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A 'Teachable Moment' Goes Awry

But another one always waits in the wings

The weather for the first part of April vacation was, if you recall, simply summer-like. As the thermometer inched upward, the week ahead loomed with painfully little to do; many families had already left town. On the spur of the moment, I decided to pack up the kids and head to our favorite beach in Rhode Island for a quick overnight. My kids were more excited for the hotel pool and hot tub than for a romp on the beach and splash in the ocean.

We spent a lovely afternoon playing by the seaside, ate a fresh fish and chips dinner outdoors, and by evening the kids were eager to hit the pool deck.  Other than two boisterous young women in the hot tub, the pool itself was pleasantly empty. As we grabbed towels and chairs, I noticed four or five empty beer bottles scattered around the hot tub. It become clear in seconds that the young women were not just being excessively chatty. They were drunk. Very drunk.

My heart sank.

Before I could even contemplate my next move – do I notify a manager? – the women began their attempt to exit the hot tub. Apparently, this is not a simple task when inebriated. One woman fell out of the hot tub and crashed into the empty bottles, which sent them careening across the pool deck. The friend, who had successfully maneuvered her exit, offered some form of assistance. Then they both fell. Shrieks of laughter ensued.

In what felt like an eternity, but was really less than a minute, the women managed to successfully gather their things and leave. The beer bottles, however, remained scattered.

My kids just stood there – looking from me, to this spectacle, and back to me again.

“What’s wrong with them?” my 12 year old asked.

For a split second I considered playing dumb, but then I thought better of it. Let this be a teachable moment.

“They drank way too much beer and became drunk,” I offered as explanation.

“Oh,” she smiled knowingly, “like the beer goggles we wore in DARE [Drug Abuse Resistance Education] last year.”

“Exactly,” I said. “When people drink too much, they often become sloppy.”

“Those goggles were so fun!” she said, remembering the experience with a little too much fondness for my liking. “My friend Katy asked if she could get a pair for her birthday.”

What?!

Now, I’m too old to have experienced a DARE program first-hand, but I am pretty sure the point of the beer goggles experience is not to create a longed-for state of being. How is it that all she remembers from the beer goggles experiment is that they were really “fun”? How is it that a fifth grader requests them for a birthday present?

“Honey,” I said calmly, while tossing empty beer bottles into the trash – where even more empties were located – “forget the goggles for a minute. Those girls were disoriented. A mess. Their judgment was seriously impaired. All of that is not good. In fact, it’s ... ”

Splash!

She was in the pool. And as quickly as it had began, the conversation was decidedly over; the teachable moment had passed. As I sat there watching my kids ease into the same hot tub those two women had just stumbled out of, I couldn’t help but think I’d squandered my chance to impart something meaningful.

This is one of those things about parenting that I’ve never gotten used to: it’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of job. When you least expect it, you need to be prepared to offer a life lesson on one of a zillion possible topics. The moments are offered and revoked in a nanosecond.

As my children get older, I expect this topic will come up again. Admittedly, I hope the beer goggles are forgotten.

In the meantime, another teachable moment was presenting itself: the pool was ice-cold freezing and the hot tub could be more accurately described as a cool tub. So the kids would not miss a teachable moment after all.

They were about to see me model how to advocate for your needs with a hotel manager.

Robin Cushman Phillips May 01, 2012 at 09:38 PM
Hahahahahaha!!!!! This one had me cracking up. I can just see Julia chatting about the goggles and then disappearing before you can finish your sentence. No doubt, you will have many more opportunities to figure out what you want to teach them and then how you will get them to listen. :-)

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