Monday, 23 April 2007

There was an item on the CBC news this morning describing a bubbly fruit drink for children that is being marketed as a party drink, complete with champagne glasses in the visual ads, and sold in liquor stores. It's called Robby - Bubbles. The Mothers Against Drunk Driving organization has issued a statement opposing the idea of this drink and the sale of it with liquor. My first thought was that MADD has no sense of humour.

And then I thought 'Wait a minute!' Do they have a point, of sorts? Do we want our little kids equating the drinking of bubbly with having a good time? And the following if/then proposition of no bubbly, no good time? Don't kids, seeing their parents enthusiasm about something, follow their lead? Then I thought of the 'Song of the Temperance Union' about fruit cake, which came to my mind the other day when I was told that a very strict teetotal business owner refused to carry a cookbook related to his business because some of the recipes called for liqueur as flavouring.
'We never eat fruitcake because it has rum,
And one drop of rum turns a man to a bum!
Oh, can you imagine a worse disgrace
Than a man in the gutter with crumbs on his face?
Chorus, 'Away, away with rum by gum…is the song of the Temperance Union.'

While I appreciate the grief and anger that seems to be the basis of MADD, I find a lot of what they have to say is way too earnest. I have always thought that to forbid a child something is to draw it to her attention and make it more desirable that it would have been if treated with indifference. And I tried to practice this with my kids, sometimes more in the breach than not, but I did my best. Specifically, with alcohol, they were allowed a tiny glass of wine at home if the adults were drinking it or in exceptional circumstances. The older daughter still shudders at the recollection of a teaspoon of sherry tipped down her throat at 1:00 am to stop a dry cough. (That would have been the cooking sherry so she is maybe justified.) My household and my parents' household has always used wine and the occasional shot of hard stuff, and been none the worse for it.

All of us remember, I am sure, adolescent escapades involving illicit drinking, our own and those of our contemporaries. At my school the 'acting up' kids started first, much to the gossipy awe of the rest of us. Most of us will have been drunk and disorderly at least once or twice, regretting both the behaviour and the hangover the next day, as young adults. And most of us learned from that to be sensible about drinking. There's a certain type of person, alas, who continues to treat drinking almost as a sport; the kind who boasts about how much he drank at the party or tells stories about adolescent excesses in an admiring tone. Many of us will have a friend or a relative who consistently drinks too much as a mature adult and will know someone whose life has been devastated by alcoholism.

What I wonder is this: would people in the adult problem categories have developed this unfortunate relationship to drinking if they had been brought up differently? Do the children of the 'look what I drank' boasters grow up to drink more than the children of Temperance Union types? I do know that peer pressure is likely to be the cause of the youngsters' experimentation but I don't know if parental influence counteracts this in most sensible grown-ups. I think it does, but I can't be dogmatic about it.

I read that a genetic predisposition to addictions such as alcoholism has been identified. I have also read that First Nations people may lack a gene that enables alcohol toleration and therefore have a higher proportion of problems with it than those descended from Europeans. I am quite sure, however, that there are more people with the genetic triggers and lacks than there are alcohol abusers. So what makes that difference? I figure it has to be a combination of good influence and common sense, and I wish I could prove it.

My approach seems to have worked with my kids. As an adult, neither of the daughters drinks much at all, even asking for water or a soft drink in high end restaurants if she is driving. And they had friends, as teens, whose preoccupation with drinking made me very nervous. I don't know if this is luck or good management, but I don't think that a glass of Robbie-Bubbles (or whatever) or advertisements for it would have made one bit of difference.


  1. Interesting - I was listening to a CBC phone-in about addiction just a couple of days ago. The guest was a former alcoholic. A member of MADD called in and said no fertile woman should drink. At All. Because if you are fertile, you could be pregnant and if you are pregnant, you could harm your baby.

    I immediately thought of Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale, where fertile women matter only for their potential offspring and have no rights at all.

    Fortunately, the guest told her that there is absolutely no scientific evidence whatsoever that one or two drinks before you know you are pregnant will have an effect on the fetus, so she was going way overboard. Sometimes, when tragedy overtakes your life, you can lose perspective, I guess.

    About the kid booze. As Jews, every Friday night, we celebrate Shabbat by saying prayers over lit candles, bread and wine. (I initially wrote 'whine,' which I am sure is a Freudian slip.) Since they kids don't drink they get grape juice, which we call 'kid wine.' This means that if they see grape juice in someone's fridge, they will say, "Can I please have some kid wine?" (which they are actually only allowed on Friday nights)

    Methinks MADD would not approve. I'm not worried. I'm with you on the common sense thing. And I think it is interesting that wine is integral to must of Jewish life (to the point that one is actually expected to drink to excess during one holiday, Simchat Torah). And while the stereotype that there are no Jewish drunks is false, alcoholism is supposed to be lower in the Jewish community. I agree with you on the genetic disposition thing, but I think culture has a big influence too.

  2. Great post, Mary. We (as kids)always had Loganberry wine punch at Christmas but my mother never drank unless it was Christmas. Now, I drink wine most nights with dinner. My daughter calls it "mommy juice" and it makes me cringe ever so slightly. Still, the message I am sending is one of moderation.

  3. Mary, I agree with you so much. We have talked about this a lot in our house because there is a history of alcoholism in my family. For whatever reason (nurture or nature) it seems to have bypassed me, but it is a grave concern of mine.

    My thought on it, as it is with so many things, is to make alcohol a part of life without glorifying or villifying it. My sense, when I was in Europe, was that drinking accompanied food and good times as opposed to being the sole purpose for the gathering. They are so much more relaxed about it there and while people drink a lot, I got the impression that getting stone drunk was seen as sort of ridiculous. By people of all ages.

    I don't know whether our approach will work (I'll get back to you in 20 years!) but it seems in line with yours and that's what makes the most sense to me.