Feathering an empty nest with empty wine bottles

John Kelly
Columnist October 20, 2013

I know a married couple who never drank alcohol in front of their kids. They’d wait until the kids went to bed before breaking out the wine. Their concern was that being seen to drink alcohol would condone its consumption, and given that they were warning their kids against booze, it would be somewhat hypocritical to then openly drink it.

So, like naughty teenagers, they tippled in secret.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

I thought about these friends the other day as I was uncorking a bottle of tempranillo, a type of Spanish rioja. They are smart, accomplished people — as are their now-grown children. And who among us hasn’t adhered to one or two odd parenting rules? I remember lying to one of my daughters when she was about 4 years old and caught me in the kitchen eating ice cream.

“What are you eating, Daddy?” she asked.

“Ice cream,” I said.

“What kind of ice cream?”

“Butter pecan.”

“Do I like butter pecan?”

“Um,” I said, calculating how much was left and how hungry I was. “No.”

Oh for the days when my offspring believed whatever I told them, even about their own preferences.

My Lovely Wife and I, however, never hid our affection for intoxicating beverages. Not that we drank to excess when our kids were growing up. When it comes to booze, my wife is a cheap date. Somewhere around the one-and-a-half-glass mark, she goes from pleasantly squiffed to asleep. I spend a lot of my time finishing her wine.

And when you’re a new parent — a good one, anyway — you live in constant fear that something bad will happen to your child. It’s why you inconvenience yourself: covering every unused electrical outlet, hiding every pair of scissors, sealing cupboards, erecting fences, wrapping table corners in Nerf-like padding.

To have done all that and then be unable to drive your kid to the emergency room when she swallows a penny because you had two glasses of pinot grigio at dinner . . .

We didn’t pretend we never drank, we just never drank that much, certainly not on a school night.

But now that both of our daughters are off at college and we are firmly in the empty-nest camp, we do drink that much. While before our stance was always, “I can’t think of a good reason to have wine with dinner,” now it’s closer to, “I can’t think of a good reason not to have wine with dinner.”

And so we do. We even joined The Washington Post Wine Club, which sends us four bottles of red and two of white every three months. We prefer red, so the white tends to pile up, the bottles stacked at the bottom of our refrigerator like artillery shells.

My wife has a visceral hatred of chardonnay, so that’s what we give other people when we visit them. Occasionally, though, we run out of red at home, and we’re forced to break into the white, even the chardonnay.

“Look, honey,” I said recently, pulling a bottle from the fridge. “It’s an unoaked chardonnay.”

“What the $@&% is that?” she said.

“Apparently, all these years people have been oaking chardonnay, and now someone has figured out how to stop.”

She didn’t like it any better than oaked chardonnay, but she was soon asleep anyway.

I like the taste of wine but I like the taste of Dr Pepper, too, and you don’t see me drinking that every night. If I’m being honest, it must be wine’s special properties that I find appealing, its ability to take the edge off a spiky day or to put a pretty bow on a perfectly fine day.

I’m not the first to have noticed this. I’ve heard that some people drink wine to get drunk.

I don’t, at least I don’t think I do. My nightly glass (or two, plus whatever My Lovely Wife can’t finish) just mellows me out. And maybe that’s what’s different about now, about being 50 and having an empty nest. I actually have time to be mellow. And I don’t care who knows it.

Cheers.

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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