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Should Alcohol Be Consumed At Kids' Events?

Maybe I'm being too harsh and judgmental.

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illustration of alcohol drinks present at a childrens soccer game
Hyesu Lee
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“Hey, we are going out to the parking lot for Tito’s and lemonade if you want to join us.” I heard the voice whisper to me as he snuck away from the crowd of soccer moms and dads who surrounded us under the tent.

My jaw may have literally dropped as I turned around and offered a polite “No, thank you” to the dad who was part of our soccer team family. My blood was boiling and my mind racing. Seriously? This is ridiculous. I felt compelled to say or do something that would accurately portray my utter disgust at this secret, tailgating excursion that was so matter-of-factly presented to me.

It was smack in the middle of the day at a U12 youth soccer tournament, after all. Kids were everywhere. The weekend, or at least this part of the weekend, was supposed to be about this team of 16 — the 11- and 12-year-old girls who were working their butts off to win the annual Memorial Day Tournament. Why did these parents feel the need to add alcohol into the mix?

I had heard them discussing this idea the previous day, and, to be honest, I was frustrated with the tone of the conversation. The dads joked, “Oh, the only thing that could make this better is if we brought a cooler full of brewskis!” Apparently, everyone thought this was a fun, cute and totally acceptable idea. The moms responded with plans to imbibe, “I’m game. Who’s bringing the wine tomorrow?” They giggled as their heads fell slightly back and they threw their hands up in the air, laughing together at this well-concocted plan to bring alcohol to a children’s soccer tournament. I guess I just didn’t believe someone would actually act on this plan, because I found myself shocked when they did.

Why was I so annoyed? Was this truly any of my business? I guess it was nice that he invited me to join in? Maybe I was being too harsh and judgmental. Maybe the source of the problem was me and not the fact that parents were drinking at the child-centered event in the middle of the day. I didn’t trust my own reaction to this series of events, and deep down I knew it wasn’t my place to be the alcohol police. I took some deep breaths and tried to redirect my thoughts and calm my anger.

But I just couldn’t shake it. My anger and discomfort with the situation grew and suddenly it didn’t really matter if it was my business or not. Maybe I didn’t have to act on my emotions, but I certainly had to honor them and not dismiss them.

Because alcohol is my story. And it is my kids’ story, too. It is my past, present and future. Our story — my alcoholism — isn’t going anywhere, despite the fact that I have been sober for nearly six years.

I used to sneak off and drink in parking lots and porta-potties and bathroom stalls at my children’s schools, but I was alone when I did it. The way I drank wasn’t cute or fun or acceptable. I couldn’t stop after one or two or seven. I drank anywhere and everywhere because I could not live or breathe without it. When you have a problem with alcohol, there is nothing cute or fun about sneaking out to drink during your daughter’s soccer game in the middle of the day. It isn’t met with laughter and giggles and hands in the air. It is met with handcuffs and ambulance rides to hospitals and the painful broken hearts of your children. The impact of this type of drinking lasts a lifetime, too. The memories of sadness and broken promises and the fear of it happening all over again stay fresh in a child’s mind for years. They may dissipate, but they also return as unwanted flashbacks triggered by something as minor as a familiar gas station or a picture on a cell phone.

Sobriety and Alcoholics Anonymous teach me that what other people do is none of my business and that I can’t control others, nor should I try. But here I am, months after this soccer tournament, still annoyed by the fact that so many parents joke about alcohol use and support the consumption of alcohol at children’s activities. I wish I could turn the other cheek and say, “Oh well, not my business.” But I can’t. I am still and probably always will be disturbed by parents drinking at soccer tournaments or parties. To me, alcohol will always be poison, and I am fully aware of its ability to ruin lives and destroy families. There are two types of people in this world — those who have a problem with alcohol and those who don’t. If someone has a problem with alcohol, there is absolutely nothing cute or funny or light-hearted about drinking at a children’s event. It is dangerous and sad and most likely a little lonely. And if you are one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have a problem with alcohol, then why, why, why do you need to bring it into your kid’s activities? Can’t you simply wait until you’re home at 6 p.m. and have your glass of wine with dinner?

Alcohol is a drug. Not to all, but to many. By the grace of God, I have accumulated nearly six years of consecutive sobriety. But alcohol is still a huge part of our story — and it always will be. We are still healing as a family, and I have to work really, really, really hard to protect my sobriety. I plan to do so every day of my life until the day I die, because this me — the new, sober me — is the one I love … and so do my kids.