by Caren Osten Gerszberg
When I was a sophomore in high school, my brother—then a high school senior—planned a big party at our house. Not only did he have my parents’ blessing, but they even went out to dinner while he was setting things up in our basement. It must’ve been winter, because I remember my brother making a fire just before the guests began to arrive, when a spark flew and lit one of the couch pillows on fire.
I guess the quickest way to deal with the pillow was to toss it outside, presuming the flames had been put to their rest. Within a couple of hours, only when numerous firefighters and their big red engine pulled into our driveway, did any of us realize that the pillow had been smoldering outside the basement door. The neighbors evidently called 911 when the odor wafted their way.
The friendly firefighters tended to the pillow and most definitely noticed the scene—harmless high school beer-drinking revelers hanging out, listening to music, and playing pool. Once the pillow was extinguished for real, they smiled and took off.
Fast-forward 30 years and note a number of significant facts:
- I’m the parent of the high school senior now.
- The drinking age is 21, while it was 18 when I was in high school.
- I live down the street from the local police station.
- High school kids in our community routinely attempt, often successfully, to smuggle beer and booze into a house party.
Last Saturday night, it was my child’s turn to host the party. While we were glad to let our daughter invite friends and other students from her school’s performing arts program–in celebration of four days of play performances–my husband and I had no intention of going out while the festivities took place. In fact, we had a plan in place, which was to ask each and every teen who walked through our front door to leave their coat and any bag on the table by the front door. This seemed a reasonable request, especially since we know people who have hired off-duty police officers to stand outside and monitor any potential contraband being smuggled into their kid’s party.
Once the shindig began, hordes of kids began to pour through our front door. These days, it takes only seconds to text your posse and tell them where the fun is. My husband stood guard at the door, while I took to the stairs. Within 30 minutes, the police had arrived.
The two officers stood on our front lawn, amid the small groups of kids who’d most likely exited to get high or drink outside of our house. When word traveled to the basement that the police were on site, my daughter ran upstairs and asked us to stall for a few minutes–she needed to clean up the beer cans she’d already discovered in the guest bedroom downstairs. We told her we would try, but I couldn’t help but wonder: “How is possible that kids have the nerve to stick bottles and cans down their pants and in their shirts right in the face of two adults who are asking them not to?”
Well, live and learn. My husband eventually let one of the officers take a walk inside and around the house–despite my hesitation–and the officer concluded that all was well and we were “doing a great job.” We were asked to lower the music (oh, did I mention two of the kids brought their professional DJ equipment?) and the party rocked on.
Kids came and left, and though we continued to eye each one of them, more beer and a bottle of vodka made it passed our parental checkpoint. The fire alarm eventually went off–thanks to the DJ’s fog machine–but the party lasted until about 1:00 am. My daughter came up afterwards to thank us for the party, and told us she had a great time.
The following morning, while cleaning up, I found a water bottle with the words “Cousins’ Reunion” splashed across the front–with just a little water left in it. “Smell it,” my daughter said. “Oh yeah,” I instantly realized. “Pure vodka.” My husband, meanwhile, was outside busily picking up empty beer cans and bottles around our front yard and our neighbors’.
I couldn’t help but feel badly for these kids. They are growing up in an environment that has made alcohol so forbidden, so undeniably dangerous in nearly every way, that they feel the need to sneak it at every turn. While the dangers are obvious–and we’ve been clear to discuss them with our daughter in addition to what she’s learned in school–there seems to be such a focus on controlling our children that they are bursting at the seams to get their hands on the stuff.
I wish things were a bit more relaxed, like when we were in high school. If the authorities showed up, rather than ask you to search your house, they’d survey the scene, see the responsible parents on hand, and go merrily on their way.
Caren Osten Gerszberg is a co-editor of the Drinking Diaries.