About a week ago I got to watch my seventeen-year-old graduate from high school. Not entirely unlike most teens, it’s been a long haul for her. Relationships ebbed and flowed, then disintegrated completely or rekindled with a passion to rival Romeo and Juliet, all before noon. An earth-shattering crisis one day was often completely forgotten by the next. The stress of upcoming exams, drama productions, or driver’s training was percussed throughout the house as only a teenage girl can implement. The years of teaching, guiding, enduring and reveling, all culminate in this one final moment. Well, more like several hours, but you get the idea.
The planning seems to begin at the end of grade eleven, as the teens discuss the folly’s of the previous graduates and how they’ll do it better. The first grad committee meeting proves to be futile at best and not only will the same mistakes be repeated, but countless more will be made. For example, at what point did parents become advocates for underage drinking in public? I realize my graduation from high school was just shy of the Cretaceous period, but I don’t recall alcohol even being an option. Now there seems to be a common split between parents who want to “enjoy a toast with [their] kid at [their] grad” and those who recognize the law and realize the ludicrousness of this demand. I recall being almost kicked out of a Boston Pizza once for allowing my sixteen-year-old to take a quick sip of my Daiquiri, forgetting that it wasn’t non-alcoholic. How does the law become moot when kids graduate?
Several weeks before grad, my daughter reluctantly approached me with a form. In a feeble attempt to slide the offending paper past my attention, she casually slipped it between some other forms to sign. Unfortunately for her, this was one day that I didn’t just absentmindedly sign whatever field trip forms were frantically thrust in my face minutes before the scheduled departure of the bus; this day, I actually had time to read the forms. Moving my head side to side as I silently read ‘field trip, blah, blah, death, dismemberment, blah, blah, no transport necessary, etc, sign here, next, Safe Grad Alcohol Waiver…’ My head stops bobbing. The relaxed look on my face gone. I meet her hopeful stare with a deadpan glare. Her hopes wain as she launches into her practiced pitch. About thirty seconds into her spiel, I raise my hand to indicate her immediate silence. She complies. I put the paper down on the counter, hand her the others I have signed and let her know that this one will be readdressed after I chat with her dad. She huffs. Gathers her forms and leaves. Apparently there is no other pertinent business at this time.
When I graduated high school, safe grad consisted of an alcohol free graduation. We stayed up all night and played various games. Somewhere along the way, some parents decided to advocate, or even fight for the allowance of alcohol at safe grad. And, they are very vocal about their advocacy. How did this happen? How is it that more than twenty years after my own departure from high school, I am still subjected to peer pressure? I am a competent, capable, assertive parent. Yet, somehow, I’m feeling the crunch. Reading through the form with my husband later, I throw my frustrations at him as though he is somehow personally responsible for this decay in societies respect for the law. “Why isn’t the RCMP doing something about this?” I demand. “All it would take is one email to the principle stating that officers would be doing a walk through and checking ID’s. Done! Debate over!”
He tips his head to the side and shrugs. “All I know is that unless there are problems RCMP won’t be attending.”
“Bah!” Is my eloquent response. “Fine. Then I’m leaving this one to you.”
Two weeks before grad my daughter frantically thrusts the paper in front of me. “The deadline is today! Please sign it!”
Again, I take a moment to scan through the waiver. “12 BOTTLES???? Are they insane? That’s what they’re allowing you guys to have? EACH????” My mouth hangs open as my daughter rolls her eyes. I concede to allow four. No more. Thinking that somehow this compromise has allowed my standing as a parent to remain in tact.
The night before ‘Safe Grad’ I dutifully carry four, plastic bottles of Pina Coloda coolers to the check-in table to be registered as my daughter’s alcohol. I feel like a drug dealer as I conceal my ‘stash’ in a dark plastic bag until I am asked to remove it from the bag. I look around as if I’m expecting an officer to leap from the bushes with a canine version of a shark, both ready to tackle me to the ground, cuff me and save the streets of Westlock from the bad seed I have certainly become.
The woman on the other side of the table greets me with a huge smile and asks how I am. I stammer some form of greeting and discreetly slide my ‘stash’ across the table. The woman, also my doctor’s nurse, asks about my husbands health as he recently visited with a minor ailment. This draws the attention of her co-worker who now realizes where she recognized the nurse from. A mini reunion of sorts ensues as connections are made. The co-worker is brought up to speed on who I am and that my husband is a police officer. I begin to sweat more than the twenty-five degrees had already caused and I am thankful that the sunglasses hide my wide stare. I wipe my forehead and search her paper for my daughter’s name, anxious to end this engagement. Finally the transaction is concluded and I can return to my vehicle where my mother sits ready to confirm what I already felt: like I had betrayed my own sense of values, morals and ethics. Slinking down in my seat, I return to my home and silently berate my spineless behaviour.
Graduation day finally arrives. Curling irons, makeup and nail polish litters our home as preparations are frantically underway. By noon everyone is primped, coiffed and painted, ready for the red carpet event of a young lady’s life. We arrive at the venue and find our seats. Thankfully I used about a can of hairspray as the humidity hits a fevered pitch in the packed auditorium. Finally the grads make their entrance. Uniformly attired in their caps and gowns, they are differentiated only by their elaborate hair styles and choice of footwear; everything from stilettos to flip flops and my daughters choice of lime green, glow in the dark, Converse Hi Tops. After two hours of inaudible speeches, garbled thank you’s and ephemeral words of wisdom, the caps are tossed, camera’s are taxed and we are invited to wait in a large circle while the grads change into their priceless gowns and tuxedos and parade around in front of us so we can all ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ over their garments. Fortunately, I can sew, which saved us hundreds of dollars on a grad dress. Unfortunately, in the construction of the dress, we all ate, slept and bathed with sparkles in places that sparkles just shouldn’t be. If you see a uniformed RCMP Officer who’s particularly shiny? Don’t question it too much.
After the obligatory fawning over the outfits, we exit for more pictures and then head back to our house for a barbecue. Still in her dress, as there is still a dance to come, I run interference to keep the tulle on her dress from becoming a netting of spider webs next to the bushes and tall grass. Gifts are given memories are shared. Sometime later she will be attending the safe grad. The bane of my existence. She is able to stay until 4am.
2:30 a.m. my husband gets the text to pick her up. She’s had enough. After two drinks one friend started to act like she’d had a dozen and another sat in vomit in the bathroom. A classmate demanded she find him some more alcohol or give him the rest of hers to which she refused and the scumbag actually took a swing at her! Safe Grad? Oxymoron at best. I think maybe it’s time to go back to what safe grad was intended to be in the beginning. NO alcohol. Teens were engaging in risky and unwanted behaviour due to alcohol consumption. How does society think that by supervising the consumption, and allowing an amount large enough to cause vomiting, that somehow that’s better? I’m a little lost in that. Hopefully we’ll figure it out before my other kids graduate. I don’t know if my quality of parenting can take another hit.
Jennifer Barry is a writer for The Spectator Tribune.
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