I believe we should expose our kids to the use (and even overuse) of alcohol. Consider it a teaching opportunity.
I was raised in St. Louis by what I fondly call Crown-and-poker Catholics. In my family, Friday night card parties are a women’s game. When I was young, sometimes the kids got poker lessons. My Grandma C. and her sisters (Aunt Rita, Aunt Toots and Aunt Marge) taught us all at a very young age how to shuffle, deal, bet and play cards. Aunt Rita in particular was a stickler for the rules. We kids could play poker with them if we wanted, but we had to play by the rules, play with our own money and not whine if we lost it. They didn’t cut us any slack just because we were kids. You have to understand these women: cranky, outspoken, smoking, drinking, cursing old bats. I love them all.
To this day, I can’t hear certain sounds without thinking of them: The snap of a dealt card, the hiss of a good shuffle, the tap of nails on a wooden table, the clink of ice in a Tom Collins glass. These old women were whiskey swillers: VO for my Aunt Marge and Crown Royal for Grandma C. and the other aunts. They cut it with a little water, but that’s it. Once, when I was probably about 8 years old, the women were in the midst of a poker game, and Aunt Rita was ready for a refill. She handed me her glass with the sharp, thin bits of almost-dead ice sliding around in the bottom. She motioned with her long fingernail on the side of the glass while she bent down and told me, “This much water, this much Crown Royal.” Excited to play the bartender, I ran off to mix her drink.
We bought so many bottles of Crown for them over the years that the purple velvet bags became part of my large family’s toy stash. We stored Barbie shoes in one of them. Another was for markers. We even brought them to school.
But this presence of alcohol in our lives wasn’t abusive. It wasn’t scary. It wasn’t any more odd to me than always having milk in the fridge. But the kids knew it was for the adults only. Bartender privileges be damned, I knew better than to ever take a sip. I never even wanted to. And while Grandma and the aunts drank whiskey, the dads downed Anheuser-Busch products like they were going out of the style. How did we celebrate birthdays, graduations, Catholic holidays, baptisms, first communions, weddings and NHL playoffs? With beer. Lots of beer. And then when sober Mom drove our drunk dad and their sleepy kids home from the parties late at night, we’d stop in for a White Castle snack (Dad’s request) and keep the party going a little longer.
I tell people these stories about my alcohol-filled childhood, and sometimes they scoff. But I liked being privy the world of adults, and I know now that it taught me responsibility. I never touched a drop of alcohol until I was in college, and even then I was always the one who made sure my friends had designated drivers. My sober mom chauffeuring my beer-happy dad taught me all about that, long before I even knew what I was learning.
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