FIONA LOONEY

KITCHEN SINK DRAMA

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - CONTENTS - Don’t miss Fiona Looney’s bril­liant col­umn, with her unique take on mod­ern Ire­land, only in the Ir­ish Daily Mail ev­ery Wed­nes­day.

Some­times, I think this par­ent­ing lark is a dod­dle. Specif­i­cally, it comes as eas­ily as fall­ing off a log where the two younger chil­dren are con­cerned. Par­ent­ing a first child, though, is the equiv­a­lent of climb­ing on the slip­pery log in the first place, blind­folded, and nav­i­gat­ing it over a wa­ter­fall you’ve never seen be­fore. For ex­am­ple, I seem to have missed the memo that said it is now ac­cept­able for chil­dren to have al­co­hol at their 16thbirth­day par­ties. I be­came aware of it, though, about a year ago, when The Teenager went to her first 16th-birth­day party and a par­ent of an older teenager qui­etly warned me that I’d bet­ter check what the al­co­hol pol­icy was.

Any­way, to re­duce what has been a jaw­drop­ping year to a sin­gle sen­tence, it turns out that drink­ing at 16th-birth­day par­ties is now the norm. I’ve no doubt there are plenty of ex­cep­tions to this — don’t write in — but I have to say that of all the par­ties The Teenager has at­tended, al­co­hol was present at ev­ery sin­gle one. For the first few, I phoned the par­ents in ad­vance. In their de­fence, none of them ever sounded par­tic­u­larly thrilled about the whole busi­ness, and al­most all in­voked terms and con­di­tions, which usu­ally in­volved a ban on spir­its, an in­sis­tence that par­ty­go­ers bring their own drink and, in some cases, that only those whose par­ents had phoned would be al­lowed to drink.

Given that I was phon­ing to say my daugh­ter was not al­lowed to drink, it all seemed a shade de­press­ing. Even­tu­ally, on the ba­sis that it didn’t seem fair to ex­pect other par­ents to po­lice my child’s drink­ing, I stopped phon­ing and, in­stead, we started is­su­ing dire warn­ings be­fore she left and in­sist­ing on hav­ing co­her­ent con­ver­sa­tions with her when she re­turned. But even­tu­ally, the cal­en­dar came around and, with it, her own dreaded 16th birth­day.

Now, if I can re­fer you back to my comment about par­ent­ing first chil­dren, prob­a­bly the most cat­a­strophic mis­take — and, trust me, it’s up against some se­ri­ous com­pe­ti­tion — we ever made with her was send­ing her to school when she’d just turned four. Twelve years on, we’re all still liv­ing with the con­se­quences of this — but none more so than a young woman who is al­ways, al­ways, the youngest in her group, and

All The Teenager’s friends had drink at their par­ties, she said. Ir­ish peo­ple are in­ca­pable of danc­ing with­out it

some­times, es­pe­cially when the boys join in, by a con­sid­er­able dis­tance. So al­though this was a 16th-birth­day party, she was the only per­son there who was ac­tu­ally 16. She pointed this out to me sev­eral times, oc­ca­sion­ally by text, dur­ing a three-month cam­paign that I some­times imag­ined would make the Bat­tle of the Somme ap­pear like a cake­walk.

And I know that it’s a mea­sure of a charmed life, for which I give thanks daily, but hon­estly, I think this whole party thing was prob­a­bly the most stress­ful ex­pe­ri­ence of the whole par­ent­ing ad­ven­ture so far. By the time I put the first chicken wing in the oven last Satur­day night, I was so worn down and ex­hausted by the con­stant plead­ing, bar­gain­ing, beg­ging, in­sult­ing, abus­ing, crying, shout­ing, can­celling and reschedul­ing that I briefly con­sid­ered climb­ing into the oven along­side the plump wings, just to es­cape the pain.

And it was all, all about drink. Some of her friends were 18, she protested. All of them had had drink at their par­ties. If I didn’t al­low drink, no­body would come. In one of the many ar­gu­ments we had, I threat­ened to drag her to the Garda sta­tion so they could ex­plain the law to her. In an­other, she told me Ir­ish peo­ple are in­ca­pable of danc­ing with­out drink on them. That was how men­tal it got.

But you know what? I held my ground. Zero tol­er­ance. And you know what else? Thirty young peo­ple showed up, many of whom had fin­ished their Leav­ing Cert the day be­fore, and not one of them even at­tempted to bring drink into our house. In fact, I could scarcely be­lieve how re­spect­ful they were of our rules, our home, and, by ex­ten­sion, our daugh­ter. Which is not to say they didn’t shout and sing and smoke (out­side) and rap and snog and, in spite of as­sur­ances to the con­trary, dance. But where I had ex­pected chaos and car­nage and The Teenager had ex­pected no­body to show up, we were both more than pleas­antly sur­prised. It turns out that the kids are all right. Some­times, as we sail th­ese stormy wa­ters, we need to re­mind our­selves of that fun­da­men­tal and happy fact.

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