It’s one of the coming of age ceremonies that some young men and women pass through on their way to adult life. It always seems to happen in the wee hours, so I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised when my youngest son put his hand on my shoulder, waking me at 2 am this morning, and asked “Dad, can you help me?”
The light above the sink that silhouetted his form also illuminated the great red/brown pools of vomit that stretched from wall to wall in the downstairs bathroom. Wafting acidic vapors were quickly filling the entire downstairs. He was fully blown, but soon retreated to crouching over the toilet bowl in the endless agony of a stomach trying to bring his entire body through his mouth for a good rinsing. He was driving the porcelain truck, learning the fine points of the alcohol game. There you go son, now you are a man. How’s it feel?
I didn’t expect it. But he and a friend had emptied half a handle of Myers rum in one of the back rooms in our house, the one we call the “Lab.” Holding with tradition it had been a secret ceremony, held far from the eyes and ears of inquisitive adults. His friend was face down in a corner of that dark room, gone from the world, but still bubbling gooey ejecta from his mouth. He was heavy too, one hundred and fifty pounds of vomit-slimy rag doll. Too heavy for 2am. Too heavy for this 56 year old to get over the landing and the stairs to the wretched already besmirched bathroom by myself. As I muscled him around, I was rewarded for my efforts with a fresh red/brown fountain down my back. Later he also got the front for good measure. Time to get help, it’s nice to have a six foot six, 265 pound older son nearby.
Normally I’m a joiner, vomit in my presence and I be right there with you. But the years of parenting have hardened my nose and stomach, so although I feel the urge strongly I can usually hold out. Especially when dragging someone else’s child across the basement. I was more concerned what I was going to say to the parents and then the Judge, later, when I stood accused of criminal negligence.
Throughout the process of squeegeeing up the putrid liquids and lumps of dinner, while constantly checking the pulse and breathing of our comatose overnight guest, I thought about how much attitudes had changed about this very situation from generation to generation.
When this same kind of first blush interest in the glories of alcohol captured me, it was through a shared half gallon of Almaden wine. My father and mother did not consider calling the hospital as I puked my way to glory. Their prescription was a cold shower and a forced walk around the room while enduring a double team lecture. Of course I drove my first porcelain truck after displaying what my mother termed my “more colorful side” at a party thrown by some of their best friends. The next day when I reported a mysteriously hideous and painful condition to my father, he commented “Well, ain’t that too bad.”
Still, it was a different approach to the same problem. My generation looks at this situation as having the probability of serious physical damage, possibly death and as a potential harbinger of dreadful addiction. Their’s looked at it as a kind of situational just desserts. They had the experience and the evidence to support their interpretation. They had their own methodology for remedies and recriminations. They grew up seeing this, experiencing it and dragging (or being dragged) to the barn to “sleep it off.” They share stories of dunking “Uncle Al” in the horse trough after a “bender.”
These days, you can go to jail when 16-years-old drinks themselves into a stupor while in your care. My generation remembers Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix and many other immortals drowning in their own puke. Show up at the hospital with a blasted kid and there is a cop there waiting to ask questions. It’s likely to get serious and way beyond “Kid will be kids,” even though they always will. Laws and attitudes have changed.
You start to think about consequences as the situation progresses. Mine are already set in stone, and if triggered, have to be faced. But what of my son’s? What to say about this disastrous exploration? Should I threaten vile tortures, or lengthy periods of forced abstinence? Life under surveillance, with no parole? After all, he’s deathly ill and his friend is unconscious. Pleas of “Please don’t call his parents” won’t cut it.
However, I would always rather err on the side of more communication in this kind of parental situation. After all, the obvious response to the threat “You know what will happen to you if you ever do this again, don’t you!” Is meek and sorrowful looks with a clearly unsaid “I know what will happen if you find out.” Of these foolish bricks are the walls of disinformation built between parent and child. Kids have always known that if they don’t tell you you probably won’t find out. Some parents forget that. If I want my kids to tell me when life becomes serious, I must play the “consequences” hand very carefully. I want that 2 am wake up call, and not the 10 am “Please come identify your child” one.
In this case, it’s easy. Nothing I can do could possibly be worse than what my son is going through over the toilet while kneeling in the contents of his own stomach. No stupendous punishment will be able to top the dreadful discovery of “bed spins” later. As for my son’s guest, I do what I can for him, insure his survival and let his parents decide the rest.
This afternoon, after apologetic calls were exchanged, my son and I talked and we agreed that this had not been a happy time. Somehow the fun, evident in the beginning of the experiment faded drastically as it played out. I warned him of the legal and health implications he risked for both of us, but not as a recrimination, more as a shared burden of responsibility. This experience will not make him a life long tee-totaler, I suspect, so I simply encouraged him not to hide next time. After all our family deal has always been beer and wine in moderate amounts are fine until 21. If he avoids harder liquors and smoking until that time, I pay him $1000. The same deal my father offered his children. No, I never got the $1000, but both my sisters did. And another of my sons got his.
I believe the first order of the parent game is to know what’s going on. Gathering as much information as possible is key to influencing your children’s choices. The second order is to keep lots of paper towels handy, at all times.
Copyright Prentiss Gray 2011