Kids in Bars
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Kids in Bars


This post was originally published on July 25, 2013.

My husband and I snagged two warm seats at our neighborhood watering hole late on a cloudless Saturday afternoon. Foamy lagers and summer ales flowed at a rapid pace out of several golden taps while Jack and Cokes rested squarely on thick coasters. A cacophony of laughter and sports chatter, the Rolling Stones and piles of steamy chicken wings bombarding the senses. I got up and elbowed my way through the thick crowd in hot pursuit of the bathroom. As I made it to the front of the line, I felt an annoyingly firm tap on my left shoulder. I turned and locked eyes with a little girl who barely cleared my knees and had globs of sauce clinging to the corners of her mouth. She was not who I was expecting and certainly nowhere near tall enough to reach my shoulder. The situation started making sense, however when her father leaned in and asked, “Do you mind if we jump in front of you? My daughter really has to go.” For a moment I thought that perhaps on my way to the bathroom I took a wrong turn and ended up at Chuck E. Cheese’s. What in the world was this little girl doing in this bar? She appeared absurdly out of place against the back drop of Miller High Life neon signs and the rows of tequila shots that were sitting on a table directly across from where we were standing. Seeing her there sent me back to my childhood, where being dragged to the bar when my mother was loaded happened on a much too regular basis.

The tavern that we frequented would have put even the skeeviest of dive bars to shame. From a block away, the smell of dank, damp beer and stagnant cigarette smoke would violate every open pore on my body. Like Pavlov’s dog, my heart would beat erratically when the soot-covered, windowless black slab of the bar’s entry came into my view.

Once inside, my mother would reach into her pocketbook, as she called it, and fish out a dollar’s worth of quarters. She then propped me up in front of one of those photo hunt erotica/countertop bar game contraptions and, through clenched teeth, would say, “You better just sit here and behave yourself.” I knew that the smallest squeak of objection would have sent her over the edge. So instead of resisting her ridiculousness, I raged inside and pictured throwing every last one of those quarters at the back of her wobbly, drunk head as she made her way over to her group of good time friends.

The bartender was a nicotine-stained toothless wonder who had become accustomed to serving me my usual Shirley Temple. Through a mountain of Maraschino cherries, I looked on in disgust as my mother made a complete ass of herself. In a drunken stupor, mixed within a crowd of other Budweiser enthusiasts, she stumbled around like a baby trying to figure out how to hula hoop—if you can even imagine that. Random expletives bubbled out of her foamy mouth and every one of them was accented with an unwieldy finger swerve. Every so often, one of her drinking buddies would saddle up next to me at the bar and attempt to strike up a conversation. Now for an adult, a drunk person’s slurred speech and bad breath is at the minimum annoying but for a kid sitting on a bar stool whose feet are years away from touching the ground, it’s actually quite terrifying. The enormity of what I felt in those moments—the anger, disgust, embarrassment and shame–was way more than my 75-pound body could handle. And these experiences weren’t the kind of things that I could easily leave at the bar once my mother was ready to go home. I shouldn’t have been there with her—period. She should have known better.

Fast forward 20 years later and there I was, sandwiched between memories from my dysfunctional childhood and this doe-eyed munchkin with globs of red sauce clinging to the corners of her mouth. She did not appear to be in the kind of danger that I had been in as a kid and compared to my mother, her father looked like a saint twice over. Still, she was standing in a bar with plenty of adults around her that were in desperate need of a few rounds of water. Even if her father wasn’t visibly intoxicated, wasn’t it reckless for him to place her right in the heart of a scene that was too adult for her to understand?  Or was I just overreacting?

In case you’re wondering, I did the right thing and gave up my coveted spot in line to the little girl. But I’m not going to lie. When the father said to me, “My daughter really has to go,” I was so tempted to respond with, “You know I couldn’t agree with you more. She really doesn’t belong here.”

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About Author

Dawn Clancy is the creator of Growing Up Chaotic, a blog and radio program for those determined to survive and thrive despite growing up in toxicity. Her goal is to create a community hell bent on breaking, cracking and demolishing the cycle of dysfunction.