Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 01.27.09
Stanstead, Quebec


Running with empties, or 100 bottles of beer in the van

Now, here's a parental rite of passage I never thought I'd experience: carting my teenage daughter's empties back to the grocery store. And not just a case or two but a full shopping cart.

"They're not even mine," she said as we loaded up the van outside her apartment. "My friends brought them over."

Yeah, right. I've heard that one before. What, do you think I was never 17? ("I didn't want to drink, Dad. They forced me to!")

The thing is, I really was 17 and my daughter knows it. She's heard the stories, seen the blooper reel. So there's very little I can muster in the way of stern disapproval without coming off as a hypocrite and a bit of a dweeb. The most I can manage is some sardonic eye-rolling and a mild "tsk."

But really, what did I expect? It's what happens when you send 17-year-olds off to Quebec's confounded CEGEP system to enter fields of study that include "Procuring Your Fake ID" and "Introduction to Dépanneurs That Won't Card You."

Young CEGEPers also learn to manipulate time so that Friday night actually begins on Thursday night.

Been there, done that. The difference is, I would have hidden it from my parents.

When I was growing up, alcohol was scarce in our home. One of my dad's clients gave him a bottle of rum for Christmas in 1974 and it was still intact in 1984 (except for the amount my brother and I siphoned off and replaced with water).

I just can't picture Mom helping me return my empties. And I don't just mean at 17, I'm talking at 43. When the parents are about to visit, I'll see the neglected cases of empties piled up on the back porch and think, "Hmmm, that looks awfully overindulgent," and off they go back to the store. It can be a little embarrassing. I'm looking forward to when my children are legal so that I can roll my cart of empties into the store and say a little too loudly, "Darn kids are out of control!"

I suppose I should be grateful that my daughter is open with us. I'm sure it's less stressful for her than trying to hide her new lifestyle. Plus, she probably gets a kick out of freaking us out a little, her revenge for that pink snowsuit we made her wear to school in Grade 4.

The question is, though, how open should I be with her? While I may not feel compelled to scold about the partying, I'm awfully tempted to indulge in that other parental urge, namely informing your kids how they're doing it all wrong. This urge manifests itself in many areas. It could be demonstrating to a child that her method of cutting a bagel may cause bodily harm and/or really wreck the bagel. It could be reminding a newly licensed teen that stop signs should be approached gradually (e.g. "Slow down NOW!").

But sometimes the urge has less noble instructive goals. My son, for instance, sneaks junk food in his room. We know this because we find the wrappers in his pockets when we do his laundry. We usually give him an earful but what I really want to give him are tips on effectively hiding evidence.

So if my daughter's going to indulge in the CEGEP lifestyle (i.e. "Advanced Theories in Impromptu Partying"), shouldn't I at least help her do it right? Offer standardized rules for drinking game? Expound on the virtues of salting your draft? Demonstrate techniques in bottlecap-flicking? Explain that the funnier the shooter name, the sicker it will make you? Jot down tried-and-true hangover cures? Make her promise to never, ever purchase Wildcat beer?

I think it's fairly reasonable. It's a way for me to pass on my many years of knowledge and experience in this particular area, a way for me to share and be a part of her new lifestyle. In fact, it's probably the only thing I can do as a dad.

Because there's no way I'm talking to her about s