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The Question From My Kid That's Worse Than the Sex Question

Photograph by Twenty20

The sex question, I can deal with. And I did, with both of my children. What my husband and I missed in our explanation of the Birds and the Bees surely got covered in candid discussions with their friends, or, sadly, by YouTube videos.

It’s the other question that I’m talking about:

“Hey Mom, did you ever drink in high school?”

Um. Er. Um. If there was a right answer, I sure didn’t have it. What I did have was stories—a lot of them. I grew up in a working class factory town where the only thing to do in high school was drink. I didn’t play a sport—very few girls did in the late '70s. Though I loved music, I wasn’t in the school band because we didn’t have one. We didn’t travel on weekends or do things with our parents. So, completely left to our own devices on Friday and Saturday nights, my friends and I usually took our babysitting money and hit the “packy.”

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By the time I was 14, I was flashing a fake ID, sneaking beer into the house when my parents were out and going to parties at friends’ houses where the focal point of the evening was typically a tub of grain alcohol mixed with Hawaiian Punch. And, yes, really stupidly, after those parties I often drove home buzzed.

The first time my son asked the question, I did what a lot of parents do. I Lied. “Oh, I did drink once in high school, maybe twice, but I didn’t like it.”

If what you did can serve as a lesson for your own children in any way, then the truth is worth sharing with them.

“What about in college?" my son pressed.

“I was a really serious student in college,” I told him, as if serious students didn’t also go to keg parties on Saturday night.

But now that I have two kids in high school, necessitating more open discussions about alcohol, I’ve been honest. But first I had to reflect on those years and why I did what I did.

The truth is, as I’ve since told my son and daughter, I didn’t actually like alcohol that much. And back then I would have loved to have had opportunities to do more interesting things than stand around with a cup of grain punch talking nonsense and watching people make themselves sick. But there was little else to do.

So drinking wasn’t just part of our high school social culture. It was our social culture.

I get that drinking is still prevalent, even where kids have plenty to do. But my message to my own kids is this: Yes, peer pressure is brutal, but you still have a choice to say no or to choose a more interesting pursuit. That option is always there. And I wish back then I had exercised it more.

Then there’s the other issue. In high school, we buried two classmates who were killed when they were driving drunk. This part I’ve been very upfront about, including how we didn’t have enough information to scare us senseless around drinking and driving.

So, yes, kids, since you asked, I drank in high school. I drank in college, too. And, at some point, you most likely will, too. But please don’t take it on as a hobby, because, truthfully, it’s not that interesting. Take it from someone who knows, your own mother. You have so much going for you—opportunities to captain sports teams, perform in plays, pursue your interests and grow your brains, instead of shrinking them with booze.

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If what you did can serve as a lesson for your own children in any way, then the truth is worth sharing with them, especially if it helps them be more honest with you. It may feel hypocritical to tell your kids not to drink when you yourself did, but that’s called being a parent.

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