Get Real


Some Sobering Talk About Teenage Drinking

As high school graduations approach and “sober grad nightsÂ&emdash; fill up the calendar, we talk to local teenagers and their parents about trends in underage drinking. Read on—you might learn something surprising.

Seventeen-year-old Meredith Meade recently got busted for drinking with her teenage friends.

No one got hurt. No one got sick. No one even got drunk.

That wasn’t even the point. The college-bound, honor-roll high school senior and a group of her college-bound, honor-roll friends thought up and carefully planned a fancy cocktail party for the weekend Meredith knew her parents were planning a trip (the first time she had ever been left alone overnight).

It was an exclusive affair—six girls total—and no boys allowed. “We kept it very quiet for that reason,Â&emdash; Meredith explains. “And I made everyone spend the night, so that no one was driving.Â&emdash;

Meredith and her friends got all gussied up, mixed exotic drinks from recipes they got off the Internet and took pictures of each other posing with colorful cosmopolitans and mai tais, “‘Sex and the City’ style,Â&emdash; says Meredith.

The day her parents returned, neighbors called Meredith’s mother to report what they had seen that night: the cars parked in the driveway and in front of the house, the bevy of beauties parading in, the house lights on until the wee hours.

Inside the house, and after the fact, other clues of something amiss surfaced: a water bottle in a cupboard, wine mix in the freezer Meredith’s mom didn’t remember putting there, a bottle of rum rolled up in a towel in the linen closet.

Finally, when Meredith’s parents logged on to their daughter’s web page and saw some of the pictures from the party posted on the website—of the girls in their fancy dresses, wearing pearls, posing with drinks in hand—they had all the proof they needed.

 Isn’t it ironic that Meredith’s mother, Marie, sits on the steering committee that’s planning Rio Americano High School’s Sober Grad Night this year?

No, say most teens.

No, admit most parents—when pressed.

Bob Jarman, the director of student activities at Folsom High School—one school in the area that strictly enforces “a real zero-tolerance policy toward alcohol use among its student body,” he states—openly admits that Sober Grad Night is primarily symbolic.  “It puts the partying and the drinking off for a night or two.”
Sober Grad Nights began as a response to efforts by organizations that have included the California Highway Patrol and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Their mission? To keep teenagers safe, sober and off the streets on graduation night.

Like all the other Sober Grad Night parties the majority of area high schools sponsor every year, Folsom High School’s Sober Grad Night party is organized by the parents of the school’s seniors and chaperoned by parents of juniors and sophomores. “For liability reasons,” explains Jarman, “it’s a non-Folsom High School function,” because students, officially graduated, no longer attend the school. Most Sober Grad Nights feature activities for graduating seniors along the general theme of a “casino night,” with poker tables and roulette, psychic readings and raffles for prizes that include CD players, laptops, airline tickets and other incidentals college freshmen would probably enjoy.

At these events, commonly, students check in early in the evening and are not allowed to leave the party until sunrise. (If one chooses to leave, a parent must come to pick the student up—even those 18 and older.)
Graduates are frisked at the door. What they are allowed to bring into the party is rigidly restricted: no car keys (so they can’t sneak out and drive off), no cell phones (so they can’t call friends and strategize how, when and where to hide illegal substances), no food or drink (no fruit injected with vodka), no backpacks (for obvious reasons). 

It hardly sounds like a way most seniors would want to celebrate their newly acquired freedom from high school, from curfews, from life at home with the ’rents.

But surprisingly, most of these Sober Grad parties are attended by upward of 80 percent of seniors who graduate each year. Some schools, such as Rio Americano, put on such a great party, it can boast a 95 percent attendance rate.

“Historically, graduation night is the most dangerous night in a teenager’s life,” says Shelley Morgan, who co-chairs the Rio Americano Sober Grad party event this year. Her daughter, Whitney—now a freshman at University of Southern California—attended the party last year. “Our only goal in organizing this event is to keep the kids safe for that night—to throw a big party for the kids where they can relax, have fun with people they may never see again, and do it sober and safe.”

Meredith—the aforementioned party host and Rio senior—will be attending the event, and insists these graduation parties have overcome any “dork” factor they might have suffered from when parents first started organizing them more than a decade ago.

“[Sober Grad Night] has become part of the graduation tradition. Most of your friends go, and you feel like you’re missing out if you don’t go,” says Meredith, who is headed for California State University, Chico, next fall—and no doubt knows plenty of opportunitites for not-so-sober party nights await her there.
Not that it matters, she insists. She doesn’t drink irresponsibly, and adds that there are plenty of kids like her. 
The recently reprimanded Meredith believes the teen drinking-and-driving thing—the whole teen drinking thing, in fact—is kind of, well, blown way out of proportion.

“There are some kids who party to get really messed up, but for the most part, kids these days don’t really believe that you have to drink to have a good time,” Meredith says. “We don’t feel any real pressure to drink. No one’s going to think less of you if you don’t drink. The other night, that movie She’s All That, was on television. It portrays kids my age as being these wild, out-of-control partiers—tearing houses apart, driving cars into pools, getting wasted. In all those movies, kids are getting drunk and doing really dangerous, irresponsible things, like cheerleaders having sex with nerds and such, and laughing about it. . . .  I think that’s a stereotype. Most kids I know don’t party like that. Most kids I know just want to walk around with a cool-looking drink.”  

Parents tend to disagree. And there is plenty of research to back them up: Studies show that those who begin drinking at age 15 or younger are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who hold off on drinking until age 21—a statistic that’s especially scary because many studies put the average age of an American teen’s first drink at age 13. Alcohol consistently remains the American teenager’s No. 1 “drug of choice,” even as marijuana use and smoking rates decrease. The National Institute on Drug Abuse cites that numbers of teens drinking increased 16 percent from 1993 to 2000, and its 2000 study, “Monitoring America,” states that one in four eighth-grade students and four in 10 10th-graders reported drinking in the last month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 million regular consumers of alcohol are underage. Research also indicates that a young brain’s exposure to alcohol, while still in stages of development, can have permanent effects on intellectual capabilities, causing learning disorders and behavioral issues. And, of course, almost half of the approximately 2,200 Americans who die annually in auto crashes caused by drinking (although not necessarily legally intoxicated) drivers are passengers in the car.

Among students younger than 21 in the United States, 50,000 experience what is reported as alcohol-related date rape; some 430,000 are assaulted by another person who has been drinking.

For all these reasons and more, the parents who are organizing the Grad Night activities at Elk Grove High School have decided that the only “cool” drink guests will be carrying at that function is Red Bull.
To their credit, these parents—Elizabeth Atkins, Newton Ekpo and Mary Jane Sterne (who all have daughters in this year’s graduating class), to name just three—have been working hard all year long to give the seniors a party they’ll never forget; a party so thrilling, it’ll make the kids forget all about the fact that they can’t do what kids are famous for doing on graduation night: getting wasted.

They’ll be Breathalyzing their guests all night long, and anyone suspected of having had so much as a drop of alcohol to drink must leave immediately—and only in the custody of his or her parents. Atkins knows these kids will be there; they show up every year. And their parents sometimes seem as clueless about the whole point of the activity as their children.Go figure.

“In the past, we’ve had to call parents when a child is suspected of drinking, and the parents whine about having to come get their son or daughter,” says Atkins, who has been organizing the Elk Grove event since her oldest child was a graduating senior in 1999. “They say, ‘Can’t he just stay there?’ And we’re like, ‘No this is Sober Grad Night.’ What part of that do parents not get?”

As these parents are seated around a table with three Elk Grove High students who also are on the commission to plan this year’s Sober Grad Night, Sterne admits she experimented with alcohol in high school, and says she is open about this with her daughter, Brittaney. She hopes that her daughter will learn from her example. “It isn’t OK,” she adamantly insists when it is suggested that all teenagers are inevitably going to experiment with alcohol—just as she did.

“I’m not naive. I know my child has been in situations where someone, one of her friends, will be drinking. But it’s my responsibility to let her know that it’s illegal, that it’s unacceptable, that she is not allowed to break the law.” Sterne claims her daughter tells her everything. “She regularly tells me what she and her friends are up to—partly because nothing escapes my radar. She knows that I’ll know if she’s not being honest with me.”

Ekpo is the father of two girls and a boy. His daughter, Elaine, will be graduating from Elk Grove High School next year. “We immigrated from Nigeria,” he explains. “Our values are very different from those of other families we come in contact with. My children know that there are certain moral choices that you make, that to live in our house and be a part of our family, you live your life a certain way. You do not break the rules.” Ekpo explains how, when his children are invited to a party at a classmate’s house, he calls the parents beforehand; he will go to the door and introduce himself. “I tell them there are certain things we do not do. I make sure there is no drinking, no drugs.”

Ekpo is very involved in youth ministry, Sterne in Scientology. Sterne explains that, like Ekpo’s children, as a result of this moral grounding, her daughter “has higher standards of moral behavior than most kids her age, a more developed sense of what is right and what is wrong.” Ekpo and Sterne admit they are strict. They’re even a little proud of it.

“They hate you for it now, but they love you for it later,” says Sterne.

Atkins will not go so far as to say that her daughter, Lauren, is open and honest about everything she does with her friends. In fact, she can recall incidents—with Lauren and with her other children—where she had to “keep asking questions” to get at the truth. But she does believe that by being involved in activities like Sober Grad Night, parents like herself are sending an important message to teens: “That we care about your safety, that we want you to be safe, that you don’t have to bow to peer pressure and drink to have a good time on grad night or any other night.”

Atkins hopes that the decision to attend Sober Grad Night is “the first of many smart decisions” the graduating seniors will make when it comes to events like this—events that usually encourage drinking.
 But, she admits, it’s only one night. “I know I have no way of knowing what these kids, what my own kids, are up to all of the time. I’m sure my kids aren’t completely candid about what they do late on Saturday nights. I don’t know that any parent [knows], really.”

This becomes painfully obvious when two of the three Elk Grove seniors at the table chime in.
That’s also when it gets interesting.Kehlee Rose, 17, was recently driving home from a friend’s house when she was hit by a drunk driver.An adult drunk driver, she is very quick to point out.

She says that, by the time kids are her age, they have either started drinking—and do so pretty heavily—or show up at the “open houses” (house parties that kids throw when their parents go away for the weekend) but don’t drink. Or don’t drink much, depending.

“I know enough not to drink and drive,” says Kehlee. “Most of my friends know enough not to drink and drive. But I go to these parties—and I don’t always tell my parents about them and I don’t always tell them the 100 percent truth about what I do,” she admits.

She adds, “Some of the kids who drink a lot plan to go to the Sober Grad Night party. They say they’re still going to show up and drink.”

Karole Blythe, also 17, says she, too, hides stuff from her parents—despite the fact, she goes on to add, that her stepfather insists she wouldn’t be able to, ever: “My stepfather was what I guess you’d call a stoner in his day. He tells me he smoked pot and did ‘all that stuff,’ and he says, ‘I know what kids do. You’ll never be able to get away with that stuff because I can spot it.’”

Karole is smiling—a tad coyly—and almost delights in adding that in her experience, kids start going to these parties and experimenting with alcohol and “all that stuff” about the time the parents start trusting their kids more—allowing them to drive, extending their curfews.

“And parents think they know who the good kids are,” she adds. “Kids who get good grades and are on student council and whose parents are good people, or whatever; if you say you’re hanging out with them, they think those kids never drink or do anything stupid.”Kehlee agrees that often it’s those kids who are the wildest.

“It’s up to each kid,” says Karole. “Parents gotta realize that, and try to trust and let go. Especially at my age. I’m a 4.10 student. I’m trying to get a scholarship to Cal State Fullerton; I hope to be there next fall. I’m not going to do anything to mess that up—though I have the opportunity to mess it all up every single weekend.”

Who has more influence over their behavior—over the choices such as to drink or not to drink, choices they make at times like these: parents or peers?Peers, says Kehlee, “hands down.”

“Who you hang out with usually determines what you’ll do and when you’ll do it. Not just because you want to be cool, but because these are your friends. Friends do stuff together,” explains Kehlee. Logically, she adds, “if adults are telling you drinking is bad, don’t ever drink, but your friends are all drinking and still keeping it together, getting into the top schools and staying on the dean’s list and all that, you start to think —actually you start to see for yourself—that drinking a little is OK; it can be fun.”

She pauses, adding, “Parents just don’t factor in. I love my parents and totally respect them, but I’m closer to my friends, and I’ll tend to have more in common and want to have more in common and relate more with people my own age. And, I mean, I think that’s normal, I think that’s something parents should expect.”
“Parents aren’t supposed to be their kid’s best friend,” says Karole. 

Over at the other end of the table, the Sober Grad Night parents are very quiet. As a joke, Atkins covers her ears.Everyone laughs, but you could slice the tension with a knife. 

Both Kehlee and Karole insist they have the driving/drinking thing nailed into their heads. They know that’s something you don’t do. But when quizzed on the other dangers of alcohol—its effect on the 17-year-old brain; how it affects women differently from men; the dramatic increase in poor sexual judgment among women who drink, leading to encounters that can result in rape, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases; even the genetic component behind drinking that researchers have discovered some people are born with—these kids stare back blankly. They don’t recall any of this stuff from their health classes, they say.
It becomes painfully obvious that they’re clueless.

Minutes later, after the teens have left the meeting for class, it is Ekpo who suggests that maybe Sober Grad Night isn’t enough. “Maybe what we need more is Sober Grad Night education.”So, What Can Parents Do?Good question, say experts.

“Teenagers are in a very complex stage in their development,” says Jeanette Phelan, a marriage and family therapist in Sacramento. “They are struggling with a normal need to belong, to fit in with their peer groups and, at the same time, are trying to individuate from their parents. When parents say don’t do something—which I might add they often do because of religious or cultural traditions—it can be an automatic invitation to do it. Parents who take an extremely rigid and extremely demanding stance to this adolescent questioning, who say, ‘You can’t do this because I said so and I’m the parent,’ are setting the stage for rebellion.” Phelan adds that the rebellion may not occur openly, or even right away, “but it almost surely will happen.”

“Teenagers have bull- – – – detectors that are on high alert almost all the time,” says Phelan. “If parents have double standards—if they drink, even responsibly—but tell their kids not to drink, even responsibly—‘because you’re not old enough,’ kids won’t buy it. A parent’s response to these kinds of questions is crucial, and that response alone simply doesn’t work.”

A more effective approach, says Phelan, is for parents to explore with their teenagers the reasons they—both parties—imbibe. “What is it about that one beer or that one glass of wine that you feel you need?” Phelan suggests. “Kids drink for the same reasons adults drink: to feel different. There’s a need not being met.” Some of the reasons teenagers drink may be more peer-oriented than they may be for adults, she admits, but basically, says Phelan, “We drink because it’s a social activity and because it’s fun. Parents who are concerned about their children’s drinking—given they assume it will happen at some point during the teen years—need to take a look at their own drinking habits and behaviors as well.”

Phelan applauds parental efforts such as Sober Grad Night as a “legitimate effort, a safe place for kids to go and have a good time,” but insists that parents need to remember that efforts such as these get all their power from peer involvement. (Kids attend and set an example for others.) “As for the adults, well, kids see adults drinking at the celebratory events in their own lives—or at any event, even dinner—and the hypocritical do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do element of it is not lost on them,” she argues.

(Or, as one St. Francis High School senior, who did not wish to be named, put it, “Sober Grad Night. OK. Then how about Sober Wedding Reception? Sober Christmas Office Party? Sober Super Bowl Party? I’m game if they (the adults) are.”)

“It’s much harder to be a teenager these days than it was when we were growing up,” Phelan says. “I often wonder how well-equipped today’s parents are. I think all parents of teenagers should be equipped with some knowledge of addiction and substance abuse; they need to know what the signals are—from the obvious (trouble with the law) to the subtle (mood swings).”

According to Phelan, parents also need to have the facts ready to discuss with their teenagers: why drinking at a young age is so dangerous, how it damages the developing brain, how drinking affects boys differently from girls, how just being around others who are drinking can be dangerous. They need to make kids aware of the laws they are breaking, especially once they turn 18 and will be prosecuted as adults, she says. Parents need to admit that they have made and continue to make bad choices, and they need to answer questions, confront the challenges to arguments they present to their children and admit when they are wrong.
Phelan goes so far as to suggest that parents of teenagers equip themselves with some basic understanding of adolescent development and psychology.

And finally, says Phelan, parents need to get help if they need it. “And consider doing it before trouble occurs. It’s certainly beneficial to do this before an incident—an arrest or a suspension from school—requires it.” Phelan says part of the problem she has in family counseling is that kids pulled into sessions are resistant because they feel stigmatized. “Parents who are concerned about keeping communication lines open with their children—who feel they need either an objective third party or a little more knowledge in adolescent psychology as a resource for advice and support—should look into professional help.”

The Ties That Really Bind

Teenager Riley Fike recently called his parents at 3 a.m. because he had had too much to drink at a party and needed his father to come pick him up and get him home safely.Riley is a freshman at UC Davis.

Riley’s mother organized his Jesuit graduation party night last year. Area Catholic high schools Jesuit, Loretto and St. Francis together sponsor a grad night party held at an “undisclosed location.” Riley’s mother admits that one year Jesuit students, knowing the party would be at Country Club Lanes, hid beer there ahead of time. (This year, Rio will hold its sober grad night event at Country Club Lanes. When parents asked about the possibility of this happening again, they were assured that Country Club Lanes employees “know all the hiding places.”)

Tracie Fike sent her son to Jesuit after eight years of public school; it was as a student at Arden Middle School that Riley had his first hands-on experience with a peer who drank.

“The guy was 13, and he got the booze from his older brother, which surprised me, because I didn’t think his older brother was the type that would let him drink,” recalls the 18-year-old. “I think when you start that young, it turns out to be a sign of bad things to come. That was the case with this guy.”

Riley says that he had many opportunities to drink as a teenager—once overseas with his family in Europe, where it’s legal; a couple of times on vacation in Mexico, where it’s also legal; and many times as a high school student here in Sacramento—where it’s illegal. Those times, Riley was able to call his parents, explain his condition and request a ride home. No questions asked.

Yeah, drinking younger than age 21 is illegal, Riley admits, but adds that it’s a stupid law. “It’s stupid because it’s going to happen, and parents know it’s going to happen, but they can’t let it happen. The obliviousness of parents to the fact that kids are going to drink before they’re old enough to do so is a major, major problem. Parents are put in this horrible position of having to close their eyes to what their kid is going to do. They’re not allowed, by society, by the law, to address this issue with their kids realistically.”

Riley says his parents knew right away what their options were. “They could either close their eyes to the fact that I would be going to parties and drinking with other kids—in secret, unsupervised, hiding it from them—or I could be honest with them about where I was going and what I was doing and have the option to call home for help if I drank too much.”

Riley recounts how his friends would lie to their parents about where they were going every weekend. “Some told their parents they’d seen the same movie five or six times,” he says. “But me, I could tell my parents, ‘I’m going to so-and-so’s house, and there will probably be beer, and I may drink, and I may need a ride home.’”

This level of honesty has continued on through his first year in college. When his parents call, as they usually do on a Saturday or Sunday morning, Riley is able to honestly tell them what he was up to the night before. “I can say I’m so hungover, I had like eight beers, instead of saying I was up all night studying, or I have the flu, all the while my parents knowing I’m hung-over and not saying so, and me knowing they know I’m hungover and not saying anything.”

Honesty is better, Riley says, because it opens the door to a conversation that goes something like this: “My
parents will say to me, ‘Wow, it sounds like you would have had more fun at that party if you’d only had two beers, and not eight,’ or ‘Wow, you know what drinking that much will do to you?’—stuff I need to hear.”

 Riley says that when he shares his experimentation with drinking openly with his parents, what follows is what he calls “a healthy exchange of cautionary tales I can learn from—not bragging, and not lecturing, but something like, ‘Riley, when I was in college, such-and-such happened, and I was lucky I wasn’t killed’—that kind of thing.

“Kids who turn 18 and go to college—or to war—are in a ridiculous position if you think about it,” says Riley. “They can’t legally drink but are legally accountable for breaking the law, and are financially, for the most part, still kids dependent on their parents. And as long as my parents are supporting me, what I do is their business. But I’m going to drink before it’s legal for me to do so. Parents need to be aware of underage drinking, and be OK with it to the point that kids can talk with them about it. That’s the only way it’s going to work.

“Otherwise, kids will just lie,” says Riley.

And, he adds, they’ll be more desperate to go all out when they do get the chance to party.
“I have friends, mostly girls, who come from very strict homes. The parents are immigrants, and have really traditional attitudes about how girls should behave. These girls may not drink that much, but when they do, they go crazy. Absolutely nuts. They will tell elaborate, perfect lies to get away with it, and once they’re free to do so, it’s like they’re sprung from a cage. They don’t drink enough to know their boundaries, and they put themselves in really dangerous situations.”

At Folsom High, Jarman says all too often he deals with parents who are in a state of denial about their child’s drinking, which, as a father of two, he says he finds hard to understand. “It’s these parents who usually overreact to the news that Junior is drinking—and when parents overreact, they need to realize that once they have overreacted, everything they say to the kid after that point goes unheard.”

“Parents who find out their children are drinking, either because of some legal trouble or other incident, are shocked and feel extremely betrayed,” agrees Phelan. “This is especially true when the teenager is a good student, who comes from a good home, has good friends, is popular and involved. You have to believe to some extent that there’s a lot of subconscious denial at work here, that maybe parents suspect all along that their kids are drinking, but aren’t even considering the possibility because of the stigma, the illegality, the conflict it presents.”

In her book about adolescents and risk-taking (The Romance of Risk: Why Teenagers Do The Things They Do), University of California, San Francisco, psychiatrist Lynn Ponton, mother of two teenage daughters, writes that dealing with this conflict effectively is critical to responsibly parenting a teen: “Teenagers are not cute, they’re not little and they fight back,” she writes in her introduction. “Parents routinely tell me they feel attacked by their teenagers. Parents need to know they cannot simply throw in the towel when the fighting starts. The fighting is not meant as a personal attack on the parents, and parents have to understand this and respond rather than react.”

With 16 of her own case studies, including several with teens who abuse alcohol, Ponton explains that this fighting signals a need for greater independence but not “total autonomy.”

“They need to be left alone to make certain choices for themselves, and they need to know that their parents are available to offer opinions when asked,” she explains.

Sister Helen Timothy, president of all-girl Loretto High School, has parents who are flabbergasted by her reluctance to participate in the Jesuit Sober Grad Night party.

“She doesn’t seem to believe in it [Sober Grad Night] or want to have anything to do with it,” one parent tells me.

Timothy says she understands the event to be something like a “casino night,” that the “sober” element of it is news to her. She adds that Loretto does provide an address list and Loretto students do participate, as far as she knows. But the Loretto graduation occurs earlier than that event, she says, and this is a different occasion altogether: “The Loretto High School graduation is a religious event wherein time with the family is emphasized.”

Timothy says she is aware that some of the girls may spend the rest of the night with fellow graduates, at parties that last all night or, she says, “the rest of the week, the rest of the summer, for that matter.”

And she supposes that some students will choose to drink. “But at that point, it’s our belief that our girls have had four years of educational and spiritual direction that will hopefully enable them to make the right choices when faced with decisions such as these. We focus on the dangers of substance abuse, drinking, premarital sex in the curriculum—on weekdays with the girls and two evenings or so a month with the parents. Once these young women have graduated from Loretto, we have to be confident that we have given them the information they need to make the right decisions as adults.”

Phelan echos this sentiment: “As their children approach adolescence, parents need to brace themselves for challenges, questions and experimentations. And they need to let go of that need for extreme parental control that was necessary when their kids were younger. At this stage in childhood development as children enter and emerge from adolescence, it will backfire. Teenagers need privacy as they become adults.”

You’re probably still wondering what happened to Meredith Meade, the girl who just wanted to have fun . . .Meredith’s parents punished her by taking away the deed to the car they were going to give to her when she turned 18. Now she doesn’t get it until she turns 21.And that’s if she behaves. 

Meredith thinks her parents overreacted. “I’m not going to drink and drive, and neither are any of my friends,” she insists. “We all know that’s stupid.”

Then, it is suggested to Meredith that, while that may very well be her intention, she may find herself in a position one day—most likely as an adult—when circumstances are such that she might do something stupid, such as drive after having had a few drinks. It is suggested that maybe her mother knows this because her mother has done this herself and that’s what she’s concerned about. That’s what she truly fears and hopes to avoid in handing down this edict.

Meredith’s mom, Marie, smiles nervously. “Welllll,” she begins. “I never told anyone this . . . .” She faces
Meredith. “I don’t even think your father knows, but . . .” and she goes on to tell the story of how, when she was her daughter’s age, she worked all summer to purchase a car of her own. Just weeks after she bought her long-coveted dream car, at a party one night, after just a few drinks, she offered to drive her best friend home. That night, Meredith’s mom—at the time a senior at Del Paso High School—accidentally drove her brand-new car through someone’s house.

“The car was totaled. I was lucky I drove through the garage and not the bedroom,” she says, while her daughter gasps in horror and sympathy.
“You drove a car through a house! Oh, Mom!”
“Don’t tell your sister,” says Mom.
“Why not?” Meredith wants to know, because, the 17-year-old tells her mother, “If you told me that, I’d understand why you were so worried about me driving and drinking. I’d have gotten it,” Meredith insists. “I get it now.”