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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Commentary: Ricardo

(Editor’s note: The following commentary by Westport-based writer Jessica Bram was broadcast today on WSHU-FM. Click here for the audio version.)

By Jessica Bram

The name was familiar, but I couldn’t quite place the face. Then my son David reminded me that his high school classmate Ricardo, the boy who died a week ago Saturday night falling off a Quinnipiac University third floor balcony, had been a frequent poker player at our house these last few years. Only then did I remember the dark-eyed, sweet-faced boy.

I always loved it when my sons’ high school friends gathered here for poker. They would crowd our small dining room and kitchen tables, often spilling onto the patio and back yard. When a recent New York Times article decried the dangerous rise of gambling among Westport’s privileged youth, I scoffed. Where else would I rather find my sons and their friends than safely under my own roof, with never a beer can? Heck, there was never even a girl in sight.

But best of all was the overheard repartee, the rough guffaws and the incomprehensive jabs and jokes that rattled and flew as fast as poker chips over the polished wood table. Eavesdropping from my room upstairs, it was hard not to notice how my own son’s voice would lower by about three registers, when undergoing this very male ritual. Finding Oreo crumbs and empty Gatorade bottles under the table the next morning was a small price to pay for this priceless glimpse into this wonderfully male rite of passage.

But those days of having my teenagers safely under my roof suddenly seem long in the past, now that my sons, like their friend Ricardo, have left for college. I’m frequently congratulated at having two sons smart enough to have gotten into very fine universities. But not so smart, I well know, to realize that they are not the indestructible beings that they think they are. That no matter how many times it may happen to a classmate, their car will never smack up. They can handle the beer and the rum-and-Cokes that their dorm counselors turn a blind eye to, despite their below-drinking age status. Just as I turned a blind eye to how David and his friends celebrated this summer when he turned 20 just a year short of drinking age, but oh, so adult.

I asked myself again last week: what do I do as a parent, knowing how terribly fragile are my supposedly indestructible sons? The time for heart-to-hearts about the dangers of drinking, the chance to confiscate the car keys, are long past. If my sons haven’t learned good judgment by now, I reason, it’s too late for me to teach them. Life will have to take care of that.

And sadly, life certainly did take care of that last week, for Ricardo and for all of his indestructible friends. There was some report of Ricardo’s alcohol blood level when he fell off the balcony that Saturday night at 2 a.m., but the details are unclear.

So I do the only thing a parent of college boys can do. I try not to think about cars that wrap around utility poles. I push from my mind thoughts about alcohol blood levels, and all the stupid, dangerous things that boys can do in even the safest places, like their college dorms. And I know that no new Underage Drinking ordinance, something being hotly debated in Westport these days,  and no police officers at the door are going to make that danger go away.

A small cooler, the size of a six-pack, was left at our house after the last gathering of college boys here this summer. When I drove David from the train station to Ricardo’s wake this week, he told me that the cooler belonged to Ricardo. I didn’t ask what was in it when it got here. Nor whether Ricardo’s parents would want it back.


Posted 09/29/05 at 05:35 PM  Permalink


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After reading the column by Jessica I hope all Westports will realize the need for an under-age drinking ordinance in our town.

Posted by ann marie flynn on September 30, 2005 at 07:45 PM | #

Ann Marie, I guess you missed this part of Jessica’s column:

“And I know that no new Underage Drinking ordinance – something being hotly debated in Westport these days – and no police officers at the door – are going to make that danger go away.”

Posted by JeffK on September 30, 2005 at 07:52 PM | #

I am so, so glad to read the NPR piece by Jessica Bram, someone who is such a thoughtful mother with real insights about her grown children. The paradoxes she is describing are very real and not dismissable with easy answers. Whatever is decided about the Underage Drinking ordinance, it is still difficult to raise kids today, and I am grateful to Jessica for sharing her feelings. Fabulous piece, and NPR is so lucky to have a writer like Bram doing commentary for them.

Posted by Linda Smith on October 01, 2005 at 03:01 AM | #

I enjoyed listening to this on the radio, just as I enjoyed a previous one by Ms. Bram about her house and Westport teardowns. My only criticism about this one was her line saying something like she is glad her own two sons got into very respectable colleges or something like that. Sounded like the typical Westport compulsive parent, which is not my opinion of her otherwise. And she did not need to brag about her own two kids when discussing the death of their friend.

Posted by Mike R on October 01, 2005 at 07:41 PM | #

Mike R: IF you were to simply re-read her piece, you will see that she is NOT bragging—her point being that she cannot rest easily despite the fact that her kids are deemed “smart enough” to get into good schools; that does not guarantee that they will be “smart enough” to avoid making bad choices that will affect their safety and survival….

Mrs. Bram: you wrote a beautiful and insightful piece and the thoughts you share candidly are ones that go through my mind daily, altho my son is only 5 years old…I wonder how my husband and I can teach him how to make the right choices when he comes of age and we no longer have a say in what he chooses to do and how he chooses to do it….

Alchohol is not the problem here: it’s our attitude toward it and what we choose to do with it. I personally think a great deal of the problem in this country with underage drinking is simply due to the puritannical attitudes we have towards alcohol. Let’s face it: human nature is that many people want something if it’s considered “taboo,” add to that the fact that drinking is also something that only “adults” are “allowed to do.” Talk about dangling a carrot in front of a young person! Just dare them to try!

As a nation, we withhold alchohol from our young adults and then suddenly, when they turn 21 and are no longer under our tutelage, we say “here it is, drink it responsibly”...well, what does that mean??

My European cousins all scoff at the “stupidity” of the Americans with their obsession about not being “allowed” to drink as young adults, who then overdo it and drink to excess once they have access to alcohol.

I, for one, plan to teach my son how to appreciate wine (and beer) and enjoy it responsibly (once he is a young adult, he will have the option to savor a glass of wine at our table and understand the pleasure of wine, or champagne or beer (we don’t care for hard liquor) and learn how and when to enjoy and how and when to stop.

Now, does that mean if the “Underage Drinking Ordinance” passes, that the police will be knocking at MY door?

Posted by MADD (Mother Against Dumb Drinkers) on October 04, 2005 at 01:56 PM | #