My parents have always been relatively laid back about drinking. They’d assumed that desensitizing their children to alcohol in our teens would make us less inclined to abuse it later on, so they gave us sips of wine at family dinners and allowed us to drink cider at summer picnics. And thus far, their theory seems to be correct. When I started my freshman year, alcohol did not have the same forbidden fruit quality that made it enticing to so many of my classmates who grew up being told that alcohol could never be touched.
But even my lax parents had limits, they claimed. And when it came to talking about my brother’s wedding, we were clearly instructed to watch our alcohol intake in front of family and friends. We were to toast politely to the maid of honor and best man speeches with champagne, smile our perfectly porcelain faces off and dance with the coordination of a fifth grade Cotillion attendee.
Instead, I found myself taking shots outside with my parents while my poor, sweet extended family watched confusedly from inside the glass building. As I savored the hilarious sight of my mother asking politely (but very loudly) for Fireball, the hundreds of obligatory parental lectures starting with “Shots are where it all goes wrong, Malia” flashed in and out of my brain, granting the scene all the more hilarity. My mother, the perfect host, took out her phone to capture the moment — an impulse she later noted she does not recall — and I excitedly pressed the record button. My mother, my best friend, my cousin’s girlfriend and I all made the universal face of disgust, where eyes and mouth and nose shrink and shrivel to prevent any further consumption of that which you have clearly had your fill.
By the time this video was taken, I was so damn sick of Fireball. Once I tried to ask for tequila, but my mother insisted that I drink identically to her (she only wanted Fireball), which I can interpret one of two ways: either some internally sober part of herself was attempting to exert control over the situation, or she genuinely wanted to bond in these moments of shared, ridiculous drinking. I like to consider it the latter.
I’ve learned to understand that my parents will always attempt to parent, because that is what they were trained to do for the first 18 years I was in their lives. But, the more removed I am from the nuclear home that kept our parent-child hierarchy so rigid, the more I get to experience my parents as people. Just people, functioning in the world as I do, taking shots because it’s their son’s wedding and what is alcohol for if not for a celebration like that one. I enjoy those times.
I don’t mean to encourage anyone and everyone to take shots with their parents, but I will say that doing so meant something to me, even as my thinking was clouded by cheap whiskey. I discovered that my family does not always prioritize propriety, but instead places our familial bonds first. My father’s dance moves did not improve as I’d hoped they would with a bit of limberness, but he did smile bigger than he ever had in family pictures. My brother and I danced to Earth, Wind & Fire, though we knew the following day meant separation until the next holiday. And my mother finally relaxed from her unofficial position as ensurer of all things running smoothly to swing her daughter in circles.
When I reported to people that I drank with my parents at a family wedding, they were flabbergasted, amused and more. It is a counterintuitive sort of fun — the kind where you still feel as though a grounding may come after you’ve failed their test. They weren’t testing me, though. They were seeking to connect, to celebrate with me in a way that is somewhat in our blood. They were not bothered that some of their faculties were lost to the wind, blown away by our sparse reception room fans. And I am grateful.
Contact Malia Mendez at mjm2000 ‘at’ stanford.edu.