The beach was packed on New Year’s Day. It was perfect weather; not a cloud in the sky. We ate fish tamales, drank beer, went on a banana boat and played shark with the kids in the water. Speaking of beer, there was an interesting moment while we stood by our chairs that got me to thinking. One of the babies, a 9-month old, who will remain nameless to protect the identity of her and her parents, dropped the small rubber duckie she was sucking on, in the sand, while leaning over her daddy’s shoulder. I picked it up and passed it to her mother who promptly asked her brother-in-law to wash it off with some of his beer. Cleaned, she then handed it back to her daughter who sucked the little piece of plastic like there was gold inside. Every adult watching broke into a good 30-second laugh. The lesson here: it’s ok to give your infant child small amounts of alcohol, even as they’re still learning to walk.
I’ve learned since being here that sex, adultery, being hung over, and other “adult” topics are open subject matter in many Ecuadorian homes. Spared the gory details, children often giggle and laugh along as adults tell tales of debauchery and inebriation. Maybe, the attitude is that this is a part of life just like birthday parties, what other kids are wearing and SAT scores. At least, that’s my best guess so far. Or, people may believe that knowledge is power. Knowing why uncle so-and-so is snoring on the couch and stinky takes the mystery out of the effects of alcohol. It also balances the glamorous light alcohol and drugs are often put in by the media. At the end of the day, the results may be nearly identical in terms of rates of alcohol consumption and abuse. However, there is surely a difference in approach to one of our legal taboos. Would you, do you, give your children sips of wine or beer? They usually seem to get their hands on it before they’re 21 anyway. And often, they do more than sip. Like sex, many people are never taught by their parents how to do it responsibly. They find out what they know in the street, experiment, make mistakes and then, if caught, are chastised for not having listened to their parents about not doing what they did. If they’re lucky and never get caught, they are finally able discuss it at home years after they’ve entered adulthood. Does this approach make more sense? What other alternatives exist?