Sunday, May 18, 2014

It's Not What It Looks Like

Some time ago, someone gave me a few bottles of bitter lemon soda. It was good on its own, but I thought it would make a perfect mixer. I put it in my fridge and there it stayed.

Last week, I stopped to buy a bottle of wine at the liquor store while running errands. Just as the supermarket checkouts have candy, gum and mints as impulse items for kids, liquor stores have little novelty bottles of alcohol for grown-ups. This day, one caught my eye because it was made with Sriracha, a hot sauce our family uses. The liqueur was recommended for use in Bloody Marys as a substitute for Tobasco sauce. Next to this was a blue, berry flavored mini-vodka bottle. As I stood in line, I read it: mix with lemon soda and serve over ice. Hey! I thought. I have lemon soda! I paid for my wine and added this in as an afterthought, tossing the little bottle into my purse so it wouldn't get lost.

Fast forward 24 hours. It's raining. The high-schooler is home and we are driving to pick up the middle-schooler to take him to the eye doctor. I don't know if I reminded him this morning not to get on the bus after school. He doesn't have his cell phone. We wait at school until all the kids getting picked up are dismissed. None of them is mine. I get back in the car and text my neighbor's daughter who rides the bus with my son to ask if he is on the bus. No answer.

We begin driving back home to meet the bus. My cell phone rings. I tell my high-schooler to go into my purse to answer it. It's my neighbor's daughter: yes, my son is on the bus. He will meet us at home. My high-schooler hangs up, then says, "Mom, what the heck?" At the red light, I look over at him. He's holding up the bottle of vodka that was in my purse. Oops.

I am forever talking to my kids about distracted driving, cell phone use, and other unsafe practices that too few think about and that get too many into trouble. I'm like a preacher sometimes with the lectures. And I practice what I preach, never looking at my phone or answering it in the car, with or without my kids present. But this situation was, like the liqueur, a novelty.

I explained about the lemon soda. I told about seeing the Sriracha bottle and then this one and my thought process. I said it's not what it looks like. Of course, I grew up in the smoky-hazed 70s. Most memories I have of adults from that decade include them holding highball glasses or beer bottles. So to me, "what it looks like" is probably completely different from what it looks like to my fourteen-year-old. And yet.

When it comes to hypocrisy, kids are like bloodhounds. Telling them that not every night is a dessert night means nothing if they see me eating Oreos each evening on their way to bed. The same goes for just about every other rule on behavior. Kids won't learn to share if we don't model generosity. They won't learn compassion if we bully them at home.

What I constantly remind myself is that rules are not made to keep the children in line until they are responsible adults. The rules are made to help them become responsible adults. And that's not going to work if the kids have to follow rules while the adults do whatever we dang well please. As they move toward driving age, I know my kids will be much more likely to remember what I did than what I said.

My son knows me very well. He follows me on social media: we're connected on Facebook, he comments on my tweets, reads my blog and even tells his friends about it. Deep down, I wasn't worried that he would think he had discovered some dark secret about his mother because of a little bottle of vodka in my purse. In the end, we both had a good laugh about it.

Still, I made a mental note not to drive around with alcohol in my purse anymore, for this and a million other reasons that could cause the situation to end badly. And I have to admit it did mix very nicely with the lemon soda.