It was 1992 and we were in Florida and we headed out to the beach with the beach urchins and The Beautiful Aunt Susie. We pulled into a parking place right in front of a big “ZERO TOLERANCE” sign. I think that’s the first time I had ever encountered the term “zero tolerance”. In this case, it meant no alcohol. None. This was kind of a drag. We couldn’t even have one beer with our picnic lunch. Or one small thermos of salty dogs to share between three adults. I’m sure that there were some good reasons for this. It was a pretty crowded public beach and probably the park staff and the police et al had had their fill of dealing with drunks. Fishing drunk people out of the ocean, cleaning up vomit, hauling drunk drivers off to the pokey (or worse), cleaning up vomit. You know the drill. It’s too bad that the extreme actions of a few irresponsible people ruin the fun for everyone but it was okay. We would survive without alcohol and so we staked out a spot on the beach and settled in for an afternoon of fun in the sun.
In that situation, I rather grudgingly agreed that zero tolerance might be necessary. What bothers me is how zero tolerance has increasingly been applied to situations where I believe there should be a little wiggle room. Like with children taking knives to school. I forget what the exact rules are in our district but any kid who brings a knife to school is suspended for at least six months, maybe longer, maybe it varies a bit by age. Okay. Do I think that it is okay for children to take weapons to school? NO, of course I don’t! But what about Mouse’s first day in the first grade? I walked her into the classroom and she took off her little pink backpack and opened it up and found a knife! Her own tiny pink long-forgotten jack knife, with the dulled blade and the little pair of scissors. “Moom, maybe you should take this home,” she said. Um, yes. I guess so. (I have no doubt made some kind of error in this story that I’m sure Mouse will correct.) And what about all the kids who were sent to school with parent-packed bag lunches that included a little paring knife to cut up their apple with. My friend Jane, who worked in the lunch room, quietly confiscated those and returned them to the parents so the kid wouldn’t get suspended. Because really, there is a difference between a kid who takes a knife to school and brandishes it around or brags about it to his/her peers and a kid who has had a tiny pink jack knife in her backpack all summer and has totally forgotten it is in there or a kid whose *parent* has packed a knife in his lunch. Following the letter of the law would have amounted to a suspension in both situations and thank god that there are some rational people working for the schools who can recognize an innocent mistake and not follow the letter of the zero tolerance law.
And then there are all those parenting rules and decisions. Rules about food. Rules about clothing. Rules about activities and school and homework and friends and and and… I stumbled and bumbled and scrabbled my way through motherhood. I would try to make rules and be consistent and almost always I would totally fail. Oh, what the heck, have another cookie. Drink another coke. Watch another worthless TV show. Whatever. I was very strict about some things. Life and death things like swimming in Lake Superior (or anywhere, actually). Do NOT go swimming without an adult watching you! And, yes, my kids will say I was strict about homework and going to college. Those are not life and death issues but I believe that for *most* people, they are one of the keys to being successful enough to pay your own rent. And, no, I was usually not successful at getting them to do their homework until the last possible nano-second but they both successfully graduated from college and who knows what I had to do with that.
All in all, I think that making excessive rules and operating on zero tolerance policies just makes kids (or whoever) lie or find ways to circumvent the rules. Back to Florida. We were hanging out on the beach and we were having a great booze-free time, thank you very much. In between swimming, the beach urchins were reading and playing in the sand and I was checking out potential boyfriends for The Beautiful Aunt Susie (which was probably driving her nuts). Where was the GG? Hmmm… We looked around and saw him skulking around near the concession stand. What was he doing? Well. We found out a bit later when he returned with a big paper cup of sprite with ice. And bourbon. Where there is a will, there is a way and the GG had purchased a Sprite at the concession stand. He then skulked over to our old red minivan and surreptitiously spiked it from a bottle of bourbon that was rattling around the back of that vee-hickle.
Yes, I have posted this photooo recently. I have other pics from that trip to the Sunshine State but I’ll be darned if I’m gonna try to dredge them up and scan them tonight. This one shows the beach urchins and The Beautiful Aunt Susie. Who is not looking for a boyfriend, btw, because her husband of quite a few years now is the Wonderful Edmond.