KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
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.