Like many second graders, Ella raised caterpillars/butterflies this year (hers, inexplicably, was named “Cookies”). During the
captivity period larval stage, she kept a journal, in which she was encouraged to include both facts and fictional elements. After the butterflies were released, she brought the journal home over Memorial Day weekend, and I was pleased to see how much she’d used her imagination. I was also struck by the frequent pop culture references she’d woven into her narrative, especially the ones where she had only a vague idea what she was talking about…
No, she doesn’t have a Facebook account. And following strangers? WTH??Twitter/Facebook mashup, perhaps?
Then, I arrived at a chapter of her journal that contained mostly dialogue (albeit without any quotation marks, making it read like a very disjointed poem), a conversation between “Cookies” and another caterpillar friend, about heading to a restaurant called Nectar for something to eat and drink when they came out of their chrysalises. It was cute and charming, until I stumbled upon this delightful morsel:
“Yes! Yes! I got you to go!”
“But Cookies, the only drink is alcoholic nectar. Gross! Okay, I immediately regret going.”
“Why? Nectar’s good!”
“No, not that.”
It’s always super fun when your second-grader mentions alcohol in a caterpillar narrative. No wonder her teacher was looking at me like that when I came in as the Mystery Reader.
What’s particularly amusing/ironic/bad karma is that I don’t drink very much. I mean, yes, I sometimes enjoy a glass of wine, and on special occasions, we’ll create fun drinks for us and our guests to enjoy, but I’m hardly what you’d call a lush. I didn’t drink at all – not one drop – before college, not because I had a moral problem with it, but because my friends and I
were dorks just never got into it. Even as a college freshman, drinking wasn’t my thing; my roommate declared that “my” song was Adam Ant’s “Goody Two Shoes,” because I neither drank nor smoked. In fact, it took until May for me to actually get drunk, and on that occasion I called my mother — not to “confess,” but because it somehow seemed like a good idea to check in with her while I was hammered. (On the other hand, given that Natty Lite, wine coolers, and Boone’s were the most accessible alcoholic beverages on campus, I was probably wise not to imbibe too often.)
Now that things like Pinot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cosmos have become part of my vocabulary, I have a drink more often, but still very rarely in large amounts. So infrequent are these bouts of over-indulgence, friends who have actually witnessed such occasions trade stories like they’re talking about the war (“I remember where I was when ‘Thriller’ first aired/the Challenger exploded/baby Jessica was pulled from the well, but do you remember where you were when you saw Emily get drunk???”). So it came as more than a little surprising that Ella featured Cookies talking about alcoholic nectar.
It finally dawned on me that she must have been recalling some recent conversations we’d had about drinking. A couple of months back, Nick and Ella had read Because of Winn Dixie, where one of the characters is a recovering alcoholic. Ella’d also just had the perennial favorite Drugs Are Bad lesson from the school nurse, after which she’d asked us about what it means to be drunk. I told her to call my mother. Plus, there are times when we go out to eat and Nick or I will order an alcoholic beverage and the girls will ask for a sip, a request we’ll (obviously) decline. When they were little, we’d simply say, “No, sorry, this is only for grown-ups,” but now that they’re old enough to understand, we explain that there’s alcohol in the drink, so it’s off-limits. At least until they’re tall enough to reach the top of the liquor cabinet and refill the bottles with water so we don’t know what’s missing.
Mystery solved, I reassured myself that surely her teacher wouldn’t think of us negatively — if anything, she’d get a chuckle out of it — and patted myself on the back for my excellent parenting skills. Right about then, I heard knocking at the front door and asked one of my offspring to open it. Because it was Memorial Day weekend, Ella and Annie had been in and out all day playing with the neighborhood kids, one of whom now stood at the door. I called out a hello, thinking that she wanted to play with the girls, but she then made it clear that she needed me: in the coming-and-going commotion, a door had been accidentally left open, and our
jackass dog Joey had gotten loose and was running in the street. Knowing what a pain it can be to corral Joey, I immediately headed toward the neighbor girl and stepped outside, thanking her for holding the door for me. She looked at me a bit quizzically but, being polite, said nothing and came with me to help grab the dog.
It was only then that I realized why I couldn’t exactly “grab” Joey, nor even answer the door myself: my arms were too busy holding these.
At least Cookies’s caterpillar buddy thought that alcoholic nectar was “gross.” Maybe I’m doing something right after all.