The words you speak become the house you live in. –Hafiz
Okay, you will quickly notice that this blog has only the slightest tangential connection to this quote. I just like the quote so much that I thought I would put it in a blog and remember it each time I revised this blog.
What I really want to achieve in this text is the retelling of one of my favorite parenting stories. This story actually segues from yesterday’s story: “Alcohol and the Bell Jar.”
Twenty-one years ago, while my daughter Samantha Anne Michael and I were enjoying ourselves on Sandy Beach, at Alcova Lake, Wyoming, on a late Saturday afternoon, we watched from high up on the slope of the beach, fascinated, as two heavily inebriated “lusters” rolled around on the beach below us, trying to pull off each other’s swimsuit. Sam was only seven at the time and didn’t understand the intricacies of the relationship between sex and alcohol.
She had a sense that these individuals were pretty passionate about something, she just wasn’t able to understand their behavior. She asked me, “Dad, what are those two people trying to do, get sandier?” “Well not exactly, Sam. I think they are drunk and expressing their lust publicly.” Okay, so I hadn’t effectively polished my explanation of public display of the sexual response.
I did take these people’s throes of passion as a teachable moment, however. She asked me why they would be drinking and drunk on a sandy beach on a beautiful day when they could be tubing. I refocused Sam’s attention to the fact that these folks were drunk and I wanted to address the time when she could start drinking alcohol.
Did I mention Sam was seven? It’s never to early to talk about responsible alcohol consumption.
I explained to Sam that alcohol abuse led to unhappiness and that I wanted her life to be a happy one. I had a simple plan that we could follow together that would assure that she and I would always be happy in our lives and with each other.
Sam was all ears.
I explained that when she was born, I came up with a plan to defend her against alcoholism. The plan was simple: I quit drinking beer when she was born. I had not had a beer for as long as she had been alive.
This is a fact that is only impressive to seven-year-olds. I continued that I would not drink another beer (or any other alcohol) for the next seven years, or until she was fourteen.
She asked, “So you are going to start drinking again when I am fourteen?”
I said, “No. I am going to point out to you when you are fourteen, and you are thinking about drinking and getting drunk like those folks in front of us, that I will have given up drinking for fourteen years which is equivalent to two of your lifetimes.”
She did the math. I think she was following my argument.
I continued, “When you are fourteen, you can easily make the choice to delay drinking with your friends until you are twenty-one. When you make that decision at fourteen, and delay your drinking successfully for seven years, I will have not had a beer in twenty-one years. You will have only sacrificed seven years of drinking to my twenty-one year sacrifice.”
That is three of your lifetimes. (Is this using ratios?)
“I made this sacrifice for you because it is that important to me that you get off to a good start, an alcohol-free start, and not end up on a beach rolling around in the sand, frustrated. When you are twenty-one, I can drink beer again.”
Sam’s response? “Why would you want to do that?”
“We’ll talk about that when you are twenty-one.”
When Sam returned home to Eagle River, Alaska, she made a video of her seven-year-old self instructing her fourteen-year-old self not to drink for the next seven years.
She kept her promise; I kept mine. I haven’t ever heard of her rolling around in the sand; it must have worked.
I think they call this “modeling the behavior we want to see in others.” Works, most of the time.
I think this comes under the heading of “Building your house with your words.”