And so it happened.
“Can I just say one thing?” hubby asked as he made me pause mid-rage in an attempt to get me to draw breath and think through my response carefully, his hand gently on my shoulder and his deep blue eyes fixed on me, “Deal with this the way you wish your parents had with you. Alright?”
Bambino, at the age of 14, got drunk. Not at a party, not in the park passing around a cheap bottle of plonk with his mates and not round the corner from Nando’s where he and his friends congregate. Oh no. He got drunk under our roof and right under our noses. It wasn’t a case of “tasting a little” either – he got full-on, dangerously drunk.
It was a weekend like any other and Bambino was just like he usually is (or shall I say, like he USUALLY APPEARS TO BE because right now I don’t know what to believe): happy, chatty and responsible. In fact, when we got up Sunday morning I thought to myself as I went about putting on some coffee that they’d been so good and kept it down. I actually felt really pleased that it’s all going so well and how Bambino is super good at making sure house rules are adhered to. Bambino had the same friend stay who was over last weekend too. This is normal – he usually has one or two mates stay over at the weekends and I always make a fuss of them and do my best to make them welcome. It’s just never occurred to me to search their bags at the door. Earlier in the afternoon there were another couple of boys over too, who left and like Bambino’s other friends they seem straight laced and all come and say hello and tell me thanks for having them when they leave, polite smiles on their faces. So to say I feel like a fucking fool is an understatement.
I was once a teenager too. I knew this was coming. I was roughly Bambino’s age the first time I chugged vodka from a bottle a friend and I had nicked from her parents (and later filled up with water). So it’s not like I was going around thinking Bambino is some little angel who will only taste alcohol once he is of legal age. Hah! That’s a lie. I didn’t see this coming. I did and I didn’t. I think I just didn’t see it happening this way, so brazenly and violently right in front of me. I feel so stupid I can’t even begin to tell you. But I can tell you how my heart was breaking when I last night checked in on Bambino before bedtime and tried to ask him if he’d felt like he couldn’t stop once he started. It was a stupid thing to ask and I don’t know what answer I expected. I got all this so very wrong.
As the coffee is brewing, his little mate emerges from Bambino’s bedroom.
“I think he’s sick,” he tells me.
I go in and Bambino is hanging over the far side of his bed. On the windowsill there is vomit both outside and also inside that has trickled down the wall. I walk over to the foot of the bed and there is dark brown puke pooling on the carpeted floor and again some on the wall too. The stuff on the windowsill is like “normal” vomit looks. The stuff right where Bambino is, is almost black in colour.
“Right, let’s get you breakfast and then I’ll take you home,” I tell Bambino’s friend who meekly agrees, “hopefully you won’t catch whatever he’s got,” I add and give him a friendly pat on the back.
He won’t look at me. This particular kid never says much though, I figure he’s just very shy, so I think nothing of it as I make him some toast and then go back in to Bambino.
“I’m sorry,” Bambino mumbles, eyes half closed and with bits of that horrendous black vomit dried around his mouth and on his pillow, “I’m so sorry, mum, I couldn’t get up to the toilet.”
“Don’t be silly, these things happen,” I tell my poorly child and reach down and squeeze his foot where it sticks out from under the duvet, “but we need to get you in the bath so I can clear this up.”
I draw a hot bath for Bambino and set to work, kitchen roll pushed up my nostrils but even so I keep gagging as I am super squeamish and have to get out of the room a few times to stop myself retching. His friend is eating his toast at the breakfast bar and won’t meet my eye, but he’s quite shy so I chatter away around him as I go back and forth between Bambino’s room and the bin with bags full of kitchen roll I’m using to scoop up the little mounds of black vomit. Underneath the breakfast bar is a built in wine rack and hubby points at them.
“Maybe he was on the red vino?” he says to me and Bambino’s friend and laughs at the silly joke.
I laugh with him. Yeah, imagine that – it’s funny because Bambino’s vomit is dark and the idea is so ridiculous. Bambino’s friend doesn’t look up from his plate and he swiftly leaves when he’s finished. After thanking me for having him as usual.
Being a teenage boy, I suspect it’s pretty normal that cleaning isn’t very high up on Bambino’s list of priorities, so once I’ve soaked the carpet and scrubbed all the puke out we get to work on the rest. We retrieve socks and sweet wrappers from under the bed as well as a plate which has a couple of stale biscuits on it that at a glance have been under there for at least a month. We give the whole room a deep clean and I go to tidy up in Bambino’s wardrobe too, all whilst my poor boy is hopefully getting a nice long soak in a lovely hot bath. I couldn’t tell you if the thought was in my head, if I reached in because I was checking but perhaps the thought was there because there was no other reason for me to reach in there. And there is is. At the back of the shelf where his school jumpers live, is a litre bottle of Smirnoff triple distilled vodka. Filtered ten times. It’s about half empty. Of course. It makes perfect sense.
I knock on the bathroom door and my voice is dripping with a weird mixture of fury and sarcasm. The sort of tone I hope will make Bambino’s blood curdle. My most excellent cold, cunning and fucking MAD psychopath tone.
“This SPA has closed. Bath time over, my friend,” I hiss.
“Whaaat?” Bambino whimpers from the other side of the wall.
I push the door open so it bounces back off the shower wall. It’s a good thing it’s not locked because the force I use would have broken the lock, no doubt about it. How the shower wall (which is glass) doesn’t shatter is a miracle.
“Right mister!” I bark, “Get yourself up, dry off and get dressed. We’re going to have ourselves a little chat,” I snarl as evenly as I can through my teeth and have to stop myself from screaming and kicking the wall.
It’s on my way out when I’m stomping towards the living room that hubby catches hold of me and suggests I should deal with this the way I wish my parents had. This is excellent advice but it’s not what I do. I deal with it in precisely the same way my parents did – I bring out the big guns.
Bambino really is terribly, terribly ill. He is struggling to sit up and any time he sips water from the glass I’ve placed in front of him it comes right back up into the bucket he is clutching on his lap.
“Mum, I have to lie down,” he manages to splutter before water he’s just drunk gushes out of his mouth as well as his nose and into the bucket.
“You’re not going anywhere,” I inform him.
“I feel like I have cancer in my eyeballs,” he whines.
“Good. So you should.”
I want to ask him why, I want to know if this is my fault, I want to know where I’ve gone wrong and I want to understand if he is like me. Did this happen because he’s grown up with a mother who is an alcoholic? A mother who has fallen over drunk head first in front of him? A mother he has come home to almost daily with a glass of wine on the table in front of her? Has this happened because I normalised alcohol? Is this, finally, the result of my failings? The tragic, sad, heartbreaking manifestation of “monkey see, monkey do“? I want to hold him and tell him I’m sorry. I want to make it go away. I want to beg him not to be like me. I want to tell him how I nearly wrecked my life but how he shouldn’t follow in my footsteps. In my chest my broken heart is beating and it’s almost like I can hear the sound of broken glass contracting, loosening, contracting, loosening with each beat. No longer a thump-thump, but a crunching sound.
In this moment I am unable to gauge whether this is a case of what many, many other parents are faced with – a teenager who messed up and got drunk – and what happens as par for the course, or if this is something so much more awful than that. I find it impossible to separate this from my own addiction and what I’ve exposed Bambino to. I am lost. It’s like I’m in a little dinghy in the middle of a stormy sea. I don’t know where the shore is and I don’t know how to navigate my way home. I don’t know how to do this. I am a parent but if this was something you needed a licence to do, this would be the moment mine would be revoked. Disqualified. Barred for life. The sort of person used as an example – a bad one.
What we get from Bambino is a selection of cock and bull stories of how the vodka made its way into his wardrobe. At one point he claims a homeless person gave it to him but eventually it transpires one of his mates brought it in, who had in turn got it from yet another pupil in their year group who got it from an older sibling. Understandably he wants to protect his mates and initially takes the blame but after going through his phone, where he has somewhat unwisely stored both photo and video evidence, Bambino is eventually backed into a corner. I have turned into my father because it turns out it’s the only thing I know how to do. I come down on Bambino and I come down on him hard. One by one, I contact the other parents of the boys who were at ours the day before and the parents of the boy who stayed over. I explain what’s happened and how if I were them I’d want to know. On Bambino’s phone we discover photos from the weekend before where they’ve posed with a bottle of vodka. Not a litre bottle of Smirnoff but a smaller bottle of a brand called Glen. It’s not the first time. Of course this has happened on my watch, when not only Bambino but other children too have been in my care. I send the other parents the photos I’ve found as Bambino squirms and probably tries to make himself believe this is just a bad dream.
This is what scares me the most. You know, if I was still drinking, this could have happened in the same room as I’d be too hammered (and eventually blacked out) to fucking notice much at all, but this is when hubby and I are in the next room stone cold sober. We’re watching the X-Factor followed by our additional, new guilty pleasure I’m a Celebrity Get Me out of Here and then head to bed at about 11pm. And we don’t live in a mansion – this is a two bedroom apartment and Bambino’s bedroom is on the other side of the wall of the living room. They’ve been necking vodka and we had no clue. Not the foggiest. As we always do, we regularly stick our heads in the door to check if they are hungry, if they’re OK, and lastly when we’re off to bed to remind them to keep it down. I’m an alcoholic and imagine I have drunk more than most people. Yet my 14-yearold can get horrifically drunk in the next room and I have no idea. I feel humiliated at the thought that they might have just hid that bottle momentarily when I knocked and then sat there smiling politely back at me and saying goodnight.
Bambino is grounded. His laptop, PS4 and phone are confiscated. He is to go straight to school and straight home after. Between four and five is homework time and after that he can read until bedtime or find a hobby that involves being creative – I will take him to Waterstones and Hobby Craft if he wants to find something to do, but that’s as far as it goes. And his weekly allowance has been suspended. When we get back to London after spending Christmas in Sweden we will reassess. It’s tough and it’s merciless. I don’t think my father’s way was always the right way but I don’t know how else to handle this. Bambino has his work cut out for him winning our trust back. I don’t want to check his friends’ bags at the door (or his!) and I want to be able to trust him. I get that alcohol will make a few appearances and this was always going to happen, and I understand also the odd lie to protect your mates. But the audacity of this, the lies around everything else and some other things we found on Bambino’s phone I can’t so readily understand or forgive.
A million questions whirl around in my head. My heart crunches as it tries to beat. I’m really lost with this. I don’t know how to do this. The truth is I don’t know how I wish my own parents would have dealt with it. I do agree with hubby however, that it has to sting this time and if I were to just remove all his privileges for a week it just wouldn’t be enough. It has to hurt. The scary bit is that this never stopped me or made any difference (I don’t think anyway) to how things turned out with my own drinking. I had the strictest parents of all my friends and until I turned 18 – quite literally the SECOND I turned 18 – they turned up to collect me at 10pm whereas most of my friends regularly were allowed to stay the night at boyfriends’ houses and out the whole night much before then. Would things have been different with my drinking later on in life if my parents had been more relaxed, cut me some slack or let me run wild a bit more? This is the question I can’t answer – can you? Did how harshly I was kept in check make booze more desirable by making it such a taboo? Or if they’d been more chilled, would it have meant I would have spiralled much sooner? Perhaps what they did was perfect? So long as it was within their power they stopped me and thereby delayed my descent into alcoholism and of course, beyond when I was legally an adult there was nothing they could do. I don’t know – I genuinely do not know if they could have said or done anything that had changed anything.
Hubby’s suggestion was of course perfect. Deal with this the way you wish your parents had done with you. The only problem is that I don’t know what that would have been. I can’t see the answer. I don’t know what the right thing to do is. So history is repeating itself because I’m taking my father’s approach. I don’t want Bambino to ever take mine. Open and honest conversations will have to continue, but to be honest this is perhaps what cuts me more than anything else. Bambino KNOWS my story. He knows why I stopped drinking. He knows. And yet..
Feeling a little bit broken this morning but I know we’ll get through this. Bambino is a glorious little person and I just can’t imagine him not turning out great. He might be my son but I do hold plenty of hope he’ll take a good path. I want to believe with all my heart that this is a typical teenage thing and not a warning of things to come. One day at a time, as they say. And isn’t it lucky (yes, let’s find positives where we can) that Bambino’s mother is sober and therefore able to deal with this with a clear mind? I still get so much wrong, but at least I’m not drunk.
Today I’m not going to drink.