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Bottoms Up

I was about to get in the checkout line last week just hours before Ruby’s Halloween party. I double-checked the contents of my shopping cart: a box of red wine, a box of white, two cases of beer, some plastic cups – yep, good to go. And then, right as I wheeled the cart into line, it hit me: Shit! I needed drinks for the kids, too! Oops. So I went back and got some apple juice and some Hawaiian Punch and checked out for real this time.

Later that night, as the parents in attendance all helped themselves to the wine, I confessed my earlier slipup, and the parents were quick to reassure me that they would much prefer that I forget the children’s drinks than the grownups’. “We can just give the kids some tap water if they get thirsty,” said one dad.

A couple from Illinois told me that when their parents came to New Orleans for their son’s second birthday party, they were horrified that there was alcohol at a kid’s party. “Back home,” they said, “if you had alcohol at the second birthday party, you can be sure no one would attend the third.”

They finally were able to convince their parents that it’s OK to serve alcohol at family functions here after sending them a flyer from a PTA fundraiser at their daughter’s Catholic school – sponsored by Bacardi.

My own daughter’s school, a charter, had Bloody Marys and sangria at its spring fair, and I took that as an excellent sign that I would be surrounded by like-minded parents.

Last year for Halloween, a group of parents and I stopped off and got daiquiris (drive-thru, no less) before trick-or-treating with our children. They got candy; we got booze. It was a really fun night for everyone.

Believe me, I’m not trying to make light of the damage alcoholism can inflict on children – I grew up surrounded by alcoholics and have a wary relationship with alcohol myself.

But I do believe there’s a lot to be said for being able to have a drink or two at a child’s birthday party or school event. It makes the forced awkward chitchat with other parents so much more bearable. Again, I’m not advocating parenting while drunk; I’m advocating parenting while drinking. There is a world of difference. (Parenting while hungover is its own category.)

One of my fondest memories of one of my dearest friends, Jim, who died last March, is a drinking-and-parenting one. And yet it seems eerily reminiscent of one of my fondest memories of my sister, who died in May 2009. In both cases, I knew they were drinking more than they should, and in both cases, I chose to drink with them. There’s nothing I would trade for either of these memories, though.

Last year, about this time, in the all-too-short autumn we get down here, Jim and I brought our daughters to Audubon Park. We stopped off at Rite-Aid on the way and got Sprites and M&Ms for the girls and a six-pack of Abita for ourselves, and then we spread a blanket out on the grass and sat in the shade-dappled sunlight and drank our beers and chased our girls and laughed. The things I remember from that day are so vivid: the sunshine on my shoulders, the smear of bright colors from the melted M&Ms on Ruby’s hands and face, the shrieks of fake terror as Jim made his hands into claws and ran after the girls pretending to be a monster. Of all the memories I have of Jim, that is one that I hope never leaves me.

I try to explain this to my friends in the Midwest, how it really is OK here to drink a couple of beers at a park on a gorgeous fall day with your kids.

Some of them get it. Some of them don’t. I don’t really care either way – because I’m here, and I don’t have to justify it to my fellow NOLA parents.

The Halloween party, incidentally, was a smashing success. And at the end of the night, the only thing left was the apple juice.

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