any other Christmas? That would be silly! I don’t want you to think that when you’re a grown-up you have to have alcohol to enjoy a holiday or any other special day.”
“I know. That’s why I’m never going to drink alcohol. I hope that your friends make good choices like you, Mama.”
* * *
In my daughter’s mind, it’s simple: if alcohol can make you feel sick, why on Earth would you ever drink it?
It was that simple for all of us, once. And I’m starting to believe that it can be that simple again. If that is the neural pathway I choose to traverse, back and forth, over and over, it will become smooth as a silk carpet. I believe I can get there. And I hope when I do my daughter is still there, standing tall and strong in the glow of her simple yet profound wisdom.