Mama Madison: When the time comes for a party...

Early lessons about alcohol abuse

Heading home from dinner a couple weeks back, my family and I drove by the last remnants of the Mifflin Street Block Party. Upon witnessing the obscenely drunk and stumbling masses, my 11-year-old made a remarkably keen observation.

"So these people were smart enough to get into college?"

It does make you wonder? And worry.

I know I am in the glory years now, where my 5th grader takes everything Officer Tom, his C.O.P.S. teacher, says as gospel. My son is appropriately concerned about Internet strangers and illegal substances. And even though he thought the "impaired vision goggles" Officer Tom let him don were fun, he has promised not try alcohol until the ripe old (and legal) age of 21.

I am not naive. It is statistically unlikely, no matter how much I preach a zero-tolerance policy, that he will wait until college graduation before taking his first sip. I hope will be later, rather than sooner, but it's just a matter of when. Unfortunately kids don't come with pop-up turkey timers to inform parents that they are about to engage in risky behavior. It would really make things so much easier if they did.

I sampled my first half a plastic cup of mostly foam (I've never been able to work a keg) at some "my-parents-are-away-for-the weekend" party in high school. But there was no way I would have ever dared to have more. I had pretty much convinced myself that if I got caught drinking while still living under my parents' roof that I'd be a whole lot more than grounded for a month. I was worried that my college acceptances would be revoked or that I’d be forbidden from attending my debate teams nationals. Yes, I was a bit of a nerd and worrywart -- my parents really lucked out.

I then took off for a college with a strong (and somewhat well-deserved) reputation for being the "place where fun comes to die". You'd think a college full of nerds might have a more temperate approach toward alcohol. But I witnessed many times over what the first taste of parental freedom breeds when it comes to booze, and it wasn't pretty. While I don't remember any of my classmates needing to go to detox, a la Mifflin, I do have many friends who wish they could forget some of the very poor decisions they made under the influence of one stale frat party beer too many.

My thoughts on Mifflin echo what any sane mom's in Madison would. No citations on open containers? Really? Rarely have relaxed rules led to improved behavior at my house. Drinking at 7:30 a.m.? These kids haven't been up that early in years. Can't you smell the impending disaster? Octobongs, t-shirts that say "Drunk Me How to Bucky" and the desire to "puke and rally" in order to prepare for an evening of continued partying? Something has clearly got to give before one of those rickety Mifflin St. balconies does.

But if the event even survives (given this year's stabbings, sexual assaults and drug deals I have my doubts), I'd like to take Mayor Soglin's suggestion of posting pictures and videos on-line one better. Just live-stream the whole day and broadly promote the link to parents. I think the college crowd may just behave a whole lot better if they knew mom and dad were watching.

I will continue to keep my fingers crossed that my 11-year-old remembers what he saw downtown that evening the first time he's confronted with a tough decision surrounding alcohol.

I will also tell him that, if he ends up at UW-Madison, I will never co-sign a lease on the 400 block of Mifflin.

But mostly, I will remind that a good benchmark for decision-making might be whether he'd make the same choice if he knew mom was watching.

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