Thirsty work

4 Jul

Alcohol allows you to forget you’re camping

Yesterday on our walk home from school, my six-year-old son asked me how regularly I drink. “Ooh, usually every day, but I’ve been known to go for weeks without a drink.” My son looked horrified. “But mum, you’d be dead if you didn’t have a drink for a week.” I started to worry. Perhaps the sight of me heaving the clanking bottles and cans in our recycling bags to the pavement outside our house every week was causing him concern.

“Darling, you know those orange recycling bags? The bottles inside them are not all mine. Some of them are our visitors. I could, if I wanted, go for a long time without a drink and I wouldn’t feel that bad. And I certainly wouldn’t be dead.”

“Ok. Well our teacher’s a liar then, because she said that most people wouldn’t survive for more than a week without water. I’m telling her what you said.”

“Oh water. I see. I’m sorry. I thought you meant alcohol.” All the talk of recycling and bottles and orange bags were confusing him and he looked at me as if I were crazy.  He was simply quizzing me on the effects of extreme dehydration. Weirdly enough, we had just climbed the hill in the park where, at about this time last year, I had to dive behind a bush to pee. I had my small baby strapped onto the front of me in his carrier. I should avoid hills. Hills make me do and say strange or embarrassing things in-front of children.

To me, and probably most adults, when you ask “How much do you drink?” the drink in question is alcohol. There is no need to make mention of the actual word. Unless, of course, you are highly religious or talking to a child. They don’t understand the importance of alcohol in many adults’ lives. When they want to swallow something potent and mood altering, they stick to multiple e number, neon coloured sweets with toxic names.

My son and I had sorted our little misunderstanding out by the time we reached home (Me: “Don’t bother mentioning the bottles to your teacher. She’ll just be confused. I drink about two or three litres of water a day, if you include four coffees. You can tell her that.”) I am always weary of repeating a series of embarrassing episodes from my daughter’s early school days, most of which made me look like a terrible, irresponsible mother and role-model. She once took a pair of my knickers into class for show and tell. She stylishly slipped them on over the top of her school uniform at break time and revealed them to the whole class soon after . What’s more, they were not just ANY pair of knickers. They were trimmed with marabou feathers and said “Lady Muck” on the back. They were from a hen party. They were hideous. Where do you start with the explanations to pupils, their parents and the teacher after a show like that?

At home in the kitchen, as I poured myself a glass of wine, my son continued. “It’s alright mum. I know you’re worried that the teacher thinks you drink too much wine. I remember when you came to pick me up once and you said that your breath smelt of beer because you’d been to the pub with Leanne and Victoria. My teacher drinks beer too so she won’t mind if you’re drunk.”

I could see that further explaining would dig an even deeper hole so I stopped and took my first swig of wine. The witching hour in our house is rarely pretty, but sometimes alcohol helps because it takes away the edge. And just as I tried to explain my drinking habits, albeit badly, to my son, I shall try to explain to you.

I tend to have a drink relatively early. I’m not quite as brave as J.G. Ballard, who famously poured himself a whiskey on his return from the morning school run when others might be thinking about coffee. However, I occasionally like a drink at lunch. I regularly like a drink while the kids eat dinner, and may top up when I eat my own but that’s about my limit. I’d probably be within the limits of the very low weekly unit recommendation. Most evenings, by 9pm, I’m usually drinking tea. Tea keeps me awake for reading, watching a film, or worrying about the fact that I’ve lost all of the keys to our car’s roof box.

Quite why I am trying to explain my drinking habits is questionable, but I’ve been thinking about booze a lot recently, because I am the only person in my house who’s doing it at present. My husband has taken a break.  I know that if I didn’t drink I’d feel a bit left out, so I’m wondering how he’s feeling.

His current state of abstinence is pretty admirable, because he drank a lot more than me. He’s behaving amazingly, considering the fact that it must be really hard at times. All of our friends drink and most socialising, at some point or another involves alcohol.

Last night we were discussing going away over summer. We’re skint (no, still no more money despite fantasising that we were drinking all of our dosh) so have many soggy UK  trips away planned, hence my worry over finding the roof box keys. In a couple of weeks we’re going camping with lots of other families, most of whom we don’t know all that well.

“What if there’s a trip to the pub one evening? What do I do then?” he asked. This isn’t a moan. This is a question, and one that I just can’t answer. It’s tricky because if I were speaking to my 11-year-old and she asked “What if everyone has a pair of Kickers at secondary school and I’m the only one wearing Clarks?” I would answer as a sensible parent: “You just have to deal with it. Kickers may be cool this year, but Clarks are having a revival and you are way ahead of the curve. You’re lucky to have such an in the know mother.” She may roll her eyes and mouth idiot with my ‘wise adult’ answer, but when speaking to children it’s relatively easy to advise. But my husband is a wise adult, so there’s no fooling him.

And while I can list all the good things that have come about with his not drinking, I can also see that the prospect of some things must seem quite bleak without the aid of alcohol.

I can only speak from my own experience. Drink helps me to forget things, like last night when my daughter turned to me and said “I hate you. You’re a terrible mother and I can’t wait until I’m 16 because that’s when I’m leaving.” and I answered “Good.” Drink can soothe even the sorest of situations. It can also enhance a good feeling, like when my husband and I sat atop a mountain in Sicily on our honeymoon and drank champagne, toasting the bump that would be our first baby together. When I worked, I drank with others to celebrate the end of the day;  now I’m at home, usually surrounded by children, it’s what I do to mark the beginning of a more adult part of the day.

Even the most shambolic mealtimes, where the children are grouchy and are throwing food down their fronts, can be made better when there’s wine on the table. It’s kind of strange that my husband and I can’t drink to anything now, and even stranger that it’s not just his problem anymore. It seems to be an issue for both of us.

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2 Responses to “Thirsty work”

  1. Leanne White July 4, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    You definately know how to capture a moment . fabuhous stuff….and goodness me you drink alot of water !

  2. Rebecca Hamilton July 4, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

    What a beautiful Mother’s ode to booze. I completely agree and now fancy a drink without feeling guilty.

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