When I look at my sons (especially when they don’t know I’m watching them, or are asleep), there is a visceral expansion in my chest and stomach. The same adoration I felt consume me at their births remains and, however naughty they are, however much angst they cause me, I know this will never change. It is them I have to thank for keeping me off rock bottom. Somehow my responsibility to them pushes aside everything else, even the worst hangovers. But because, within our culture, it is so acceptable for parents to drink while in charge of their children – more than acceptable, expected almost even at kids’ birthday parties – I have not always been 100% present nor the mum I aspire to be.
Yesterday I came across this great article outlining the system used by one family in order to communicate, using code, should one of them be in trouble and require help. Specifically, when a child needs collected by a parent. There are other options, but my reading of the process requires the parent to be in a drivable, i.e. sober, state when their children are out. Sober and ready to respond to the call.
All I could think about as I read was drinking – the parent drinking, either socialising elsewhere or enjoying a couple of ‘well deserved, end-of-the-day’ drinks at home as has become so commonplace. The article is suggesting a teen may find themselves in a tricky situation with drug or alcohol usage from which they might want to be escape. But what if their parents were incapable of driving? I would say, until last year, that for the past couple of decades I have probably spent most nights unable to (legally) drive, pregnancies aside. I’m not suggesting that parents are getting smashed, just wondering how many of us ever think about remaining within the drivable limit.
At the beginning of my drinking days I was driven to the pub and back. It was a 14 mile round trip for my mum (it was always my mum) in all weathers. The arrangement was that we would meet at midnight outside InterSport in the town square. How awful for her, to have to leave a warm house in the middle of the night (to have to stay up that late!) only to be given a front row seat at the drama that is teenage social experimentation. How she bore it I have never understood until now. Until I too felt that desire to protect, the maternal urge to shelter our young from storms, from life, willing to bear witness to their idiocy and still turn up.
Through problem drinking I have failed my children plenty. I have passed out on their beds while reading them a story more times than I can count, forgotten tooth fairy money, absolutely buggered up Christmas stockings, shouted for no reason whatsoever apart from that my head’s pounding, or I’ve been craving a drink, or both. I’ve sent them to school in yesterday’s pants. But as far as I know, they never put two and two together. They certainly haven’t turned around and said ‘I’m so glad you don’t drink any more Mum.’ I hope I’ve caught it early enough, addressed it before they became aware of my biggest flaw, the habit with the potential to let all of us down so much more.
I’ll be ready with the engine running when the time comes, sober as a judge but with a warmer hug. Until then, I am trying to cherish every bit of mothering, even scraping days old Weetabix off chairs and picking up their stinky boy clothes again. I’m just grateful to finally be doing it all with a clear head.
Originally published: Mar 23, 2017