My daughter and I walked in to a bar

~~ Originally printed in The Chapel Hill (NC) Weekly, February 2012 ~~

I took my 14-year-old daughter to a local Italian restaurant,  411 West, for dinner. We sat at the bar. I always sit at the bar. She wore mascara and lip gloss but wasn’t rocking the glamourpuss thing. The charming bartender handed us both the wine list, making eye contact with both of us while chatting about the selections.

I’m sure he would’ve carded her if she’d tried to order, say, a glass of Chianti, but she stuck with water. She was sitting up a little bit straighter, though, and whispered that I might have ruined things when I called her, “Sweetie.” Like she did me any good when she called me, “Mommy.”

Way back when I was a Chapel Hill High student, and the drinking age was 18, then 19, a certain local gourmet retailer had a reputation for not checking IDs. Supposedly, if you had the cash – oh, and the balls – you could walk out of there, unscrutinized and unscathed, with a fine bottle of vino. I never tried it. I was always broke.

We do have a problem today with young people and alcohol. But part of this is our unwillingness to address the issue in a realistic way. Simply saying, “No alcohol until you are 21, and that’s final,” has a sort of “God said it; I believe it; that does it” feel. Forbidding something outright doesn’t render it a non-issue. Think: abstinence-only sex education.

I initiate honest conversations, mostly along the lines of, “Do not drink moonshine unless you know who made it, and they have a PhD in Chemistry.” Tastes of wine are offered – on occasion. When I was little, my parents woke me at midnight every New Year’s Eve for a sip of Champagne. Alcohol isn’t something that should be shrouded in mystery. Or denial. That’s where the problems really start.

At 411, I ordered Prosecco. The bar was full, the crowd lively, and it was nice to be out, just the two of us women. I started to offer Blake a sip of my bubbly, but I stopped. The kid had a mouthful of spearmint gum.

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