Thursday, January 17, 2008

Teaching Your Children About Wine

Every Friday night during my suburban Philadelphian childhood my parents ate dinner by themselves, shockingly late (by an 8 year old's standards) at 9:30 pm, at a table lit with candles. Food that my brother and I would not tolerate was prepared for these meals, and the house often smelled of exotic Indian spices, unfathomably slippery entrees like Coquilles St. Jacques, and homemade split pea soup. On the Friday closest to their anniversary each January (right about now, actually), my beautiful British mother would get into her damask wedding dress which miraculously still fit her after two children. There were approximately 1000 (or so I remember) covered buttons on the back, and I was allowed to fasten them. My handsome American dad would put on his wedding bow tie made from the same fabric as my mother's dress. It all smacked of grown-up sophistication, and this annual ritual was something I looked forward to for months. ("Eat, drink, and be merry," photo from jwlphotography)

With these Friday night dinners, there was always wine on the table. I remember bottles of Mateus (can't mistake that shape), straw-covered Italian reds that were then recycled into candleholders on family spaghetti nights, and German white wines with black cats on the label. I must admit, this was a pretty cosmopolitan selection for the suburbs of Philadelphia, ca. 1970.

It may have been the 70s, and cocktails may have been big, but on Friday nights it was wine all the way. And the wine that I remember so vividly from those Friday nights was also served at more ordinary dinners during the week, with tacos and hot dogs, chicken cacciatore, and all the other culinary delights of the times. My mother and father cooked nearly every meal I ate as a kid. There was nothing I "didn't eat" except, for a brief time, lobster.

These Friday night dinners and daily food and wine experiences shaped my love of wine, way back when I was only drinking milk and apple juice. I associated wine with home, with comfort, with family, with conversation, and with food. I wonder if that's why I was never tempted to down huge amounts of alcohol as a teen or a college student. I never saw much point in that, and it had no frame of reference for me. Where were the candles? The nice glasses? The ritual? The food? When I was old enough to buy my own wine, it was always in connection with a meal, a friend, a dinner party. In my parents household, wine was never something to be had to muffle desperate aloneness, as a sleeping aid, or to make something possible that otherwise would have seemed impossible--three reasons that a lot of people drink (and drink too much).

Every time you drink wine, you are teaching your children what to think about it, and shaping their attitudes. When you drink it, how you drink it, with whom, and why--these soak into your children's worldview in ways that you can't even imagine. Drink only on Thursdays? Chances are your children will see wine as an occasional, special thing that they can take or leave. Drink too much all the time? You may want to think about that--for your sake as well as your kids' sake.

Here in America many of us (myself included) wish that there was more of an "everyday wine culture." But the only way to build such a culture is to put wine on our tables, to treat it as something to be had with a meal, and to take it from a "special occasion" item and transform it into a far more regular--but no less ritual--occurrence.

All the important things about wine I learned from my parents. Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad. And thank you for the love of family, the love of food, and the love of wine that you shared with me. You taught me well.


Anonymous said...

I also wish we enjoyed an everyday wine culture here in America, Deb. I'd like to think that your post here is tantamount to clicking the fast-forward button on the American Culture Machine.

Anonymous said...

By only drinking wine on Friday nights...what was apparently a Friday night ritual...isn't that ritualizing wine too?

SB Wine Advocate said...

this article made me sigh and hope for the day this is the norm in our country. I couldn't agree more with you. Your parents sound like a wonderful example. I grew up just south of there in Delaware. I know you'll know where that is!

Anonymous said...

Great post, and I agree. Obviously Drew and I are wine drinkers and usually have a glass with dinner at night, kind of "demystifying" it for our two boys. More and more people are drinking wine so maybe when they are adults we will have an "everyday wine culture" in this country. Let's hope!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, there's a difference between ritual and habitual. Unless you're Jane's Addiction maybe.

This was a most excellent blog post. Like, really really really excellent. Thanks!

Dr. Debs said...

Anonymous, I explicitly said in my post a) that wine appeared not only on Friday nights but other nighs as well and b) we needed more regular--but no less ritual--serving of wine to instill wine culture. I hope you will go back over the piece and see.

Anonymous said...

Nena and I were just talking about this last night, coincidentally.

She was saying how we'll have to lock up all our wine later in Jackson's life.

My response: No we won't, because by that point, he'll respect wine (and all alcohol) if we do our jobs as parents right.

Beer/wine/booze was never a mystery to me growing up. If I wanted a sip of whatever shitty beer my dad was drinking, he'd give me one. Of course it was bitter and vile, but over time I learned that it wasn't that big a deal.

Consequently, while I partied plenty in college, I was never completely off the deep end. There wasn't any sort of "rebellion" behind it. It was just frat boy partying ;)

Hopefully, we do as good a job with Jackson...except with better beverages. Jackson will never see me drinking Coors Light from a can.

Jeff (Good Grape) said...

what a beautiful love letter to your parents marriage, too! I think my young marriage can glean a tip or two from the post, separate from the point about wine culture.


Anonymous said...

Wow, great article. I have a two year old who is the absolute focus of my life and my second daughter is on her way. I think about every aspect of how our behavior is going to affect her and it gets one choked up to think that something they adored could some day be what the little one reflects on when they get older.

My daughter loves to toast everyone with a wine glass with her sippy cup, a smile, and a big "Cheers!" (then she hits your glass with just enough force to splash some wine on your shirt...but its so cute!). We always have it at the dinner table and ask her about her day (at the daycare she loves) and she tells us a story (usually about how the bad kid bit her friend Jaya...same story every day but she loves to tell it).

I hope your parents read this post because if we fast forward 30+ years and I read something from my Kendra about wine at the table, telling stories about our day, laughing together, and how that is "home" to her it would make me the happiest person you've ever met.


Orion Slayer said...

Thanks for sharing.

This was such a cool post. Your writing made me feel like I was actually there in the room spying on your parents!

I have tried to treat alcohol as another food in the house to my two boys. When I'd have wine or beer with dinner (not as much in their toddler years but much more now) if they asked for a sip, I gave it to them. That's how it was when I was growing up and it just seemed natural.

What a great way to express an idea we can all get behind.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Your warm loving reminiscences of your parents and childhood are quite moving.

We've tried to expose our kids to an everyday wine culture mentality as the were growing up. I've had a glass of wine with most meals, and always offered them a sip (our son usually accepted, our daughter usually passed).

Lenn, you can tell Nena not to worry about Jackson breaking into your cellar and binging. While other parents were grappling with their kids getting drunk as teens, we never had a problem (at least as far as we know ;).

I truly believe that by setting an example of wine being a normal accompaniment to food, we instilled them with a sense of "resposible" drinking without them even having to decide to be responsible.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dr Debs
As someone who doesn't have kids yet but who most likely will in a year or two, I have wondered how I will introduce wine culture into my childs life. Obviously I won't be putting in the milk bottle, but I think teaching the kids that wine is special but can be a great pleasure to enjoy everyday with dinner or with family and friends will be key.
Great post.


Joe Roberts said...

Timely topic for me as we're about to have our 1st - and she is definitely gonna see us drinking some wine!


Dr. Debs said...

Thank you all. Based on these comments, we will be seeing a different wine culture when all your kids grow up! My mom and dad read all the comments and decided my "imaginary friends" in the blogosphere are great people, and mom has a message for Joel: "I hope Joel is ready for more than just a splash of wine on his shirt during his daughter's "Cheers" - I can attest to many a ruined table cloth as those cheers became more robust - from both you two and the grandkids." And for those of you wondering, Mom and Dad are in their 70s, and can still be caught giggling and smooching in the kitchen while they get dinner ready, and they hold hands when they take walks. Pretty great!

Anonymous said...

I'm ready for what every new day brings with Kendra! Even last night when she wanted to "talk" at 4am and didn't stop until after 5am. I'm tired today but I know she had alot on her little mind so I'm just happy to be there for her.


Unknown said...

Just beautiful, Deb.

Anonymous said...

So very well written....

I don't think I want to have kids myself, but I always like to see children (who are well behaved) in the tasting room, sniffing glasses and asking questions. And I always get a little jealous that I didn't grow up like that, for the time I wasted the first year or two on the 'crap' since I was never really exposed to wine.

But I can certainly move past my issues to appreciate that wine in our society is, indeed, becoming a part of every day. Just look at the increase in sales and the words of blogging parents here.


Dr. Debs said...

You're a good dad, Joel! And thanks Joe and Farley. Your kind words mean a lot.

Kelly said...

Ah, great post Debs. A joy to read.

Jeff said...

I know we're supposed to say more than just "nice post" when we comment, but I want you to know that I really enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

I'm just now starting to catch up on a lot of blog posts and I'm glad I caught this one! So lovely to hear your story. With the family biz we always had wine at dinner growing up and my Dad frequently poured a taste for my sister and I. He always loves explaining why each glass is special. One of our big traditions was toasting at nearly every meal. We always tried to come up with something to celebrate, even on the most ordinary of weeknight dinners, and enjoying a glass of wine helps elevate those experiences.