School, Library, Drinking? Put Them All Together & Kaboom!

slj coverSeems there was a big flap over School Library Journal’s November cover. (at left). A handful of readers wrote angry letters taking issue with the cover photograph, which showed several notable children’s literature bloggers, some of whom happen to be librarians, holding alcoholic beverages (pink, Mad Men-esque cocktails). I had to admit I got a little nervous reading this snippet from one of the letters: “It certainly doesn’t fit to combine blogging with drinking.” Hmmmm.

I say: Most, if not all, readers of School Library Journal are adults, and kids viewing the cover know that many adults (legally) drink, so what’s the problem here?

I think the real issue is the coexistence of three things: Drinking, School & Library. As one letter-writer wrote: “The cover of the November issue is offensive. It does not portray an image of a school librarian with which I want to be associated.” Yikes!

For some reason, I thought of the scene in School of Rock where Jack Black takes the principal (played by nerd-girl extraordinaire Joan Cusack) out to a bar to butter her up. I remembered how squeamy it made me feel to see Cusack in her prissy teacher persona knock back a few beers and start moving and grooving to Stevie Nicks. Just like we all have to face the fact that yes, our parents have had sex, we also have to accept the reality that the people who work with our children are humans, not saints, and that some of them might occasionally enjoy a cocktail. Is that really so taboo?

And isn’t it better for teens to see responsible members of the community modeling responsible drinking, rather than some unattainable idea of Pollyanna perfection?

My favorite response to the letters was the blogger over at “Collecting Children’s Books, who suggested that anyone offended by the “liquored-up” cover–“Mormons, teetotalers, AA members, anyone who lives in a “dry country,” as well as old fuddy-duddies”–should send away for a “replacement alcohol-free” cover, which can be pasted over the offending illustration.”  (See below for her GOT MILK? Cover)

P.S. According to Elizabeth Bird, one of the women on the cover, the drinks were actually non-alcoholic, made from a “dishwater-like concoction of lime juice and pink food coloring.” The beverages in the alternate, GOT MILK cover, were..Milk of Magnesia!

P.P.S. Another great thing that came out of the cover controversy was the blog post by Liz B. over at A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy, where she asked readers to list books for kids & teens “that don’t paint alcoholics and drug addicts as evil people.” Here are some that she (and others) listed: Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr, Rules of the Road and Best Foot Forward by Joan Bauer, Lush by Natasha Friend, Crash Into Me by Albert BorrisThe Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, Tempo Change by Barbara Hall, and Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz.  I would add Elizabeth Scott’s Love You, Hate You, Miss You. Anyone else?


Why Non-Drinkers Make the Worst Drunks

womandancingonbarby Laurie Gwen Shapiro

Okay, so I’m basing my lofty scientific title treatise purely on myself, but I truly believe this. Some are angry drunks, and for some, liquor brings on a crushing state of grief. You may hate yourself drunk, but personally I think I’m great fun, especially since I let loose so rarely. In fact, I know I’m that troubling kind of great fun.

Proof: my three major relationships (including my current marriage) were each launched by my being a non-drinker having too much red wine around a formerly platonic pal.

My husband, an Aussie who (yes I will stereotype him here), because of his nationality can hold his liquor, loves to remind me of the salacious night we crossed the friend line. I had two glasses of red, nestled my head on his best-pal shoulders, kept telling him how fantastic his omelet-making ability was and lip-locked him before he could think straight.

My college ex-boyfriend, who I’m miraculously friends with again due to the magic of Facebook, remembers a pleasant shock that the career-focused School Union President he worked on campus lectures with was secretly such a floozy. Nothing like an empty hotel room and a complimentary bottle of wine meant for a celebrity speaker snowed out of Syracuse University for a whale of a time.

Now, I repeat–I am the textbook opposite of a lush. And when it comes to my marriage, I’ve been a pretty good girl.  If I drank too much of anything over the years it’s been Diet Coke and coffee. Overall, I’m proud to say I’m a boring, doting mom of a seven-year-old. A bender for me is more likely to involve a hunk of cake, or too many slices of rye bread.

Naturally though, especially during the holiday party season when even doting moms imbibe, my husband likes to be around me when there’s wine involved. He’ll sexually benefit then, not some fella who didn’t see it coming. This has worked for us quite well: We’ve been married for 12 years, and together since we were in our early 20’s.

But sometimes, especially when my British friends come to town, I worry all will go bust. Most overseas people visiting me in New York are from the poverty-jetset documentary world–people I met at some film festival. My husband, a musician with an insurance company day job, is bored by poverty-jetset schmoozing, an essential part of the documentary filmmaker job. If English documentarians are coming, he always implores me to leave him out of the plans, despite the risks. And the risks: Brits drink. Hard.

Even though I know damn well I should steer away from the alcohol that sporadically has done me in, like Madonna, I am that pathetic American who desperately wants to impress our friends across the pond. Who wants to be labeled a wuss by a hard-drinking Brit who can tease with such an adorable accent? They’re so fabulous! They gave us Shakespeare! And McVities Hobnobs!

The last time I was out with the Brits, I tried to keep to the addictive nibbles, but the bartender sized up big money from foreigners bent on a good time. He shook each of us up his   “signature” drink with a big splash of Chartreuse liqueur, and then he was doing buybacks because they were asking for more please, and suddenly I felt like someone had cast me loose from a drowning ship on a life raft that only maybe was going to make it. This was followed by me falling into a giant East Village puddle, arriving home to my husband and daughter sludgy as the Loch Ness monster. And that was followed by a completely motionless morning in bed with my smeary eyes scrunched shut. And then a teasing email from a fellow producer about how flirtatious I was with someone I had no memory of.

Getting this now? When I pretend I drink I always get drunk because I don’t drink.

So when I told my husband there was yet another British invasion of documentary friends this weekend, he looked worried, too.

I scanned the bar where we were to meet, anxious to see what poor soul could possibly get a little extra attention from me if I wasn’t careful. There was an attractive man of my pre-marriage “type” stationed on the end. God help him, I whispered to myself.

I did in fact have divine intervention, or at least a stroke of good old-fashioned luck. Ken, an old writer-friend of mine was, by sheer coincidence, on bartending duty. I was there early and could confess to my fellow American that I was a wuss of all drinking wusses, and he said he’d look out for me. He was soon pouring a glass of Merlot for my sexy sassy friend from London, a whip smart partying film producer Austin Powers would have killed to shag. Ah, the deep aroma of red. Such memories! He poured me a small bit to taste and I took a pretentious mouthful, then a swish.

“Brilliant,” I said and Ken smiled, in on the drinking-sophisticate ruse.

My friends looked pleased. Ken slipped me some water to be on the safe side.

A few hours later, although I excused myself to the Ladies with a slightly naughty step to my walk, I swear I made it home with dignity.

Laurie Gwen Shapiro is a the author of four humorous novels including The Unexpected Salami and The Matzo Ball Heiress and is an award-winning filmmaker. She co-directed the IFC Films documentary Keep the River on Your Right: Modern Cannibal Tale,  for which she shared an Independent Spirit Award. She was co-producer and shares a “Film By” credit on the rip-roaring documentary Finishing Heaven which aired this year on HBO. She is currently at work on a new novel and film. For more info., please visit her website.


What Kind of Drinker Are You?

ladiesatpubThe Department of Health in England has identifed 9 types of heavy drinkers, in the hopes that if people identify the reasons for their drinking, they might be able to cut down.They define “heavy drinkers” as women who consume 35 units of alcohol per week, and men who consume 50, which is twice the recommended limit.  (As an example, the average small glass of wine, poured less than halfway full, contains 2 units of alcohol, so 35 units in glasses of wine would be about 17 glasses per week, or 2-3 glasses a day).

However, when it comes to the chart (which I’ve reprinted below), it seems that they’ve resorted to stereotyping women and men. For example, women, not men, are classified as “boredom drinkers” (single moms! Divorced moms!) whereas recently divorced men are characterized as “depressed drinkers,” as if men–with their busy lives–would never be bored, and boredom is the sole province of women. “Conformist” drinkers are men who go to the pub every night because that’s what’s done. What era are they living in? Because if you go to a bar (here in the U.S.) or a pub in England, you’ll see just as many groups of women drinking. And–I would argue–that women can be macho drinkers, too, wanting to impress their friends with how much they can drink at one sitting.

The bottom line is: The chart is an interesting starting point, but could you not resort to sexism and gender stereotyping when talking about drinkers, please? And my last question is: What kind of drinker are you? Anyone write their own list of the different kinds of drinkers? Please share.

Name Characteristics Key motivations
Depressed drinker Life in a state of crisis eg recently bereaved, divorced or in financial crisis Alcohol is a comforter and a form of self-medication used to help them cope
De-stress drinker Pressurised job or stressful home life leads to feelings of being out of control and burdened with responsibility Alcohol is used to relax, unwind and calm down and to gain a sense of control when switching between work and personal life. Partners often support or reinforce behaviour by preparing drinks for them
Re-bonding drinker Relevant to those with a very busy social calendar Alcohol is the ‘shared connector’ that unifies and gets them on the same level. They often forget the time and the amount they are consuming
Conformist drinker Traditional guys who believe that going to the pub every night is ‘what men do’ Justify it as ‘me time’. The pub is their second home and they feel a strong sense of belonging and acceptance within this environment
Community drinker Drink in fairly large social friendship groups The sense of community forged through the pub-group. Drinking provides a sense of safety and security and gives their lives meaning. It also acts a social network
Boredom drinker Typically single mums or recent divorcees with restricted social life Drinking is company, making up for an absence of people. Drinking marks the end of the day, perhaps following the completion of chores
Macho drinker Often feeling under-valued, disempowered and frustrated in important areas of their life Have actively cultivated a strong ‘alpha male’ that revolves around their drinking ‘prowess’. Drinking is driven by a constant need to assert their masculinity and status to themselves and others
Hedonistic drinker Single, divorced and/or with grown up children Drinking excessively is a way of visibly expressing their independence, freedom and ‘youthfulness’ to themselves. Alcohol used to release inhibitions
Border dependents Men who effectively live in the pub which, for them, is very much a home from home A combination of motives, including boredom, the need to conform, and a general sense of malaise in their lives


N.Y. Introduces New DUI Law–Toughest in the Nation


Although the facts show that men make up the vast majority of drunk driving cases, two recent and tragic driving incidents involving women drivers have resulted in the deaths of children, provoking New York State and Governor Paterson to enact a new and ever-tougher DUI law, known as Leandra’s Law.

According to  recent news reports by CBS News, CNN and other major media sources, Leandra’s Law is named after an 11-year-old New York City girl killed in a crash last month after a friend’s mother allegedly drove drunk.

Under the new law, first-time offenders with a blood alcohol content of .08 or more or under the influence of drugs, and with a child age 15 or under in the vehicle, will automatically have their drivers license suspended, will have to install an ignition interlock device in their car and may be charged with a felony punishable up to four years in prison.

Results of a study conducted by the federal Department of Transportation last summer–just around the time of the Diana Schuler accident on the Taconic, killing eight people (four of whom were children)–revealed that the number of women arrested for DUI is up 29 percent over the last 10 years. And to further the tragedy, women apparently who drive drunk, causing fatal crashes, are are three times as likely to have a child under the age of 14 in the vehicle.


Is the D.A.R.E. Program Realistic?

dareposterLast Spring, as I attended my fifth grader’s graduation from D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), I found myself acting like a kid myself–making snide remarks to my husband and getting all squirmy in my seat while I sneered at the suck-ups who read their winning essays.

“They’re like little robots,” I said. “We will ne-ver drink or do drugs.”

“Yeah, sure,” I found myself mumbling even though, throughout high school, I could have been a poster child for D.A.R.E., which is now taught in 80% of school districts.

So why the hostility and regression, on my part? Maybe it was the echoes of Nancy Reagan’s prissy, preachy “Just Say No” campaign, which seemed only to spur teenagers on to want to do more drugs, just to piss Nancy off.

But there had to be something else.

The uneasiness began when a female police officer came to a PTA meeting to discuss the program with us. After she spoke, the mothers in the audience had many questions. “I have a glass of wine or two on Friday nights in front of my children. Is that okay?”

And then someone asked the police officer, “Do you or did you drink?” “If so, do you tell your children?” The officer laughed and said something to the effect of, “I was kind of wild, but they don’t have to know that.” While I don’t feel the need to tell my kids the details of every college bender I ever went on, I don’t think I need to hide my moderate drinking from my children. That seems ludicrous. As the daughter of an alcoholic, I have a real problem with hiding things from my children (the elephant in the living room). Also, by making alcohol forbidden or taboo, it will only increase the thrill of sneaking.

After my daughter started her D.A.R.E. education, my daughter looked at a glass of wine in my hands like it was a gun.

Therein lies the problem with D.A.R.E.–they fail to make a distinction between that which is legal, accepted behavior (moderate alcohol consumption when you’re of drinking age) and that which is illegal (Drugs). In D.A.R.E. world, everything is bad. Period. While I’m grateful to the schools for trying to make kids more street smart and savvy, and I am all for it, I am not for moralizing. The facts, pure and simple, should speak for themselves. You can drink when you’re of legal drinking age. Period. Some people have a disease called alcoholism, and these people cannot drink. Some people drink too much and can get very sick, or even die. If you have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism, you should be careful. These kinds of facts are helpful, not: “Never drink.” Because the fact is (and the statistics bear me out), most teens will at least try drinking. The best part of the program is where they arm kids with ways to deal with peer pressure, and alternatives to drinking.

Equating drinking with drug use is, in my opinion, setting kids up for subterfuge and shame. Studies have shown that DARE actually increases girls’ drug use and drinking.

So what, then, is effective, if not DARE and its scare tactics? Addiction expert Stanton Peele has an interesting take on these programs:

“The prevailing prevention approach is to tell everyone not to do these things, claim no one successful has ever done them, and carry on with what everyone knows to be a complete fiction. (Think of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.)

Well, this is not the whole story. Neural research indicates that adolescent brains program kids to try risky behaviors. It is unlikely we will soon prevent large numbers of teens from drinking and using drugs. Yet, subtracting the approximately 20 million current drug users from the 110 million plus people who once used, almost 100 million Americans have left drugs behind. Perhaps it can be good for young people to learn that as they mature they can, and will, straighten out and fly right?

This is the opposite of the approach of nearly all school drug education programs. Here the logic is to troop in people who have ruined their lives by their drug use and drinking, as object lessons in the evils of sin. But there are reasons to believe that kids reject negative messages from figures like these, and that purely scare tactics don’t work. Research on effective drug resistance programs finds that the best ways to prevent substance abuse are for kids to develop skills, feel good about themselves, have positive peers, and look forward to their futures.

From this perspective, Mr. Obama’s message that he briefly stumbled but then righted himself to achieve success may be just what the doctor ordered.”

D.A.R.E. is not the only program out there. Alternative solutions abound–programs, for example, that focus on developing positive behaviors rather than avoiding negative behaviors–and are worth looking into. While I believe it’s important to educate our children about drugs and alcohol and their effects, preaching and fear-mongering are not the answers. Instead of saying what we don’t want our children to do, let’s give them some ideas and role-modeling about what we would like them to do.