Sunday, February 18, 2007

Asking all the wrong questions

Last month TODAY show host Meredith Vieira asked Web log diarist Melissa Summers of Suburban Bliss, on live television, to explain the difference between a mom and a babysitter when it came to drinking on the job.

She wanted to know why the double standard: If you wouldn't let a babysitter drink while they were watching your children why would you?
And the gloves came off.

All over the Internet mothers wielded pitchforks and demanded blood. Many of them ask why the media is so insistent on holding mothers at arms length and dropping them in a pit together to see which of them survives the rumble?

Vieira's question comparing moms to babysitters came out of a puff piece about women who gather together at play dates and simultaneously pop the cork on a bottle of wine. It turned into a debate, led by Vieira and flanked by "expert" Dr. Janet Taylor, about whether mothers should drink at all in the presence of their children (unless of course there's a man around, or in the event of a neighborhood/backyard barbecue ... you know, where men might be socializing, too). That to do so would not only be modeling bad behavior, but also jeopardizing the health and well being of the children.

The reasoning? Just in case these silly women all get schnockered, a kid falls on his head and requires a trip to the emergency room. Lordy, who would be able to drive?

I've been watching the backlash with some degree of humor.

Are they serious? They were not talking about bringing a bottle of vodka to Mommy and Me. They were talking about a single glass of wine while the kids are tearing up the yard. Who would worry about that? Would you not call an ambulance in the case of a REAL emergency anyway?

But I know there are people out there whose lives have been indelibly marked by ravages of alcoholism, and they are applauding the segment.

They say social drinking in this country is horribly misunderstood. That folks don’t really understand their own tolerance, no matter what they think it to be.
That in fact, statistically, 1 in 10 people has a problem with alcohol and doesn’t even know it.

And when you know this, why would you risk having any amount of alcohol when you are driving the kids around.

I still don't think asking a mother to define the difference between herself and a babysitter when it comes to "drinking" on the job is a fair question. Being a mom shouldn't be considered a job as much as a part of life. Alcohol is a legal substance, sold in restaurants, bars and other places where driving to and from is necessary. The same question would never be asked of a man who takes junior to the ballgame and washes down his hotdog with a beer. NBC wouldn’t film a story about such an outing.

And I think that when we are talking moderation, the issue really shouldn't be such a lightning rod. One glass of wine when combined with an hour and a meal or snack does not a health hazard make.

But perhaps the fairer question would have been How do you KNOW what your tolerance is and that you haven’t exceed it? And if you see someone exceed their limit what would you do?

It might have even added emphasis if the barrage of questions included the more personal "Have you EVER drank more than you intended?"

Those are fair questions.

This month Albany County Legislator Ann Comella reportedly refused a limousine ride home after a night out at a bar. Instead she got into her car, drove the wrong way on Alternate Route 7, crashed into another motorist and died.

She wasn’t caring for children at the time, but she was drinking socially. And apparently she thought she was in fine shape to drive.

Those are the questions we should be asking ourselves –- women and men, mothers and fathers -- every time we set out to just have one drink.

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