March 20, 2016

a grounding to learn from

By the spring of my junior year in high school, I had acquired self confidence, built strong friendships, and achieved good grades.  My involvement in student council allowed me to branch out and meet new people and enjoy countless exciting experiences.  As an active participant and leader in organized school retreats, my faith grew while the leadership opportunities challenged and strengthened me.  I knew who I was, and I didn't feel compelled to conform.  Teenagers are rarely perfect, and I was far from perfect.  As it turns out, so were my parents.

Something happened at school that day.  If my memory serves, and freakishly it usually does, I believe I was less than thrilled with the outcome of the student council elections.  I would serve on the board, but I had fallen short of receiving enough votes to be selected for an executive position.  My good friend, Self, urged me to join her at a party near her house that night to relax and take my mind off the situation.

Self and I shared the same first name.  As sophomores we sat kiddie corner from one another.  Our history teacher, Ms. Smiley, had called on Self to answer a question.  Because of the angle that we sat at I thought that she was pointing at me.  After I had successfully answered the questions, Ms. Smiley turned and sarcastically asked me if my name was indeed Ernie.  'Well, yes,' I pointed out in my best wise ass tone, 'My name is Ernie.'  The class erupted in laughter and good natured Ms. Smiley laughed so hard she struggled to resume her composure to lecture.  It was a coincidence to end all coincidences and from then on the other Ernie and I had referred to each other as 'Self.'  I agreed with Self that a night hanging out with friends was definitely in order.

Everyone new I didn't drink.  It didn't really interest me.  I had friends that drank, but I was content to spend time with friends and steer clear of alcohol.  No big deal.  I told my Mom that I wanted to attend a party with Self.  My mom was hesitant to let me go.  The area I was headed was both far from home and notorious for a higher crime contingent.  Eventually she agreed.  I don't know how Self knew the people hosting the party, but it was a big one.  There weren't many people from our high school there, and because it wasn't my idea of great fun I left in plenty of time to make it home before my assigned curfew.

I was surprised that Mom was waiting up for me when I got home.  She looked upset.  'So . . . was there drinking at this party?' she grilled me.  'Well,' I stumbled, 'I didn't see anyone drinking.'  This was a lie.  Self and I had been hanging out in a basement room a few feet from where the keg was placed.  I didn't ingest a single sip of beer, so I felt like my little lie would at least keep me from trouble.  I didn't believe that I deserved to be in trouble anyway.  The inquisition continued.  'Were the person's parents home?' came the next question.  Now come on.  Why had she not asked these questions before I left?  I froze.  Had she talked to someone?  Did she know more than I thought she did?  We were only on her second question but I felt perspiration forming in my armpits.  'I think they were upstairs, but I never saw them,' I lied thru my teeth.  No way were there any responsible adults in the building, but hey - I was home on time.  Early even.  Why weren't we focusing on that?  I thought of all of those kids getting hammered.  I hadn't done anything like that.  Everyone knew I was a sober party girl, why was Mom struggling so much to accept that concept?  My vague responses failed to impress her.  My innocent lifestyle and smart choices succeeded in frustrating my Mother, who I felt should be proud of me.  How was this happening?

Grounded.  Before she stomped off to bed she slapped a steep, socially-limiting, 6 week sentence on me.  Six weeks.  I was grounded for six weeks.  That was hard to process.  Of course in the '80's teenagers were expected to survive without cell phone as communication tools.  I couldn't even text Self to tell her how this evening had blown up in my face.  It would have to wait until school on Monday.

I stewed all day in my room over the weekend.  Eventually I saw the ironic humor in my story.  I changed my tune and created a plan.  Our school uniforms consisted of plaid skirts and solid colored polyester blazers.  Students expressed their individuality by attaching pins to their blazer lapels.  Catchy phrases, funny sayings, and smiley faces displayed on these ugly uniform articles caught the attention of friends and helped girls distinguish whose blazer was whose after leaving them in a heap during lunch.  Using a blank pin left over from my recent student council campaign, I inserted a hand written message inside its plastic flap.  My new pin simply read:  'Eat, Drink, and Be Merry . . . for tomorrow you too may be grounded.'  Word traveled fast about my virtual house arrest.  Classmates were baffled.  Many girls I knew had crossed the line between good and evil and come out with a less stringent sentence.

I secretly blamed my sisters.  Neither of them had ever done anything wrong.  In fact, they had not really done much of anything.  It's hard to break the rules when you don't venture out into the world around you.  Thanks to their limited social encounters, my parents considered me a rebel.  My sisters should have broken my folks in a little.  That was their job, right?  Nope.  Now I had to suffer.

My perspective had shifted.  From then on I followed my new pin motto.  When there was a party to attend, I attended.  If I was going to be grounded for admitting that I was going to a party and not drinking, I decided I may as well pretend I wasn't at a party and actually drink.  I sampled the alcohol.  Of course, I wasn't a huge fan of beer- so I never over did it.  I made arrangements to stay at friends' houses if we were going to drink.  I was careful not to be caught.  I lied about where I went and what I did.  Older people I worked with even purchased booze for my friends and I.  All because I told the truth.  Sort of. 

Coach and I rarely know what Laddie's plans are.  We have a difficult time confirming what he does and where he goes.  Lately I have reflected on the lengthy grounding sentence I received in the spring of 1988.  I am mindful that if we aren't careful in our assumptions, we too can drive Laddie to drink.  Literally.  

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