The Ginger Ale Rules

Mary has this article hanging from the fridge since 2000 when our son Alex was born…

I finally read it today.. goes to show you my level of awareness 🙂

The Ginger Ale Rules by Ed Weathers It was on a warm summer evening in 1978 that my son taught me how to be a parent. Alex was 4 years old at the time, and he was sitting on my living room sofa with a glass of ginger ale. His legs stuck straight out, and the glass, which was about two ­thirds full, rested on his lap. It had a straw in it. Straws are a kind of magic for children: you do something at this end, and some­thing else happens at that end. In this case, Alex was blowing at his end, and the ginger ale was bubbling and gur­gling at the other.

It was at that moment that I discovered what kind of parent I wanted to be. My first impulse was to replay the parent tape that most of us grew up listening to: “Drink your ginger ale,” I almost said. “Don’t play with it.” But I didn’t say that. I didn’t say anything. I just watched my son blow into his ginger ale through a straw. And it was quite beautiful-my perfectly sun-browned son, the straw, the glass, and the bubbles in the pale-gold liquid.

I realized then that there are many ways to enjoy ginger ale, and that as a parent it was my job not to deprive my son of any of them. Sure, you could simply drink ginger ale to quench your thirst. But you could also stick your finger in it to see how sticky it is. or suck it up and down in a straw. You could look at it in front of a fight (it’s really pretty sensational stuff), or listen to it fizz. Or you could just hold the cold glass against your face on a hot night. There must be at least 200 ways to enjoy ginger ale, I thought. Drinking it may be the least of them.

So that’s the kind of parent I decided to be-the kind who would let his son play with his ginger ale. As a divorced single father, I found this decision easy. First, there was no other grown-up around to second-guess me. And second, my sofa was well into stained middle age, so the risks seemed minimal.

But, of course, there were risks to this approach. For exam­ple, what if, blowing into his ginger ale, Alex had begun spilling it all over himself and the floor? I wouldn’t have allowed that. So I came to formulate

“The Ginger Ale Rules of Parenting”:

1) Don’t let your child hurt himself. (“Alex, don’t pour the gin­ger ale in your ear.”)

2) Don’t let your child hurt anybody else. (“Don’t throw that can of ginger ale at the neighbor’s kid.”)

3) Don’t let your child make life harder for other people. (“Don’t force Dad to mop up your spilled ginger ale.”)

4) Encourage your child to try absolutely everything-and to fully embrace life. (“Go ahead, Alex. Play with your ginger ale.”)

Fortunately, my ex-wife had a similar philosophy, but she did hold the reins on my son a bit tighter than I did. (For one thing, her sofa was nicer.) I took care of Alex on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from the time he was an infant, so he grew up adjusting almost daily to our slightly different levels of control. At first this worried my ex and me, but it never seemed to bother Alex. He chafed some under his mother’s tighter hand, but he never rebelled to the point of defiance. And on bigger­ than-ginger-ale issues (should he be allowed to give up his guitar lessons, or should he have his own car?), his mother and I consulted and presented a unified front.

Sometimes I wonder whether a different kind of kid-a docile daughter, for example, instead of a super-charged son-would have led me to this same philosophy. But speculation aside, I pret­ty much stuck to “The Ginger Ale Rules” especially the fourth rule-from the time Alex was little. I held fast to them, even when:

  • at age 5, Alex dug a hole in the yard, filled it with water, took off his clothes, and took a mud bath in front of the neighbors;
  • at age 16, he took off with his renegade uncle and sailed from New Guinea to Australia in a boat with no navigation;
  • at age 24, he quit his job to pursue an MBA and law degree simultaneously, while possessed of no personal income.

And even last year, when, now a grown man, he bought a mastiff puppy, who today weighs 180 pounds. He’s huge, and Alex hugs him the way he hugged me when he was little. Alex named the dog Gatsby, after the larger-than-life character who gave fabulous parties and tried until he died to grasp everything life offered. Gatsby sits on the sofa like a person and adores Alex. He’s clumsy, slobbery, and utterly impractical. He makes me think I’ve been a good parent. He’s the color of ginger ale

Ed Weathers written for the now defunct healthy kids magazine in 2000

So when I came home the other day to find the end of our stone driveway dug up and turned into a water feature, made up of our walkway pavers, I started to get mad, but then remembered the Ginger Ale Rules.


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