While we were waiting for a bus along Coastal Highway yesterday, three girls crossed a small side street to stand and wait for the light to change. Then two of them noticed me and my two young girls and thought better of it and dragged their drunk friend in the middle to wait on the other side of the street.
It’s Senior Week down at the beach, which probably makes you think of slow-moving droves of blue hairs with walkers, but it’s just the opposite. It’s where kids who just graduated high school go to get their first taste of freedom. Beer bongs are sold in every beach shop next to the t-shirts reminding us YOLO.
The drunk girl in the middle was being held up by her friends because she could barely walk, but they were all still in the laughing-and-having-a-great-time phase. My oldest daughter, who is 11, asked me “Is she drunk?” her tone mostly of disdain because this is the age where Just Say No feels effective…young kids instinctively hate drugs and alcohol and smoking because they haven’t had the chance to question why everyone still does them if they’re so awful.
“Looks like she is,” I said and prayed the girl in the middle would be content to stay on the other side of the street. Maybe her friends were being considerate when they steered her away from us or maybe they were afraid I’d get spooked and call the cops. To what? Report a drunk kid at senior week?
I went to senior week many years ago. My grandmother, for some reason, let me and a group of friends stay in her condo. I think we only broke one framed picture of fruit hanging behind the table we used for drinking games, and it wasn’t me but this girl Karen, who couldn’t handle her liquor and wore entire outfits over her bathing suit when we dragged our asses to the beach at noon. We had a yellow beer bong that I must have bought because I remember smuggling it home in my suitcase. I don’t know what happened to it but I don’t think it made it to college in the fall, which is probably for the best for sanitary reasons because it wasn’t like I could ask my mom to run it through the dishwasher.
“It does kind of look like fun,” my kid said. She meant the giggling, drunk part. As I said, the three girls were still in the “oh this is so crazy!” smiling phase. It wasn’t even 5pm. I told my daughter the drunk girl was going to be very sick later and would probably throw up all over herself and feel very sad, and not even about throwing up all over herself. If her friends lost interest in babysitting her, it could even turn ugly, but I didn’t go there. My daughter didn’t seem to be listening anyway.
I’m never sure how much to tell my kids about drinking. My 11-year old knows I don’t drink anymore, but she never asks why not and I don’t offer. She knows I go to meetings once a week, and she never asks what kind. There are different schools of thought, but mine is I’m not ready to tell her. When she’s a little older, I will tell her I stopped because I drank too much and it wasn’t healthy and I am happier not drinking at all.
The thing that depresses the hell out of me is yesterday I realized she’s going to experiment on her own, no matter what I tell her. She has that gene, but it’s more than that. She’s a kid who likes thrills and whatever she has is never enough. Yesterday she won this talking orange at a midway game and said to me “I really wanted the bigger one.” She’s a bright, energetic kid and she’s sweet and thoughtful, but I see a lot of myself in her and that scares the hell out of me. I told her “you’ll never be happy unless you learn to be happy with what you have” but I knew what she heard was “blah blah blahbah blahbah blah.” In a few years she’s going to discover alcohol and it will be like she’s the first person in the world to feel that click where everything comes into focus for a little bit. It won’t last long but it will feel absolutely perfect and she will want to feel it again and again.
I can never tell her about the time during senior week that I brought a boy back from a party to my grandmother’s empty condo. I had a moment on the bus ride back where I thought “I don’t know anything about this dude” but still I brought him because I was afraid of upsetting him and I was drunk. Once we were back at the room, I was sure I wanted him to leave, so I fed him spaghettios and asked him to go. It turned ugly, but only verbally, and even then I recognized my good luck. I gave him a dollar for the bus and he called me some names and left and I never saw him again. I remember he looked like a skinnier version of an old boyfriend, but he was a lot meaner.
And that is a good story from senior week because it had a happy ending and I remember it. I felt a lot of shame and regret from that week. Was it fun? I don’t remember it that way, though surely some of it was fun or seemed that way at the time.
Yesterday the bus came and by then the drunk girl and her friends had already staggered across the street to home or another party or who knows what. The bus driver accelerated hard before me and my 4 year-old found a seat, so we both lurched forward and she started to fall. In horrifying,hilarious slow motion, I scooped her up in my arm and we landed in an open seat next to my other daughter and she looked up and said “Mommy, you saved me!” It was a precious Hallmark moment except for the thoughts I was having about the bus driver.
If only it were always this easy. I know from friends with older kids that it only gets harder. How do I raise my girls not to take the same easy path I took? Drinking looks like so much fun, but it makes everything so much harder. I know this, but they don’t yet. I know the serenity prayer, but I’m not sure if this falls into the “wisdom to accept the things I cannot change” or “the courage to change the things I can” camp. It’s probably a mix of both and something I may always struggle with. I know I’m doing the right thing by modeling good behavior now, but I wish I could just save them.