Nobody told us about the reversals. About how you think you’re keeping a vigilant wise eye on them. But it is the other way around. They are checking us for signs. Checking and quizzing and monitoring. Silently. Then confronting with all the evidence to hand. Wham.
‘Can you do his reading with him while I go downstairs and get a couple of things done?’ I ask marque 2, an unusual request but hey, he’s here and he can read and marque 5 might just like the variety. He mutters something which seems to have ‘wine’ in the middle of it. Blah blah wine blah.
‘What are you talking about wine for?’ It’s only 5.30. That’s four hours off our tipple. Although now that he mentions it…
‘We’re doing a course in school and I’ve been asking my friends and their parents do not have a glass of wine most days’.
Yes they do. They just wait until their little blighters are asleep, that’s all. As you insist on dragging your homework out in the sitting room with us until all hours, until we can stand it no longer…
‘They told us on the course that it’s bad for you. Wine is bad for you’.
‘What course? Who is running it?’
‘I think they’re parents’.
‘What parents? Where are they from?’
‘Dunno. They’re not from our school. Just parents making children aware or something’.
Making children aware of what exactly?
‘Wine in moderation is not bad for you. Especially red wine. In fact there are health benefits to having a little red wine most days’.
‘What health benefits?’
‘There’s a thing in red wine called resveratrol.’ The word trips dutifully off the tip of my tongue. It has been waiting there for this very moment.
‘It’s found in some plants and the skin of grapes. It can help prevent heart problems and even some cancers. Google it if you like to find out more’.
He seems happy with the health benefit analysis visited upon him. It niggles away at me though. I go back to my no wine Monday to Thursday occasional stance and sip camomile tea instead. Which does nothing whatsoever to relax me as maths sums and Irish verbs are thrown at me from the corner by a vigilant marque 2.
The following week he emerges from another bout of ‘the course’. He sits beside me in the passenger seat and drops his news. Before we’ve made good our escape from the school gate.
‘I asked if there are any health benefits to drinking red wine. They said no. There are none. None whatsoever, Mum’.
Jesus. The blood begins to simmer. Making a liar out of me to my own son. It’s time to take a deep breath and count to ten. To give my head time to come up with something wise, calm, non-defensive. Unfortunately my mouth opens before I can get to one.
‘Who are these people? What qualifications do they have?’
‘Because they should have their facts straight. I worked in that area for many, many years, you know, in preventative drugs and alcohol education for young people. There are a lot of people who set themselves up as experts but they are not. No qualifications, no training, nothing’.
‘What qualifications do you have Mum?’ marque 3 pipes up, sunnily. Don’t answer that. It would be childish to answer. You don’t have to prove yourself to your kids. Even if others are casting doubt on your veracity.
‘A masters degree in the area for a start’.
‘So I know what they are trying to do but it is the wrong approach. Scaremongering is not the way to go about informing young people about alcohol. In fact it can have a backfiring effect’.
Unperturbed marque 2 produces a sheet with units of alcohol. Points out that my healthy glass of red wine has 2 units. My own sheet would say 1 unit. 1.5 with a shaky generous hand. Oh well. He multiplies it out expertly. Concludes that one glass a day brings me to the maximum weekly recommended for a woman. But we all know that come Saturday evening, when their grandmother babysits and the desperate parents escape to the pub, the units balance is tipped. Q.E.D. The course people have kindly pointed this out to the poor worried boy who keeps throwing his hand up. He is raking me over the coals for it.
‘But Mum only has half a glass of wine, and it’s not every night’ marque 3 chimes in. Nice one. Cheers.
‘She has half a glass, sometimes, with her food’. Now that does seem moderate.
‘Then she waits three hours for her liver to deal with it and has the other half’. Great. We all see that which we wish. Marque 3 is a glass half full kind of kid. He interprets the world with great optimism, logic and little worry. He’s a good one to have on your team.
Marque 2 continues with pearls from the course. Something about a piece of string and parents of adolescents loosening the string, lengthening it, offering more scope for negotiation. Perhaps they should consider it the other way around too. What about the poor old quizzed, boxed off, stressed out parents. Who, pray tell, is lengthening their string? He’s loving the course, clearly. I’m still wondering who these people are. I’d like to have a word with them.
Instead I google resveratrol for myself. I’ve read many recent encouraging newspaper articles about it. But I want to be sure, to be sure. Google obliges. Red wine, in moderation, has many more medically researched benefits than I could have imagined. Amongst the already mentioned ones there are benefits to the mind. Reduced levels of depression. Reduced levels of dementia. We could all do with a bit of that. Ageing. Moderate red wine drinkers age better, physically and mentally. The cancers – which our families have battled with – are reduced too. Bowel and prostate. Even breast, which most alcohol intake is supposed to increase the risk of. Moderate red wine drinking reduces the risk of breast cancer. It feels medicinal too. I think your body just knows what is right. What is good. So thank-you unknown course providers. Your scaremongering has me all buoyed up. We shall continue with moderate red wine drinking. Just not in front of the children, now that you’ve set them upon us.
The course coincides purposefully with marque 2’s Ceremony of Light. At which he is asked to make a promise to God – a pledge – that he will not touch alcohol until he is a certain age. Hence the scaremongering. He seeks his conflicted mother’s counsel. She who would very much like him not to touch alcohol until a certain age. But make a promise to God? I think not.
‘I don’t want to take the pledge’ he says wisely. I bat not an eyelid. ‘But my teacher says I have to come up with an age and put it on his desk by Monday’. Wow. Things are worse than when I was a kid. We had the choice whether to take it or not. Marque 1 informs us he wasn’t even given the choice of age. Everyone was told to take the pledge to 18. Which he did. Which he’s disgruntled about now. He feels hoodwinked. He feels he should’ve been given a choice. Making a promise is no small deal. Making a promise to God can weigh heavily indeed. He will feel bad if he breaks it. He even struggled with having Bailey’s whipped cream on his pudding at Christmas. The guys in his year who are drinking now have all become atheists, he tells me with amusement. I’d say there are a few more to come. Another nice little reversal. Force the kids to promise to God and they back out of their faith altogether.
‘Sixteen’ I say to him. ‘You should write down sixteen for your teacher. You wouldn’t be allowed a drink before then anyway.’ The logic of this pleases him. It’s more of a promise to self than anything. That he can do.
‘I’ll look forward to having a drink some day’ marque 3 pipes up from the seat behind, ‘seeing as you say it’s good for you and all Mum’. Drat. Just when I was making a little headway through the morass of moral codes that lies before me. Winging it, but headway nonetheless.
‘I didn’t say that all drinks are good for you. I said red wine is good for you, in moderation’.
‘What’s moderation?’ Hell. I’m with the course people. It’s much simpler just to demonise the whole thing.
‘Kids in Mediterranean countries are given a little red wine with their food though’ marque 2 continues.
‘Which I think is a really good idea because then they don’t go nuts when they are suddenly allowed to drink’. Good point. Maybe he’ll throw up his hand and offer that little gem at the course next week. We were a Mediterranean style family ourselves courtesy of my parents being serious linguists (Spanish and French). The smallest dribble with a special meal. An inoculation against alcoholism. But we haven’t done the same with our own. Somewhere along the way I lost my nerve. Didn’t think it would go down too well in ‘news time’ in their classrooms. Somewhere along the way I’ve bought into an austere approach. Which will come back to bite me if marque 2 is right about it. Oh well.
‘I’m just really looking forward to having my first pint, with Dad, in Connemara on my 18th birthday’ marque 2 finishes off and I’m crossing my fingers on the steering wheel, to stave off who knows what, with that lovely picture in mind.
‘Me too’ echoes around the car.
Pledge night arrives and the priest – oh how I love this new priest – sings the praises of alcohol intake in moderation. You may see your parents enjoying a drink, he suggests, twinkling. As a celebration. As a relaxant. As a little accompaniment to an enjoyable evening. That’s just fine, I get it, he says. I’m doing all in my power not to nudge marque 2 in the ribs. You see? Listen well now, my boy. It only becomes a problem, he says, if overused or misused. Then it can cause true misery. To the person. To the people surrounding him/her. Violence. Poverty. Illness. Tonight, though, is not about stealing the fun from the young people, he says. It is about assisting them to make good choices for themselves. Abstaining from alcohol until such a time as the body is mature enough to take it is one such choice. Assisted by a promise, to yourselves really. Hear, hear. Why wasn’t he giving the damn course? If ever I am to become less of a lapsed Catholic it will be due to him. A little nudge slips marque 2’s way. His eyes widen in mock mortification. The priest smiles down at us. He is, it seems, even in on our joke.