Discussion moves from prevention to simple survival

October 09, 2005|By SUSAN REIMER

Like most college kids, my daughter can't wait until spring break.

I reminded her that we hadn't made it through fall semester yet, but she bubbled past my caution with details of plans to go to Jamaica with 11 of her closest friends.

"Well, don't get abducted," I said, thinking immediately of Natalee Holloway in Aruba. "Your father and I don't have the money to spend six months on a Caribbean island looking for you."

Jessie is used to that kind of talk from me. Over the top. Worst-case scenario. If you think I am bad, you should hear her father.

But there is only one reason why a college sophomore wants to go to Mexico or the Caribbean for spring break instead of good old Florida, where the sun burns just as hot.

She and her friends are not yet 21, but they can drink legally in these foreign places.

I, like many parents, made a kind of pact with the devil when I realized my daughter and her friends were not going to wait until it was legal for them to drink alcohol.

I stopped saying, "Don't." I was wasting my breath.

When you realize that you can't pick your child up and put her in her crib until she settles down and comes to her senses, you start looking for any other way to keep her safe.

So, I used whatever time my daughter and her friends would grant me on the subject to say, "For God's sake, don't drink and drive and don't ride with anyone who has been drinking."

I also said lots of other things. About moderation, about sticking with your friends and taking care of each other, about never drinking anything strange or leaving your own drink unattended.

The conversations had stopped being about waiting. Now they were about surviving.

When I realized that my daughter and her friends were drinking in high school, I asked how they got the alcohol and she answered me honestly.

The boys would drive them into one of the roughest neighborhoods in my town and pay some derelict character $5 to buy them beer.

"One of these nights," I said, "that guy is going to say, 'Keep the five bucks, kid. I'll take the Xterra and the two blondes in the back seat.' "

That's me. Over the top. Worst-case scenario.

But I was so frantic I wanted to say, "For God's sake, I'll buy the damn beer. Just don't take stupid risks like that."

Now I want to say, "Please don't go where the police don't speak English and I need a passport to claim your body. For God's sake, go to good old boring Florida. I'll buy the beer."

Anheuser-Busch has begun a public service campaign this fall titled, "Prevent, don't provide."

It is aimed at parents who provide their under-aged children with alcohol or allow them to drink in their homes. According to the beer maker, two-thirds of teens get their alcohol from their parents or other adults, including derelict characters willing to take their $5.

I understand why such a campaign is important, but do you understand how parents like me might make pacts with the devil? How it stops being about legal or illegal and starts being about something far more frightening?

I was never one of those parents who served beer to underage kids or who let them have parties in my house. But do you understand how I might have been? How I might happily have traded a six-pack for a set of car keys and the guarantee that everyone would be sleeping it off in my basement?

Do you understand how I might want to be the den mother on a spring break trip to good, old, boring Florida? Do you understand that sometimes it isn't about legal? It is about living.

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