The following is a reprint of a column I wrote 25 years ago for The New Canaan Advertiser in Connecticut. My editor asked me to write about tradition and this isn't exactly what he had in mind but then all traditions aren't good things. After it first ran this piece was read by parents of teenagers, and teens themselves and all the feedback I received was "Thank you." I was raising three teens in 1983 and felt passionately about the subject. Today I have teenage grandchildren and am acutely aware that this tradition is unfortunately timeless. Let's begin 2009 by breaking with it. Happy New Year Shepherdstown.
December 30 1982
Well ... how's it going? Flat broke and six pounds heavier than you were a month ago. Right on schedule. I was cowering under the tree amidst the rubble last weekend and got to thinking ... "You know Christmas is really a strange holiday." You spend money like you had it and work and wrap and bake and eat and mail and worry and listen to endless hints and decorate and freeze for weeks and weeks and the whole thing's over in a day and a half.
Why do we do it? Because we enjoy having the excuse for being inordinately pleasant to strangers? Doubt it. Because we're a super religious lot, and this is a religious holiday? Closer. Because we want to thank God for what we have ... health, happiness, our families, our friends, ourselves and we say thanks by buying presents and doing all those material things in our attempt to show everyone how much we really love them? That's it. That's the way I feel about Christmas, and I was blessed with the opportunity to enjoy another one with the people I love most. It was total chaos but sure worth it all. Yes, there's something crazy wonderful about the Christmas season.
We're now solidly into the second week of 4,000-calorie days, and they're fun. That's the scary part. A salad just isn't a salad without a donut.
Anyway, I have not come to bury eating. No Richard Simmons, I have learned to deal with the nutritional lunacy that accompanies the holiday cheer. The occasional gorge will never kill you. For that matter neither will eggnog, nor champagne, nor beer. What can very easily kill you however is drinking them and then driving.
Did you know that drunken crashes kill more teen-agers than anything else? "But I never get drunk" you say "A little high maybe, but never drunk." After careful observation I've decided that when it comes to driving and drinking, a little high is much worse than drunk.
When a teen gets drunk his friends will drive him or her home. Unfortunately just one drink is sometimes all it takes to do the job. Well no one is going to commandeer keys and embarrass a friend because of one drink. So their "friend" gets behind the wheel and starts for home with a song on their lips, maybe a passenger in their car, and definitely slower reflexes ... but no one can call them drunk, maybe just "a little buzzed." There's no problem. New Canaan is all wide curves and hairpin turns and lots of fun in the dark. Perhaps they'll meet someone else in the same boat ... on the same turn. Life is full of near misses ... but not always.
The most important advice I've given my kids on the subject of drinking and driving is "Please stay alive. No matter what problems life might toss you, everything else pales in significance to death. Everything else can be fixed ... somehow. If you kill yourself nothing else is going to matter very much."
I tell them "Call me at two in the morning and I'll come for you. Don't get into a car with someone who's been drinking. And, if you have been drinking for God sakes don't drive. Call me."
Every parent I know feels exactly the same way. When the phone call comes in from Pound Ridge, where as you know the drinking age is 18, or Westport or right here in town, you're momentarily purple but by the time you get to where your child is you're so grateful for their good sense you could cry.
What most teens don't get is that their parents aren't stupid. Nor are they so old and senile that they can't remember twenty five years ago when they were doing the same thing. There's lots of alcohol around today. There was then too.
I came from a little town in New York where, if you could toddle up to the bar with the price of a drink, you could get served, no questions asked. Some people will do anything for money, even sell beer to a 16-year old. I lost six good friends before I was 19. They all died in cars. They all had been drinking. None were alcoholics. Two weren't even driving. They were just kids ... novice night riders with impaired good sense.
What a waste ... a stupid waste. It must not happen again this New Year's Eve or any eve. Let's try to ensure that. Parents, talk with your children. Bartenders, and you know who you are, stop serving them. And to you ... New Canaan's precious future ... please drive safely and soberly tomorrow night. If you have even the slightest inkling that you can't ... then don't. We do love you so and don't want you to become a statistic against a tree, a stone wall or another car careening around the same curve being driven by someone older but not necessarily wiser.
The new year is a time for new hope and fresh promise and lots of love. That's my wish for all of you ... Enjoy to the fullest a nice healthy start to your most wonderful year yet.
- Sue Kennedy is a former public relations executive and Emmy Award winning screenplay writer.