E and I have had some very serious conversations in the past two years. That's nothing out of the ordinary for the pair of us.
When he was four, a drive past a long line spilling out of the doors of a funeral home led us to a discussion about autopsies. That same year, he needed -- NEEDED -- to know why we didn't want someone other than Obama to become our nation's president, the entree for talking frankly about same-sex marriage, leaving the decision about when and how to have a baby to a woman and her doctor, the institutionalized racism that has kept women and people of color out of higher office. When he was three, he initiated the heart-piercing conversation about divorce much sooner than any expert I read advised he would need to have the talk. Every few months, he whispers around the bedtime lullabies to ask some immense soul-searching question about souls and what happens when we die and if God really hears what we pray for each night. This is who he is, who I am, who we are together.
I took notes from my own mother, who spoke frankly to me about sex when I was a preschooler. And who, with my father, reserved time for me in the safe bubble of car rides and family dinners in the kitchen to voice my own opinions about politics and cancer and inevitable teacher strikes and the alcoholism that runs through both sides of my family. If the opportunity arose to have one of those big, important conversations, I promised myself from the very early days of parenting that I'd take it. If a question was asked, I'd mom up and respond, even if I didn't have all the facts, especially if I wasn't prepared.
All of those discussions built on each other so that when we had a chance to talk about AIDS, then condoms, then birth control, then consensual sex, the pattern was familiar to this new and (let's be honest) scary topic. It wasn't the sex talk I'd planned for that summer, but it was the one that was happening because of some sad stuff happening to people we loved.
Bullying and break-ups and people who choose to disown their families have fit into our formula of questions and responses and more questions. I am not always the one answering. I ask him questions and he always has plenty of opinions. Even on "the bad drugs." Especially on Justin Beiber assing out in public. Sometimes on how he observes other parents acting with their kids. The tone is always pretty serious and when he's done, he changes the subject in that way kids have of telling parents tangentially they have all they need. For now.
Possibly the most serious and most-often approached topic these days is drinking. At ten, he notices is more. He knows that drunk is much more than silly. He wonders about alcohol and why people choose it when they could have orange soda or a milkshake or whatever they want to drink. He asked if it was OK to have wine while I was pregnant.
It's all very present because of his age, I know, but also because the Not Boyfriend is opening a wine bar in our neighborhood and our dinner talks regularly turn to the concept, the menu, the pricing, the business plan. He's gotten a lesson in calculating labor costs, proposed small plates and desserts he thinks kids will love and picked up more about wine than I would fathom most fourth-graders should know.
Drinking is a tough one to talk about, maybe because I feel the pressure of it creeping in quickly. Or because my family has had too many generational struggles with addiction. And of course because I want to protect him as long as I possibly can inside the safety of my home and arms and guidance and voice. I want to seal him up in those dinnertime and car-ride conversations when it is all theory -- so far.
When FAAR, the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, asked me to talk about those tough conversations, about bringing up underage drinking early with children and how I've handled it, what I worry about, how my son has heard and questioned and answered himself -- well, you can imagine, I was honored to continue the discussions that E and I started years ago.
Here's my video. Click here to listen in to the wise words and important questions other parents shared with FAAR. And most importantly, please push pause on it all to take time to talk about the toughest stuff -- alcohol included -- with your kids.