It all started because my 8 year old wanted a beer.
When my son was younger, her would tell me I was “the best Mom in the world.” Super sweet, but so not true. Any mother worth her weight in Mommy-guilt could tell you that. You know you could always be better, strong, faster (clearly, bionic). More granola. More hip. More sporty. More Pinterest-astic!
Eventually I began to tell him so:
“I’m not the best Mom in the world, but that’s OK. I don’t need to be. I just need to be the best Mommy for you.”
Now he says, “you’re the best Mom in the world (universe, galaxy), for me” and I say, “ditto for a son.” But sometimes I will tease him and ask: “Are you sure? Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have a Mom who let you play video games and eat candy?” To which he assures me he would not, because in the end, that would not be good for him and he knows I am looking out for his health and well being (did I mention that he’s 8??).
So the other night, after we finished reading before bedtime, I asked with a grin, “What if you could have a Mom who let you do anything you wanted?”
“ANYthing?” he repeated. He thought a moment, then laughed and said, “Well that wouldn’t be good, because if she let me do ANYTHING I wanted, I’d probably be drunk right now.”
<insert record scratch noise here> Ummm, what?!
I laughed, perhaps a bit too nervously. “Why would you be drunk?” I inquired.
“Well, I’d really like to try beer, but I can’t because I’m not an adult, but if she let me do anything I wanted, then I’d try it and I’d be drunk.”
“So, first of all, you don’t have to drink to the point of getting drunk. And when you’re 21, you can try beer and see if you like it or not.”
“Is 21 the Mommy Law or the real law?”
“No, 21 is the real law. The Mommy Law is 42.”
The next day, still perplexed by this sudden and unexplained interest in beer, I decided to pursue the discussion further. Since I don’t drink beer, or much of anything in the ‘adult beverage’ category around him (or at all, for that matter), I was curious as to where this idea had come from. After work that day, I revisited the topic.
“So, remember yesterday when you were talking about wanting to try beer?”
“What made you think of that particular thing? Had you hear someone talking about it, or was it mentioned in something you read? What made you decide that you wanted to try beer?”
“Oh, I don’t know. No one was talking about it or anything. I just thought I might like to try it. Is it sweet? I know birch beer is soda, not beer, not alcohol, but is beer sweet like that?”
(A month or so ago, we were out to dinner with my Mom and they happened to have birch beer made by a local company, so I ordered one. Little Man does not drink soda, but he wanted to try it so I let him have a sip. His comment now made me laugh.)
“No, honey, beer is NOT sweet. Not a bit. I think it’s bitter actually and I don’t really like it at all. I almost never drink beer.”
Part of me had a good mind to go buy a warm can of beer and let him have a sip, just to get a sense of how truly revolting it is and demystify it for him, at least for a while. But my Mommy-guilt shut me down: what if he had a genetic alcoholic tendency that I inadvertently set off and sent him spiraling into a lifetime of fighting the bottle at the tender age of 8? No, I’m not quite ready to go old school just yet.
We talked a bit more about beer—was there any kind of sweet beer? What about wine—was that sweet? Did I ever drink wine? Did I like dessert wine?
Somehow, our conversation eventually turned to drug use, which seemed a natural path to follow given the current subject. So I reiterated conversations we’ve previously had about how we only take medicine when we need it, only the amount we’re supposed to take, only medicines that are prescribed to us. How even if someone has the same sickness we do, we don’t take something that was prescribed for them and not us. How we NEVER take something when we don’t know what it is, what it’s for, and what it will do.
I told him about how some teenagers take different medicines from their homes and throw them all in a bowl and then take a handful to see what will happen.
“What?! People really do that? That is really stupid, Mom.” (YES! This was a good reaction)
“You’re right, it is. Why do you think it’s stupid?”
“Well, they’re not sick. You don’t take medicine when you’re not sick.”
“Right! And you don’t know what you’re taking. You could be allergic to it, it could be medicines that counteract each other, or are meant to treat something you don’t have. Like Grandma—she takes medicine for her high blood pressure to bring it down. But if your blood pressure is normal and you took her medicine, it could lower your blood pressure too far and make you really sick. AND if you take a bunch of stuff that you don’t know what it is and you get really sick, when you go to the doctor for help, they may not be able to help you right away, because they have to run tests to figure out what you took so they can give you the right thing to fix it. And by that time. you might be so sick that they can’t fix it.”
“I would never do that, Mom. That’s so dumb.” (can I record this for later use??)
“This is why your pediatrician was telling you at your check up that you need to make sure that you pick good friends—friends who bring out the best in you and that you bring out the best in them. So you have each other’s back. Sometimes people we know might give us something that is bad for us and not tell us what it is, just to see what will happen, because they think it’s funny.”
“Are you kidding me? That’s not funny, that’s just mean. Why would you do that to someone!”
What happened next was at the same time funny, sweet, and just amazing to me. First he made this sort of frustrated sigh and then he said, very calmly, “ Excuse me for a minute, Mom, I’ll be right back.” He got up from the kitchen where we’d been talking and walked swiftly into the living room, where I heard this sort of muffled thud.
“Are you OK?”
“I’m fine. I just needed to come hit a pillow.”
Hit a pillow?? He came back into the kitchen and sat down at the table.
“That just makes me so mad, Mom. How could people do that to one another?! That is just so MEAN. I tell you, that ignites my anger, Mom. Like, this is my anger (he holds up the fingers of his left hand as if her were holding a match). And this is me thinking about those kind of people (he brings the other hand over and makes an explosion sound and movement).”
He did this with all the sincerity that only an 8 year old can muster when they come to the realization of something in this world that makes no sense whatsoever to their pure hearts and minds.
I sat there for a moment sort of stunned. I could feel the corners of my mouth twitching, but I did not dare smile for fear that he would think I was somehow making fun of him. Nothing could be further from the truth. In that moment, I was reminded once again of the truly remarkable boy that he is.
We talked about a lot of things after that. About who he could think of right now that were true friends that would not ever treat him in such a way (and that those were the kinds of friends to surround yourself with). About how our brain chemistry changes in our teenage years and how those changes sometimes lead us to make bad choices (that are made even worse by drinking or taking drugs). And about how if he or his friends ever find themselves in a situation where they may have made some bad choices and needed help, he can always come to me. It doesn’t mean that I might not get mad, but he can always come to me. Always.
As I watched him climb the stairs to brush his teeth before bed, I smiled at my little boy who is not so little any more. He is far from perfect, as am I, and I know that he will stumble and fall many times along the way. But he is, and always will be, the best son in the world, for me. :-)